The Bar News

Illinois Supreme Court Disbars Six, Suspends Nineteen in Latest Disciplinary Filing

The Illinois Supreme Court announced the filing of lawyer disciplinary orders on September 23, 2021. Sanctions were imposed because the lawyers engaged in professional misconduct by violating state ethics law.

Disbarred

Barry Edward Blumenfeld, Chicago

Mr. Blumenfeld, who was licensed in 1967, was disbarred on consent. He converted over $67,000 in settlement funds belonging to a client and third parties in a workers’ compensation matter. He also made a false statement to the ARDC during its investigation of his conduct. 

Bryan S. Flangel, Chicago

Mr. Flangel, who was licensed in 1992, was disbarred on consent. In the course of representing clients in personal injury matters, he provided financial assistance to two clients, misrepresented the status of matters to at least two clients, and signed a client’s name on a settlement release without authority. 

James Mark McTighe, Tinley Park

Mr. McTighe, who was licensed in 1991, was disbarred on consent. He converted over $29,000 in client funds to his own use, falsely reported the status of cases and settlements to his clients, and neglected a number of insurance subrogation matters.  

Michael Bernard Potere, West Newton, Massachusetts 

Mr. Potere was licensed in Illinois in 2012 and in California in 2015. The Supreme Court of California disbarred him based on his attempt to extort more than $200,000 from his employer, which resulted in a misdemeanor conviction and five-month sentence of imprisonment for the federal criminal offense of unauthorized access to a computer to obtain information. The Supreme Court of Illinois imposed reciprocal discipline and entered an order disbarring him in Illinois. 

John George Steckel, Rock Island

Mr. Steckel, who was licensed in 2000, was disbarred on consent. His misconduct arose from his guilty pleas in two Rock Island County cases to charges of possession of a controlled substance and delivery of methamphetamine. The disbarment on consent was retroactive to Mr. Steckel’s interim suspension from the practice of law on January 29, 2019. 

Henry A. Weber, Lake Forest

Mr. Weber, who was licensed in 1984, was disbarred. His misconduct arose from his felony convictions in Florida for theft of sales tax. He operated a chain of restaurants in the Tampa Bay area and unlawfully withheld over $100,000 in sales tax that should have been remitted to the State of Florida. Mr. Weber did not participate in his Illinois disciplinary proceedings. 

Suspended

Craig Carnell Cunningham, Naperville

Mr. Cunningham, who was licensed in 1994, was suspended for six months. As the manager of his own law firm, Mr. Cunningham did not review his law firm accounts, nor did he know the source of funds in those accounts or how the funds were expended. His wife, a paralegal at the firm, fraudulently opened accounts in the law firm’s name using names of relatives and then used funds from those accounts to pay for law firm and personal expenses. Also, in the course of the disciplinary investigation, Mr. Cunningham made false statements to the ARDC about his use of a credit card account set up by his wife. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021.  

Lisa Michelle Edgar, San Ramon, California 

Ms. Edgar was licensed in Illinois in 1990 and in California in 2005. The California Supreme Court suspended her for one year, with the suspension stayed by a one-year period of probation subject to conditions. She employed a former California attorney who had resigned from the bar with disciplinary charges pending and permitted him to handle client funds over approximately an eight-month period. She also filed a brief on appeal in a client’s immigration matter without complying with mandatory legal authority concerning claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court of Illinois imposed reciprocal discipline and suspended her for one year, with the suspension stayed in its entirety by a one-year period of probation, nunc pro tunc to November 21, 2020, subject to the conditions imposed in California, and continuing until she completes her California probation. 

Stephen Thomas Fieweger, Davenport, Iowa 

Mr. Fieweger was licensed in Illinois in 1987 and in Iowa in 1989. The Supreme Court of Iowa suspended him for 30 days for failing to communicate with a client, collecting an unauthorized fee in a Social Security disability benefits matter, neglecting a client’s case, and mishandling client funds. The Supreme Court of Illinois imposed reciprocal discipline and suspended him for 30 days. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021.

Stephanie Alexandra Gerstetter, Chicago

Ms. Gerstetter, who was licensed in 2018, was suspended for 60 days. While working as an associate at a law firm, she submitted false billing records totaling 86.4 hours, which resulted in one of the firm’s clients being overbilled by $40,176. The law firm refunded the client’s overpayment. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021. 

Nathaniel Gordon, Chicago

Mr. Gordon, who was licensed in 2010, was suspended for one year and until further order of the Court, stayed after six months by a six-month period of conditional probation. Mr. Gordon failed to file a brief in his client’s criminal appeal and did not refund the fees he received for the representation. He also made misrepresentations to the client, a third party, and the ARDC, which included fabricating a file-stamp to make it appear that he had filed the brief. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021. 

