Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Family Choices

An Illinois Hearing Board proposes a 60-day suspension

We found that Respondent failed to provide competent representation to her clients in an adoption case by being unprepared for a court hearing and failing to prepare her clients for the hearing. We also found that Respondent had a conflict of interest by representing clients in the adoption case while also representing, in other matters, an adoption agency that was the respondent in the adoption case with interests adverse to her clients. We also found a conflict of interest where Respondent's sister testified on behalf of the adoption agency and adverse to her clients at the hearing in the adoption case. We also found that Respondent failed to explain the conflict of interest and that she was unprepared for the court hearing to her clients in order for them to make informed decisions about her representation. Finally, we found that Respondent failed to withdraw from representing the clients in the adoption case where her continued representation violated the Rules of Professional misconduct. We recommend that Respondent be suspended for 60 days.

 On sanction

In aggravation, Respondent failed to recognize a clear conflict of interest, especially when Respondent's sister began testifying adversely to Respondent's client. See Twohey, 191 Ill. 2d 75, at 89. Also in aggravation, and very troubling, is that Respondent's testimony indicates she still does not fully understand her conflict of interest in representing the Warrens or what is necessary for an informed waiver of a conflict. Additionally, Respondent demonstrated she does not recognize or understand that her representation of the Warrens at the hearing in November 2013 fell far short of competent representation expected of attorneys. Respondent was specifically asked if she believed she effectively represented the Warrens at that hearing. Respondent replied, "I believe given the situation, given the eloquence with which Janet presented herself at that point in time, given Judge Rice and his inclinations, yes, I do."

Further, Respondent's misconduct caused significant harm to the Warrens. Although the ultimate outcome of the adoption case may have resulted in the Warrens' petition being denied, Respondent's misconduct resulted in the Warrens being totally surprised, shocked, and devastated by the sudden, unexpected ruling ordering the immediate removal of the child from the Warrens. The Warrens hired Respondent and Family Choices believing they were hiring a team on their behalf. However, at the hearing on November 22, 2103, they suddenly found Family Choices turning against them and Respondent being unprepared and doing nothing meaningful on their behalf. It is understandable why the Warrens felt betrayed. In In re Smith, 168 Ill. 2d 269, 659 N.E.2d 896 (1995), the Supreme Court pointed out that the respondent's neglect and long delays in client cases caused "considerable and needless anxiety," along with the infliction of "anguish" on his clients. Similarly in the case before, Respondent's misconduct caused Janet and Gregory Warren to suffer anguish, along with considerable and needless anxiety."

There is also significant mitigation in this case. The Respondent was fully cooperative during her disciplinary proceeding. She has been practicing law for more than 30 years and has not been previously disciplined. Her misconduct in this matter occurred in one case, during an otherwise lengthy and unblemished career. Respondent testified that she does pro bono work. She also testified that she now recognizes the need for and keeps "copious notes," and will not file a pleading until she has seen a signed contract.

In addition, six impressive witnesses testified favorably as to Respondent's outstanding abilities as an adoption attorney and as to her honesty and integrity. The foregoing witnesses included a judge, a retired judge, two attorneys who practice adoption law, and two individuals who were represented by Respondent in adoption cases.

Finally, Family Choices is no longer in operation and, thus, Respondent will not have a conflict based upon her relationship with Family Choices in the future.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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