ISBA Files Complaint to Enjoin IDFPR Prosecution of Lawyers
On July 11, 2017, the Illinois State Bar Association filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County to enjoin the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (“IDFPR”) from prosecuting Illinois licensed lawyers for submitting information about property values in advocating on behalf of clients in real estate tax assessment proceedings.
In April, the IDFPR initiated administrative prosecutions of two Illinois licensed lawyers, alleging that in separate proceedings each had engaged in the unlicensed practice of real estate appraisal. The lawyers had filed briefs with the Property Tax Appeals Board and the DuPage County Board of Review, respectively, advocating a reduction in the assessed value of their clients’ property. Neither lawyer purported to submit an appraisal or act as an appraiser. The IDFPR’s administrative complaints sought “cease and desist” orders against the two lawyers as well as civil penalties not to exceed $25,000 per violation.
"Arguments based on property valuation are common in many legal fields and have long been typical of real estate tax assessment practice," said Thomas McNulty of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP, who along with Steven Pflaum is representing the ISBA in this case. "The ISBA believes that making such arguments on behalf of clients clearly constitutes the practice of law, does not entail the submission of an appraisal, and is well beyond the authority of the IDFPR to regulate."
The ISBA’s complaint is not limited to the two pending proceedings. Among other relief, the ISBA seeks a declaration that the IDFPR lacks authority to prosecute, discipline, or sanction lawyers for engaging in the practice of law by advocating on behalf of clients in real estate tax assessment proceedings. It also seeks to enjoin the IDFPR from initiating, maintaining, or threatening prosecution of lawyers for engaging in that activity.
ISBA President Hon. Russell Hartigan (ret.) said this is a critically important action for the association to take not only on behalf of its members who practice law in this field, but also for all Illinois lawyers as a means to protect the Illinois Supreme Court’s exclusive jurisdiction to regulate lawyers and the practice of law.