Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Derogatory And Vulgar

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.

The board

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.

(Mike Frisch)


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