Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Don't Hit "Send"

The Illinois Review Board proposes a partially-stayed suspension for a series of emails to a judicial officer.

The Administrator brought a one-count complaint, charging Respondent with making a false or reckless statement impugning the integrity of a judge; engaging in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal; and engaging in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rules 3.5(d), 8.2(a), and 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct.

The complaint alleged that Respondent sent three emails to a federal magistrate judge and others that contained false and reckless statements attacking the judge’s integrity, which were intended to disrupt the court proceedings, and which prejudiced the administration of justice.

...we affirm the Hearing Board’s findings, and agree with its recommendation that Respondent be suspended for nine months, with the suspension stayed after six months by a six-month period of probation, subject to the recommended conditions.

The case at issue

Respondent represented Barry Epstein in a divorce proceeding in 2012. Respondent filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2014, on behalf of Epstein, alleging that his wife, Paula Epstein, and her divorce attorney violated the federal wiretap statute by illegally accessing Epstein’s emails. Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan (“the judge”) supervised the discovery process in the federal case. The judge had an email account, known as the proposed order box, which allowed litigants to electronically submit proposed orders to the judge, and to address certain scheduling issues.

The three emails are quoted and drew a sanction by the Northern District of Illinois's Executive Committee

Despite being advised in writing by Judge Finnegan that the communication was improper, Ms. Lane continued sending lengthy emails, using unprofessional, inappropriate, and threatening language during the course of the proceedings…. Some of the misconduct included referring to Judge Finnegan's orders as “outrageous” and stating that, “Judges are helping the criminal to escape punishment by forcing to shorten all deadlines!!!” … In her response [to the Executive Committee], Ms. Lane apologized to Judge Finnegan …. Ms. Lane attempted to explain her conduct by asserting that she was “under extreme pressure to ensure that justice was served” and that she harbors “deep concerns about Judge Finnegan's impartiality.” While Ms. Lane apologized, she continued to support her decision to use unprofessional and inappropriate language.

The Review Board

In this case, the record shows that Respondent impugned the judge’s integrity by making false accusations that the judge was acting unethically based on her bias, rather than acting based on the facts and law. Respondent’s knowing and reckless falsehoods included the following:
• the judge had issued a fraudulent order;
• the judge had engaged in ex parte communications with opposing counsel, smearing dirt behind Respondent’s back;
• the judge was protecting a criminal and helping that criminal to escape punishment;• the judge’s sincerity and veracity were called into question;
• the judge was not objective;
• the judge was denying justice to Respondent’s client;
• and the judge was not giving Respondent a fair chance, was treating Respondent badly, and was protecting the opposing party.


In making our recommendation, we have given careful consideration to the mitigating factors in this matter, including Respondent’s legal assistance to the Turkish Consulate General and the Turkish community; her mental health counseling; the testimony of Respondent’s character witness; Respondent’s lack of prior discipline; and the other mitigating factors identified by the Hearing Board. We conclude that the need for a harsher sanction is offset by the mitigating factors. We also conclude, however, that the mitigating factors here are insufficient to avoid suspension, and probation as recommended.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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