Tuesday, December 10, 2013

By The Book

The Illinois Review Board has recommended the censure of an attorney with the unfortunate surname of Cahnman.

The setting

This matter arises out of Respondent's conduct in  taking a Sangamon County judge's personal appointment book, making a copy of a  page from the book and attaching it to a motion, and then being less than candid  when asked by the judge how he obtained the appointment book page...

The attorney represented a client in a child support matter

At the time of Jeanne and David Samuel's divorce,  David, a doctor, was ordered to pay Jeanne certain amounts for child support.  David moved to Louisiana after the divorce and in 2004, he filed a petition in  Sangamon County for relief from his obligation of support. No further action was  taken on the petition and in 2006, his counsel withdrew. In 2007 Jeanne filed a  motion to establish an arrearage in the payments due from David. In February  2007, the Hon. Charles Gramlich held a hearing on Jeanne's motion. Because  David's motion was no longer properly before the court, he advised David, who  was pro se, to set his motion within thirty days. He then entered a judgment for  arrearage against David for approximately $86,000.

In September 2007, the court ruled that David's  motion to reduce child support "was either usurped by Judge Gramlich's order  setting arrearage?or it was abandoned by Dr. Samuel." David then retained  Respondent to represent him in modifying his support. David informed Respondent  that he believed that he had set a hearing date before Judge Gramlich for March  1, 2007 but alleged that counsel for Jeanne had an ex parte communication with  Judge

Respondent investigated his client's allegations by  checking the court file, which contained no notice of hearing for March 1.  Respondent knew that the judges in Sangamon County maintained personal  appointment books and he wanted to see if Judge Gramlich's appointment book  reflected a hearing on David's matter for March 1.

The appointment book was kept on the desk of  Shirley Vinson, a receptionist for five judges in Sangamon County who had been  employed in that capacity for twenty years. Vinson worked in an area that was  not open to the public but that could be accessed by attorneys through a  courtroom. In 2007, all hearings were scheduled by hand as the courthouse was  not yet automated. Accordingly, Vinson kept the judges' appointment books on her  desk. The appointment books were not public and also contained personal  appointments for the judges. Attorneys could not schedule matters themselves in  the books; only Vinson would write hearing information in the appointment books.  While occasionally attorneys might look at an appointment book with Vinson in  order to schedule a hearing, she generally kept the book closed on her desk and  attorneys were not allowed access to the book.

Respondent never asked Vinson for permission to  make a copy of a page from Judge Gramlich's appointment book and she never gave  him permission to do so. No attorney had ever made such a request to her and if  an attorney had made such a request she would have consulted the judge in  question. While there was a copy machine near her desk, if she was at her desk  she would have seen someone making a copy.

Judge Gramlich testified that he considered the  appointment book to be his personal book.

Respondent testified that he asked Vinson to look  at the appointment book to see if a hearing had been set for March 1, 2007. They  looked at the book together. The book showed the case name on the page for March  1, but there was a line through the case name. Respondent testified that he then  took the book to the copy machine and he copied the page. He acknowledged it was  possible he copied the page while Vinson was on the phone or was otherwise  occupied.

On July 11, 2008, Respondent filed a motion in the  Samuel matter alleging that his client had scheduled a hearing for March 1, but  that, on information and belief, the hearing was unilaterally canceled by an ex  parte communication from the opposing attorney to the court. In support,  Respondent attached a copy of the page from Judge Gramlich's appointment book.  At the hearing on the motion, on July 18, Judge Gramlich looked at the motion  and the exhibits. He was surprised to see the page from his personal appointment  book, and asked Respondent where he obtained the page. According to Judge  Gramlich, Respondent replied, "something to the effect that Shirley gave it to  me" or "I got it from Shirley." Respondent admitted in his Answer to the  Administrator's Complaint that "Respondent told Judge Gramlich that Vinson had  given him a copy of the March 1, 2007 calendar page."

Judge Gramlich was surprised at Respondent's  representation. Following his court call, he talked to Vinson. Vinson was  "incredulous" and denied giving Respondent a copy of the page of the appointment  book or any prior knowledge that he had copied the page.

Following an additional hearing, Judge Gramlich  issued an order finding Respondent in indirect criminal contempt, and noting  that Respondent's conduct "impeded, embarrassed, and obstructed the court."  While he acknowledged that that language "might have been a bit of overkill" he  added that misleading the court does impede the implementation of justice. The  judge fined Respondent $100, ordered Respondent to provide a written apology to  the judge and to Vinson, and ordered Respondent from using the copy machine  without prior permission from the Court Administrator. Respondent appealed the  contempt order. The Appellate Court vacated the fine and modified the contempt  from indirect criminal contempt to indirect civil contempt.

(Mike Frisch)


Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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