Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trifecta Of False Statements Proven

An Illinois Hearing Board has recommended a three year suspension in the much publicized case involving an attorney who had failed to disclose information in his admission application to the University of Chicago Law School, altered his law school transcript to obtain employment at Sidley Austin and failed to disclose that conduct in the bar admission process.

The board evaluated the evidence of present candor and remorse in the disciplinary matter:

Although Respondent admitted his deceptions and apologized to every person and entity he may have harmed, the Administrator disputes his candor and credibility on these subjects.

With respect to Respondent’s admissions of misconduct, the Administrator questioned whether he has fully and completely owned up to his mistakes and cited to his failure to disclose all of his past deceptions in his recent application to business school as an example of his continued efforts to conceal his past conduct. Having reviewed that application, however, we believe he provided the information that was requested, including his dismissal from medical school. We note that while the application asks about academic discipline or convictions for a crime, it does not ask whether the applicant’s professional conduct has been the subject of inquiry or action. Following Respondent’s admission to the MBA program, he did contact the student affairs office, disclosed the pending disciplinary complaint against him, and asked whether he should submit a copy of the complaint. According to Respondent, his offer was declined because the office was only interested in conduct of a criminal nature.

With respect to Respondent’s expressions of remorse, the Administrator characterized him as a "professional actor" and pointed out that he has a history of offering seemingly genuine apologies after exposure or threatened exposure of his conduct. Having observed Respondent closely, we came to a different conclusion. We believe he has spent considerable time reflecting on his actions and motivations, and is repentant for his misdeeds. Further, we believe his remorse encompasses the damage or potential damage he caused his fellow law students, the law firms to which he applied, the University of Chicago Law School, and the legal profession. He expressed his regret, we believe him, and we do not know what else he could have added to satisfy the Administrator. We also note that two attorneys who worked with Respondent in recent years testified that he has exhibited extreme shame and remorse.

We received no indication that Respondent’s previous apologies were not genuine and we do not wish to penalize him for expressing prior regret for mistakes. With respect to his 2003 apology to the law school for omitting information from his law school application, Respondent could have remained silent and waited to see if the matter became an issue with the New York bar, but instead he notified the school of his conduct, admitted that his omission was purposeful, and apologized for his conduct. While his letter did not disclose his additional malfeasance in altering transcripts, his admission was a step forward in owning up to his mistakes. As to his apology to the law school dean when he was questioned about his failure to cite source material and his apology to the partners at Sidley when he was confronted with his altered transcripts, an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and expression of regret was both appropriate and warranted in each of those instances. No witness testified that the apologies seemed perfunctory or insincere.

We do not believe the challenges to Respondent’s forthrightness and candor after the misconduct was revealed were supported by the record. His testimony was sufficiently consistent with the recollections of the other witnesses and with the documentary evidence, and his expressions of remorse and acknowledgements of his misconduct were credible. We therefore consider those factors as mitigating circumstances.

One rather interesting piece of evidence recounted in the report:

The parties stipulated that, if called to testify, Julie Gage Palmer would state she has been a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School since 2000, and in the spring of 2001, Respondent was enrolled in her Law, Science, and Medicine class. With respect to a paper Respondent submitted for that class, Palmer determined that he had represented seven paragraphs of another author’s work as his own. Palmer notified the dean of students and the dean of the law school but did not speak to Respondent because she understood the matter would be handled by the dean. When Palmer subsequently encountered Respondent at the law school in the spring of 2003, he thanked her for reporting the paper and told her it was the "kick in the pants that [he] needed."

The board concluded that disbarment was not appropriate. I have sympathy for the Administrator's view that disbarment is the proper sanction when false statements or concealment leads to admission.

Our earlier post on the charges is linked here.  (Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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