Tuesday, April 14, 2015
The Illinois Review Board has proposed a six-month suspension and until further order of an attorney for misconduct that included derogatory and vulgar comments about opposing counsel and others.
The allegations of this Count and Counts VII and VIII arise out of contentious litigation ("the Zvunca litigation") that has consumed countless hours of the court system in Cook County and in federal court. As noted by Respondent, some attorneys have apparently characterized the case as the case of the century. Respondent's conduct has arguably greatly contributed to that characterization.
We will not attempt to provide the complete history of the Zvunca litigation. In summary, the controversy arose from the death of Claudia Zvunca, a Romanian immigrant who was struck by a Greyhound bus in Colorado in 2002. Zvunca's then seven year old daughter, Cristina, witnessed the accident. Lawyer Cushing was appointed as administrator of the Zvunca estate. Cushing retained Jeanine Stevens, and later Tom Clancy, to bring a wrongful death claim against Greyhound and others. The probate court also considered various issues relating to Claudia's estate...
...before during and after hearings in the Probate Division and in the Law Division, Respondent routinely called Stevens names. He generally did so outside the presence of a judge but in the presence of others in the courtroom and with an apparent intent to disrupt Steven's presentation. A number other witnesses testified about these statements. For example, without reiterating all of the instances that are more fully set out in the Hearing Board's Report, Respondent called Stevens a "bitch", "asshole", "slut", "cunt", "pervert", "whore", and "child molester". On two occasions in August 2008 and September 2009, Respondent stated to Stevens in the presence of others, "Nice dress, slut." On another occasion during a hearing, Respondent asked Stevens, "[S]till hanging around the bars and picking up the DePaul students?" On another occasion, Respondent referred to Stevens during a hearing as a "pervert" and a "fucking bitch."
Respondent denied making some of the statements and could not remember if he had made other statements. However, he admitted making several of the statements. He often claimed he was provoked by undocumented personal attacks against him or claimed that the parties were "ribbing" each other, although witnesses confirmed Stevens' testimony that she did not provoke, react, or respond to these statements.
The attorney also made derogatory comments about successor counsel (an"idiot" and "cokehead") and a deputy sheriff.
Respondent's conduct is aggravated by the fact that he has not recognized that his repeated impulses to strike out verbally in anger were inappropriate or unprofessional. We share the Hearing Board's concerns regarding Respondent's repeated refusal to acknowledge that he did anything wrong. He expressed absolutely no remorse and the Hearing Board found that his testimony at hearing was "incredible". The Hearing Board was particularly troubled by the fact that Respondent "had an excuse for nearly everything he did or did not do, regardless of whether the actions related to a charge of misconduct." The Hearing Board noted that this tendency was concerning given the "overwhelming evidence of misconduct, especially regarding Respondent's failure to properly communicate with his clients and his failure to put contingency fee agreements in writing." (Hearing Bd. Report, pp. 104-106).
Given the nature of the misconduct when coupled with Respondent's complete lack of understanding of his obligations and his propensity to resort to dishonesty during his testimony at his disciplinary hearing, we believe that the six month suspension recommended by the Hearing Board should continue until further order of the Court. The Court has imposed a suspension until further order of the Court where there has been a lack of evidence that the respondent is willing or able to meet professional standards of conduct in the future. See, e.g., In re Houdek, 113 Ill.2d 323, 327, 497 N.E.2d 1169 (1986); In re Bless, 2010PR00133 (Review Bd., Oct. 30, 2014), approved and confirmed, No. M.R. 27134 (March 12, 2015). We believe that a suspension that continues until further order of the Court better serves the purposes of discipline and better protects the public.