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Government Lawyers Newsletter
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers

November 2000, vol. 2, no. 1

Disciplinary cases against public sector attorneys

In re Armentrout, 99 Ill.2d 242, 457 N.E.2d 1262 (1983). The Kane County State's Attorney was suspended from the practice of law for two years after he organized a massive forgery of voter signatures on a referendum petition. The forgery was accomplished through the practice of 'round-tabling' signatures at a table located in the County Grand Jury room. The court imposed lesser sanctions on the attorneys who assisted him in forging voter signatures; his chief assistant was suspended for six months and a second assistant State's Attorney and two attorneys in private practice were censured.

In re Scott, 98 Ill. 2d 9, 455 N.E.2d 81 (1983). A former attorney general was convicted for filing a false federal income tax return. He was suspended for two years, retroactive to his interim suspension.

In re Crisel, 101 Ill. 2d 332, 461 N.E.2d 994 (1984). Crisel served as the Edwards County State's Attorney. The conduct at issue took place in 1980, when he was seeking reelection to the State's Attorney position. Late in the evening of May 24, 1980, Crisel got into his car and drove to a remote spot near the Little Wabash River, intending to commit suicide. Unable to carry out this plan, he fired his shotgun twice into his automobile. Early the following morning, he contacted the Edwards County sheriff's department, relaying a fabricated report that he had been shot at by unknown persons. Soon thereafter, he left town for approximately a week without telling anyone that he was leaving or where he could be found. Law-enforcement officials in the area initiated a search. At the disciplinary hearing, Crisel indicated that the disappearance was prompted when he learned that the local media was going to release a story containing the "true facts" involved in the attack on his automobile. He further testified that it was during this period that he decided to seek psychiatric care. The supreme court held that his fabrication of a report suggesting that he was a crime victim warranted a three-year suspension, with a stay of suspension and imposition of probation, in light of a finding that his actions were the result of a depressive neurosis.

In re Garza, M.R. 4206, 86 CH 21 (April 3, 1987). The Respondent, while serving as an Assistant Cook County State's Attorney in the felony trial division, referred to a defendant's medical expert as a member of the oldest profession known to man, repeatedly used the phrase "liar" rather than "I object," and used profane language. He was censured.

In re Schumacher, M.R. 6662, 90 CH 233 (May 30, 1990). While the Respondent was the Ogle County State's Attorney, he was also a member of the Board of Trustees of an Ogle County church that was affiliated with a school. Mr. and Mrs. Butterfield filed a complaint with DCFS alleging that their child had been subjected to an act of physical abuse by his teacher at the school. An investigator from DCFS determined that the child abuse complaint was"indicated." According to the testimony of Marcia Butterfield, Respondent told her that, unless she submitted a letter to Respondent's office indicating that the alleged act of child abuse at the school had not occurred, Respondent would convene a grand jury and subpoena her child to appear before the grand jury to testify. Mrs. Butterfield never sent Respondent the letter, and Respondent's office issued a number of grand jury subpoenas to the Butterfields and other persons who appeared to have knowledge about the alleged incident. Eventually, a judge quashed the subpoenas. A disciplinary grievance was filed against the Respondent, charging him with engaging in a prohibited conflict of interest. The supreme court censured him.

In re Heidecke, M.R. 7224, 91 CH 11 (January 28, 1991). The attorney was a part-time hearing officer for the Secretary of State. He was suspended for four years, following his federal conviction for extortion, when he asked for, and accepted, money from an applicant for a temporary driving permit, promising to award the permit to the unqualified applicant.

In re Sims, 144 Ill. 2d 323, 579 N.E.2d 865 (1991). Sims was State's Attorney of Perry County from 1980 through 1985. He used cannabis in the presence of other individuals from approximately 1979 to 1984. Sims also purchased, possessed, and used small quantities of cocaine in Perry and Jackson counties, Illinois, between 1979 and 1982. Sims failed to take any action in his role as State's Attorney in bringing criminal charges against those who sold and used controlled substances in his presence. Sims resigned as State's Attorney when threatened with a federal indictment, ceased his use of drugs, and worked for six years as an assistant Attorney General for the Virgin Islands prior to the imposition of discipline. While finding the evidence of Sims' rehabilitation compelling, the court ordered him suspended for two years.

