Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Righteous Indignation Doesn't Help

An Illinois Hearing Board has recommended a 60-day suspension (stayed on conditions) of an attorney who represented conflicting interests in six real estate transactions:

The charges in Count I are based on six real estate transactions in which Respondent represented one or both of the parties and also acted as an agent for Ticor, the title company that handled these transactions. The complaint is based on allegations that Respondent failed to adequately disclose the conflicts stemming from her own financial interests in these transactions and to obtain proper written disclosures as required by the Title Insurance Act, 215 ILCS 155/18. Respondent is specifically charged with the following misconduct: a.) failing to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions about the representation in violation of Rule 1.4(b); b.) representing a client where the representation of that client was materially limited by the Respondent’s responsibilities to a third person or by Respondent’s own interests in violation of Rule 1.7(b); and c.) engaging in conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute in violation of Supreme Court Rule 770.

We find that all of the charges in Count I were proven by clear and convincing evidence.

Other counts involved representing both buyer and seller in some of the transactions:

...Counts II through V involved four of those same transactions where she improperly represented both the buyer and the seller. Respondent’s misconduct is aggravated by the fact that it was not an isolated act, but involved multiple instances of the same type of improper behavior. See In re Cutright, 233 Ill. 2d 474, 491, 910 N.E.2d 581(2009). Thus, she demonstrated a pattern of failure to comply with applicable ethical rules.

We also find it aggravating that, with respect to the charges in Count II through V, Respondent failed to show any real remorse or to display any indication that she understood or appreciated the nature of her wrongdoing. See In re Lewis, 138 Ill. 2d 310, 347-48, 562 N.E.2d 198 (1990). While she acknowledged her mistakes in failing to obtain the required written disclosures, she continued to deny that she had done anything wrong by representing both the buyer and the seller in four of these matters. Of particular concern to us is Respondent’s apparent failure to understand the reasons behind the prohibition on representing both sides in a transaction or to appreciate the potential problems associated with such a practice. Even in the face of these disciplinary proceedings, Respondent has still failed to demonstrate that she currently understands the rules regarding conflicts of interest and her ethical obligations there under. To the contrary, at one point during the hearing, Respondent indignantly implied that she should not be subjected to discipline beyond censure because she is a role model to her community. (Tr. 139-40). Such righteous indignation in the face of Respondent’s utter failure to grasp the existence, much less the seriousness, of Respondent’s engagement in blatantly obvious conflicts of interest is of serious concern.

The attorney is not presently practicing law:

[The attorney] currently holds the position of Program Director of Criminal Justice at Westwood College where her responsibilities include managing 12 criminal justice instructors, serving as liaison between students and administration, and teaching classes. She began working at Westwood as an adjunct instructor in 2006 while she was still operating [her firm]. Respondent also became an adjunct instructor at Westwood at this same time. In October of 2008, [she] accepted a full-time position at Westwood and began to take on fewer cases at [her firm]. After she accepted her current position as Director in 2009, this further reduced her ability to practice at the firm...

(Mike Frisch)

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