Donald George Groble, Chicago

Mr. Groble, who was licensed in 1989, was suspended for two years and until further order of the Court. Over the course of five months, he misappropriated over $30,000 from a supplemental needs trust established for his disabled client. A suspension until further order of the Court is an indefinite suspension which requires the suspended lawyer to petition for reinstatement after the fixed period of suspension ends. Reinstatement is not automatic and must be allowed by the Supreme Court of Illinois following a hearing before the ARDC Hearing Board.

Jessica Lynn Jones, Bloomington

Ms. Jones, who was licensed in 2014, was suspended for nine months. She failed to act diligently on a client’s domestic relations matter, failed to adequately communicate with the client, and filed a pleading in the case containing false statements. She also engaged in the unauthorized practice of law for approximately two months after having been removed from the roll of attorneys for failure to register, and she made false statements to the ARDC during its investigation of her case. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021. 

Mark Vincent Kelly, Alpha

Mr. Kelly, who was licensed in 1987, was suspended for three months. Over the course of ten weeks, he knowingly misappropriated $2,230 in funds he had agreed to hold in escrow pursuant to his work as an attorney agent for a title company. No client lost money due to Mr. Kelly’s misconduct. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021. 

Carrie Kooi, Crown Point, Indiana 

Ms. Kooi was licensed in Indiana in 2009 and in Illinois in 2010. The Indiana Supreme Court suspended her for 90 days, beginning November 23, 2020, with 30 days of that suspension to be actively served and the remainder stayed subject to completion of at least two years of conditional probation. Her discipline arose from her conviction for battery resulting in bodily injury for struggling and twice spitting on a police officer who had taken her to a hospital for a blood draw after stopping her on suspicion of impaired driving. The Supreme Court of Illinois imposed reciprocal discipline and suspended her for 90 days, with the suspension stayed after 30 days by a two-year period of probation, nunc pro tunc to November 23, 2020, subject to the conditions imposed in Indiana, and continuing until her probation in Indiana is terminated. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021. 

Cynthia Jean Koroll, Rockford

Ms. Koroll, who was licensed in 2001, was suspended for six months, with the suspension stayed after 60 days in favor of a one-year period of conditional probation. Over a period of approximately three weeks in 2015, she sent dozens of emails, text messages, and other communications to attorneys in Florida with whom she was then engaged in a dispute. Many of those messages were vulgar, profane, abusive, included anti-Semitic remarks, and served no purpose other than to harass or burden their recipients. Also, in 2013, she was disqualified from representing a party in a post-decree domestic relations case because her former law partner had been representing the man’s spouse while they were members of the same firm. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021. 

Peter J. Kovac, Milwaukee, Wisconsin  

Mr. Kovac was licensed in both Illinois and Wisconsin in 1973. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin, in two disciplinary proceedings, imposed concurrent five-month suspensions for neglecting a client’s matter, failing to return or forward client files in four matters, and failing to respond to demands for information from the Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation in five investigations. The Supreme Court of Illinois imposed reciprocal discipline and suspended Mr. Kovac for five months. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021. 

John Paul Paleczny, Chicago

Mr. Paleczny, who was licensed in 2018, was suspended for one year and until he completes the ARDC’s professionalism seminar. As an associate at a Chicago law firm, he falsely billed over 2,000 hours of time to a pro bono matter that had ended, which resulted in his being terminated. Then, in the course of seeking other employment, Mr. Paleczny falsely told at least four prospective employers that he had been laid off from his prior firm. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021. 

Matthew Clay Piatt, Galveston, Indiana 

Mr. Piatt was licensed in Illinois in 2011 and in Indiana in 2015. The Indiana Supreme Court suspended him for 180 days, with the suspension stayed after 90 days by a term of conditional probation of at least two years. His discipline arose from his multiple acts of public intoxication and operating a vehicle while intoxicated, and his failure to notify the Indiana disciplinary authority of one of his arrests for that conduct. The Supreme Court of Illinois imposed reciprocal discipline and suspended him for 180 days, with the suspension stayed after 90 days by a two-year period of probation, nunc pro tunc to January 14, 2021, subject to the conditions imposed in Indiana, and continuing until his probation in Indiana is terminated. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021.   

