Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sanction Imposed On Arbitrator

The Illinois Supreme Court has adopted the recommendation of the Review Board and imposed a two-year suspension of an attorney for misconduct while serving as an arbitrator of workers' compensation claims.

The Review Board described the misconduct:

The Respondent's misconduct was of the most egregious nature. As found in Count II, the Respondent, as the arbitrator in the workers' compensation case of Jo Anderson v. Big Muddy River Correctional Center, sent an e-mail to counsel for both parties, in which she indicated that Department of Corrections personnel were responsible for harassing the claimant, as claimant's counsel asserted, before she had heard any evidence on the matter. By doing so, the Respondent gave the appearance of having prejudged an evidentiary issue, and compromised the appearance of a tribunal being fair and impartial. As we found in Count III, the Respondent engaged in ex parte communications with the attorney for one party in the workers' compensation case of Mitchell v. Illinois State Police, discussed a substantive issue in the case with that attorney, and advised that attorney to take a certain course of action. Also, as proved in Count III, the Respondent intentionally prevented the news media and the public from knowing about and attending the hearing in the Mitchell case. Finally, as we found in Count IV, the Respondent affirmatively induced and knowingly assisted two attorneys to engage in improper ex parte communications while each of them represented a party in workers' compensation matters pending before the Respondent. The ex parte communications included discussions about the merits of pending cases; disparaging comments about opposing counsel; and the Respondent giving advice to the attorney for one party.

The bedrock of our system of justice is the objectivity and neutrality of the official presiding at the proceeding, whether it be a judge or administrative officer. As pointed out above, the Supreme Court has stated that "if the administration of justice means anything, it means a fair and impartial tribunal;" anything that "compromises the fairness and impartiality of the tribunal . . . prejudices the administration of justice;" and "the administration of justice requires a tribunal that is impartial in appearance, as well as in fact." In re Weinstein, 131 Ill. 2d 261, 269, 545 N.E.2d 725 (1989); In re Lane, 127 Ill. 2d 90, 106, 535 N.E.2d 866 (1989). The Respondent's misconduct compromised her fairness and impartiality as an arbitrator, impugned the integrity of the workers' compensation proceedings before her, and served to destroy public confidence in the Workers' Compensation Commission.

Additionally, the Respondent's attempt to conduct a hearing at a time and location so as to prevent the news media from attending is very disturbing and clearly unacceptable. The right of the news media and of the public to have access to workers' compensation proceedings should not be infringed upon in any manner. By attempting to prevent the news media from attending a hearing, the Respondent acted contrary to the interest of justice.

In aggravation, the Respondent's misconduct was not limited to an isolated incident, but rather consisted of a pattern of misconduct involving three different attorneys who practiced before her on a regular basis. The Respondent acknowledged she made mistakes, acted in an inappropriate manner, and said she was sorry. However, after observing the Respondent and listening to testimony, we find that she had no remorse for the adverse effect her misconduct had on the legal profession and proceedings before the Workers' Compensation Commission. We find that the regret she expressed was primarily for herself, that is, for the loss of her career and her resulting financial hardship. Additionally, we do not believe she fully understands the seriousness of her misconduct.

The Administrator had sought a three-year suspension but did not seek review of the board's recommendation. (MIke Frisch)

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