Thursday, September 14, 2017
The Illinois Review Board took a more charitable view of an attorney's misconduct than did the Administrator and proposed a 60-day suspension
The Administrator charged Respondent in a one-count complaint with dishonestly misappropriating about $7,000 in escrow funds. Following a hearing at which Respondent was represented by counsel, the Hearing Board found that the Administrator had proven the charged misconduct, and recommended that, for his misconduct, Respondent be suspended for 60 days.
The Administrator filed exceptions, challenging the Hearing Board's sanction recommendation and asking the Review Board to recommend, instead, a six-month suspension. Respondent cross-appealed, challenging the Hearing Board's finding of dishonesty as well as its sanction recommendation, which he contends should be no more than censure.
The Review Board affirmed the Hearing Board's dishonesty finding, which was based largely on its credibility findings, to which the Review Board gave deference. The Review Board also found persuasive the Hearing Board's reasoning that the extensive and compelling evidence in mitigation indicated that Respondent would not engage in similar misconduct in the future. The Review Board thus concluded that a suspension of 60 days is commensurate with Respondent's misconduct, falls within the range of discipline that has been imposed for comparable misconduct, and is sufficient to serve the goals of attorney discipline; and that a longer period of suspension would be akin to punishment and would not benefit the public or legal profession.
We believe that the Hearing Board's analysis of the unique circumstances of this case, as well as of relevant authority, is exceptionally thorough and well-reasoned. The Hearing Board gave significant weight to the "extensive and compelling evidence in mitigation," including that:
this was an isolated instance of misconduct in an otherwise unblemished career;
the evidence did not show that Respondent intended to permanently deprive any individuals of their funds;
no individual suffered actual harm, and none of the buyers or sellers complained about Respondent's actions or testified on behalf of the ARDC;
Respondent promptly paid restitution long before the ARDC's involvement;
Respondent proactively recognized and remedied deficiencies in his law practice;
Respondent has ceased practicing law as a sole practitioner, is working as a non-equity partner in a law firm, and has closed his client trust account;
Respondent cooperated with the ARDC's investigation, and expressed remorse and took responsibility for his conduct;
Respondent engaged in pro bono and volunteer work, including "years of dedication" to his local school board; and
Respondent presented "compelling" character testimony.
(See Hearing Bd. Report at 14-17.)
Based on these factors, the Hearing Board was convinced that Respondent would not engage in similar misconduct in the future. Id. at 21. We are hard-pressed to find a flaw in its thoughtful analysis that would cause us to depart from its recommendation. We thus conclude that a suspension of 60 days is commensurate with Respondent's misconduct, falls within the range of discipline that has been imposed for comparable misconduct, and is sufficient to serve the goals of attorney discipline.