Tuesday, May 15, 2018
The Illinois Review Board proposes a 90-day suspension of an attorney on these charges
The Administrator brought a one-count complaint against Respondent, charging her with improperly entering into an agreement with a client that limited or purported to limit the client's right to file or pursue a complaint before the ARDC, and with filing a response to her client's motion to dismiss counsel in which she revealed information relating to her representation of the client without the client's informed consent, in violation of 2010 Illinois Rules of Professional 8.4(h) and 1.6(a), respectively.
The Hearing Board found that Respondent had engaged in the charged misconduct and recommended that, for her misconduct, Respondent be suspended for 30 days, with the suspension stayed in its entirety by a 60-day period of probation, the only condition of which was for Respondent to complete the ARDC Professionalism seminar.
Respondent was licensed to practice law in Illinois in 1993. She also is licensed to practice in Missouri. She is a solo practitioner. At the time of her disciplinary hearing, she had one active case. She also works as a substitute teacher. She has no prior misconduct.
In May 2015, Respondent began representing John Quincy Adams IV in some criminal and traffic matters. She and Adams entered into a retainer agreement, which she prepared and presented to him and which provided, in part:
Client agrees to make all matters of said representation confidential between client(s), his/her agents, assigns and principals and to refrain from reporting any phase of said representation to any external agency, including but not limited to the Missouri Bar, ARDC etc.
(Hearing Bd. Report at 4 (citing Admin. Ex. 1).)
Respondent represented Adams until March 2016. On March 2, Adams filed with the court a handwritten motion stating that he would like to fire Respondent and hire different counsel. That same night, Respondent and Adams had a phone conversation. Respondent testified that he told her he had made up his mind to fire her, that he was going to get her in trouble, and that he had filed a complaint against her. He did not tell her that he had already filed a motion to dismiss her as his counsel.
Following their phone conversation, Respondent drafted a letter to Adams in which she referred to his "horrible criminal past" and a "violent criminal past;" stated that he has been "arrested and/or convicted in Missouri at least fourteen times;" stated that he "wanted to bribe the court in some manner;" and called him a "paranoid ingrate and miserable con man who tries to blame everyone else but yourself for YOUR misdeeds TO WHICH YOU CONFESSED." (Hearing Bd. Report at 11 (emphasis in original).)
A hearing on Adam's motion was set for March 10, and notice of the hearing was sent to Respondent on March 3. On March 9, Respondent filed an answer to Adam's motion with the Circuit Court of Monroe County, and attached the above-quoted letter to her answer. It thus became a matter of public record.
Respondent testified at her hearing that she was "in a blur" and "upset" when she wrote the letter because of Adams' rant during their conversation. She further testified that she included the letter with her filed answer out of "just frustration," because she was "enraged" and in a "rage of emotion," and "reacted on ? [her] own personal hurt." She acknowledged that the letter contained confidential information that she should not have disclosed without her client's consent; that the filing of the letter was "wrong;" and that she "was not justified" in filing it. (Hearing Bd. Report at 17.)
Respondent's misconduct falls toward the middle of the spectrum of misconduct involved in the foregoing cases. Her unauthorized disclosure of confidential information to the court and, effectively, to the public was more egregious than O'Connor's, in that Respondent's disclosure was intentional rather than careless, and involved a criminal matter, which could have had serious repercussions for her client. The nature of her misconduct - disclosing information relating to her client's criminal case - is on par with Peshek's and Garza's misconduct - although those respondents disclosed information relating to multiple criminal clients. And, while Gilsdorf's misconduct involved only one criminal client, like Respondent's, the scope and impact of Gilsdorf's unauthorized disclosure of information about his client's case were vastly greater than Respondent's. Gilsdorf essentially released into the world via the internet a video of his client committing a crime, thereby impacting his client's criminal proceeding and causing actual harm to his client.
On balance, we find this matter most analogous to Garza, although, in that matter, the Hearing Board found, in aggravation, that Garza did not acknowledge, showed no remorse for, and did not accept responsibility for her misconduct, but rather rationalized her misconduct and blamed others for it. The Administrator asks us to make a similar finding of aggravation here. We cannot do so, however, because the Administrator has not given us a basis for overturning the Hearing Board's factual findings regarding Respondent's credibility and demeanor.
But, while we accept and affirm the Hearing Board's finding that Respondent had accepted responsibility and expressed remorse for her actions as of the time of her hearing, we believe that finding is tempered by Respondent's arguments in her appellee's brief, in which she disparaged her client and at least partly blamed him for her disciplinary troubles. Consequently, we cannot find that Respondent has accepted full responsibility or expressed unconditional remorse for her misconduct, which diminishes the weight of those factors in mitigation.
In addition, we find that Respondent's derogatory, vitriolic, and potentially inculpatory statements about her client contained in the letter that she filed with the court could have impacted her client's criminal matter and caused him significant harm. That risk of harm should not be minimized.
We conclude that a suspension of 90 days is commensurate with Respondent's misconduct, is consistent with discipline that has been imposed for comparable misconduct, and is sufficient to serve the goals of attorney discipline and deter others from committing similar misconduct. We also believe that Respondent would benefit from a review of her ethical obligations to her clients, and therefore recommend that she take the ARDC Professionalism seminar.