Brian David Pondenis, Charleston

Mr. Pondenis, who was licensed in 2006, was suspended for one year and until further order of the Court. In electronic messages with a former client’s girlfriend, he revealed information pertaining to his representation of that former client and made improper and abusive statements to the girlfriend. He also made improper and abusive statements to his landlord and the landlord’s wife in electronic messages while representing himself in an eviction matter pertaining to his law office. A suspension until further order of the Court is an indefinite suspension which requires the suspended lawyer to petition for reinstatement after the fixed period of suspension ends. Reinstatement is not automatic and must be allowed by the Supreme Court of Illinois following a hearing before the ARDC Hearing Board.  

Veronica Reyes, Aurora, Colorado 

Ms. Reyes was licensed in Illinois in 2009 and in Colorado in 2010. The Presiding Disciplinary Judge of the Supreme Court of Colorado suspended her for one year and one day, with the suspension stayed after six months by two years of probation, subject to certain conditions, for mishandling client funds, failing to communicate with clients, and failing to supervise a person working in her law firm. The Supreme Court of Illinois imposed reciprocal discipline and suspended her for one year and until further order of the Court, with the suspension stayed after six months by two years of probation, nunc pro tunc to March 19, 2019, subject to the conditions imposed in Colorado and continuing until her Colorado probation has ended. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021. 

Edward Sergio Rueda, Chicago

Mr. Rueda, who was licensed in 2011, was suspended from the practice of law for one year, with the suspension stayed after thirty days in favor of a two-year period of probation. Between March and May 2018, Mr. Rueda converted over $15,000 in four client matters due in part to his failure to keep appropriate trust account records. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021.

Efrain L. Sanchez, Naperville

Mr. Sanchez was licensed in Illinois in 2003 and in Missouri in 2010. The Supreme Court of Missouri suspended him indefinitely with no petition for reinstatement to be considered for six months for mishandling client funds and engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. The Supreme Court of Illinois imposed reciprocal discipline and suspended him for six months and until he is reinstated to the practice of law in Missouri. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021.  

Brian Keith Sides, Champaign

Mr. Sides, who was licensed in 2002, was suspended on an interim basis and until further order of the Court. He was found by the ARDC’s Hearing Board to have made false or reckless statements about the integrity and qualifications of a federal bankruptcy judge in nine motions and to have engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. 

Andrew Martin Stroth, Chicago

Mr. Stroth, who was licensed in 2001, was suspended for 30 days and ordered to take the ARDC’s professionalism seminar. He failed to pursue a client’s personal injury case, allowing the statute of limitations to expire. He also provided money to the client as a loan against an anticipated settlement and then as a purported settlement. He falsely told his client that he had communicated with an insurance claims adjuster, and he made false statements to the ARDC in the course of the disciplinary proceeding. The suspension is effective on October 14, 2021. 

Probation

Barbara Julia Luther, Scottsdale, Arizona 

Ms. Luther was licensed in Illinois in 1989 and in Arizona in 2004. The Chair of the Attorney Discipline Probable Cause Committee of the Supreme Court of Arizona admonished her and placed her on a two-year period of conditional probation. She did not provide legal services to a client after being paid to conduct a trademark search and review. She also did not communicate with clients about the status of their matters, inform her clients that she was closing her law practice, timely refund advanced fees that she had not earned, or safekeep client funds. The Supreme Court of Illinois imposed reciprocal discipline and reprimanded her and placed her on probation for two years, nunc pro tunc to January 23, 2020, subject to the conditions imposed by Arizona, and until she successfully completes her Arizona probation.

Reprimanded

John Anthony Ward, Kenosha, Wisconsin 

Mr. Ward was licensed in Illinois in 1986 and in Wisconsin in 1985. The Wisconsin Supreme Court publicly reprimanded him for failing to file a written motion seeking a change of venue as directed by his client in a visitation rights case, charging an unreasonable fee, and failing to refund the unearned portion of that fee after his client had terminated his services. In a separate disciplinary matter, a referee appointed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a public reprimand against him for failing to promptly refund unearned fees to clients in two separate matters and mishandling client funds. The Supreme Court of Illinois imposed reciprocal discipline and censured him. 

Alan Kent Wittig, Queen Creek, Arizona

Mr. Wittig was licensed in Illinois in 1992 and in Arizona in 1997. In two separate matters, Arizona disciplinary authorities disciplined Mr. Wittig. In a 2018 matter, he was admonished and placed on probation for two years for failing to notify a third party of his receipt of funds in which the third party had an interest and failing to distribute funds. In a 2019 matter, he was admonished for failing to distribute funds to a person owed the funds and not reasonably communicating with his client. The Supreme Court of Illinois imposed reciprocal discipline and censured him, as his Arizona probation had ended.  

Posted on September 24, 2021 by Celeste Antoinette Niemann
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