Monday, May 7, 2012
The Illinois Review Board has recommended a suspension of two years and until further court order in a case in which the attorney had abandoned his practice and moved to North Carolina:
None of the cases [the attorney] cites in favor of a lesser suspension involve attorneys who abandoned their practices and left the state without notice to their clients, agreed to settlements without client authorization, misrepresented the amount of a settlement to a client, and prevented their clients from obtaining their settlement funds by failing to finalize the settlements. Consequently, these cases do not support a recommendation of a lesser sanction in this case.
[The attorney] argues that his discipline should not run until further order of the court. We disagree. The vast majority of cases in which respondents have disregarded their obligation to participate in disciplinary proceedings result in disbarment or suspension until further order. See In re Pierce, 07 CH 32 (Review Board, July 30, 2009) at 5, approved and confirmed, No. M.R. 23393 (Nov. 17, 2009) ("The Administrator notes in his brief that, with only a single exception, all 145 disciplinary cases involving a default decided between 1998 and 2008 have resulted in either disbarment or a suspension until further order of the court"). Respondents who fail to appear for their hearing are generally required to establish their fitness before resuming practice because their absence not only demonstrates contempt for the disciplinary process and Rules of Professional Conduct but also "deprives the Hearing Board of the opportunity to assess the attorney's credibility and fitness to continue the practice of law." Pierce, 07 CH 32 Review Board Report and Recommendation at 4-5.
The need to assess fitness is particularly important in this case in light of [his] statement that "debilitating anxiety" prevented him from doing legal work. Because [he] chose not to appear, there was no evidence regarding his current mental state or whether he has obtained appropriate treatment for his anxiety. Thus, there is no evidence to support the conclusion that [he] is fit to practice law and manage client matters without repeating his misconduct. [He] needed to demonstrate that he is not a danger to future clients. He has not, and they need to be protected.
[The attorney] contends that the absence of evidence that he has experienced problems while practicing in North Carolina demonstrates that a suspension until further order is not warranted. We disagree. If [he] wanted this Board to consider as mitigation his practice in North Carolina, he was obligated to present evidence to support his assertion that he has corrected the problems that led to this proceeding. Having failed to do so, Beal has waived this argument. See In re Zurek, 99 CH 45 (Review Board, March 28, 2002) at 7, petition for leave to file exceptions denied, No. M.R. 18164 (Sept. 19, 2002) (unsupported contentions are waived). Because the record is silent with respect to [his] North Carolina practice, we have no basis to conclude that his conduct there has been appropriate. Nothing in the record would allow us to conclude that [he] is currently fit to practice law or will be when his recommended term of suspension ends.
Last, we have considered that [he] has no prior discipline but give this factor little weight in comparison with the serious misconduct and factors in aggravation.