In re Adelman, M.R. 7676, 91 CH 380 (September 26, 1991). The attorney was employed on a per diem basis in the Administrative Hearings Division of the Secretary of State's office. He paid a full-time employee $45,000 to quit his position, and then the attorney was hired to a full-time position. He was censured for engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

In re O'Connor, M.R. 10004, 91 CH 632 (May 19, 1994). The Respondent was suspended for one year and until further order, in part due to conduct that occurred while he was serving as an Assistant Cook County State's Attorney. Specifically, he was assigned to prosecute a defendant who had been charged with the robbery and murder of an elderly woman and the robbery of her companion, Ms. Eugenia Santiago. After Ms. Santiago, the key witness, did not appear in court to testify, and the state was unable to secure her appearance, Respondent and another prosecutor attempted to serve Ms. Santiago at her home. When Respondent arrived at Ms. Santiago's residence, he was carrying a handgun and attempted to intimidate the woman. As a result, criminal charges were filed against him and he was found guilty of unlawful use of weapons, a Class A misdemeanor.

In re Chancey, M.R. 10266, 91 CH 348 (September 23, 1994). While serving as the First Assistant Lake County State's Attorney, the attorney prepared a false document that purported to be an order of the Illinois Appellate Court and signed the name of a retired appellate justice to the document. At the time, the attorney was involved in a criminal proceeding regarding an alleged child abduction. A natural father had allegedly abducted his child and would not return the child until several conditions were met. One of the conditions was that he wanted an appellate court order allowing annual visitation with the child. The attorney knew that it would be impossible to obtain a legitimate court order, because no case was pending in the appellate court. He was, however, concerned about the safety of the child. The Review Board found that although he may have had a good motive, he still engaged in dishonesty and deceit, and the Board recommended that he be reprimanded. The supreme court permitted the Review Board reprimand to stand.

In re Mattson, M.R. 12186, 94 SH 644 (March 26, 1996). The attorney was an Assistant Attorney General. He was disbarred based on findings that he took money from the desks and purses of co-workers, fraudulently billed state agencies for stays at hotels, and committed criminal trespass to a private residence.

In re Peek, M.R. 9461, 94 SH 369 (March 26, 1996). Peek became a felony prosecutor in April 1992. He continued in that position until he resigned in September 1992. The month before his resignation, federal criminal charges were filed against him, alleging that he knowingly and intentionally conspired to possess cocaine and marijuana with the intent to distribute. The charges were dismissed and were not reinstated. The Administrator, however, filed a formal complaint alleging the same matters that were the subject of the criminal charges, specifically addressing Peek's interaction with a man named Timothy Lewis, on the basis of recordings of Peek's conversations with Lewis. The conversations, on their face, concerned drug activity; it appeared that the two men were arranging large-scale drug transactions. Peek's defense was that the conversations were staged and "pretend." An ARDC Hearing Board found that Peek's testimony was not credible. He was disbarred.

In re Lee, 96 SH 655 (Hg.Bd. Reprimand, Dec. 9, 1996). Respondent, as Ford County State's Attorney, altered, or directed someone to alter, the face of an arrest warrant issued by a judge for the arrest of Michael J. Taylor. Respondent was informed by a Chief Investigator of the Ford County Sheriff's Department that the information on the face of the warrant, which described Michael J. Taylor, including a physical description and date of birth, was incorrect. The investigator also provided Respondent with what was described as the correct identifying information for Michael J. Taylor. Respondent subsequently crossed out the existing identifying information on the warrant, typed on the new identifying information, and delivered it to the Ford County Sheriff's Department for execution. As a result of Respondent's actions, Ford County Sheriff's deputies arrested a man who did not commit the crime for which the warrant was issued. The Hearing Board determined that a reprimand was appropriate for the misconduct in question.

In re Gregorich, M.R. 12998, 95 SH 436 (January 30, 1997). While this attorney was employed as a staff attorney for the Fourth District Appellate Court, he obtained an inter-office memorandum written by one justice to two others who were presiding with him on a particular matter. When the attorney decided to run for an appellate court judgeship against the judge who had written the memo, he disseminated its contents publicly in an effort to show that the judge was inept at handling civil matters (the judge's memo contained a tongue-in-cheek reference to his "chronic state of confusion about civil law"). It was found that the attorney had failed to act in a manner consistent with the integrity and independence of the judiciary as a judicial candidate (Rule 67(A)(3)(a) of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Rule 8.2(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct) and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice; conduct involving dishonesty; using or revealing, without authority, a confidence or secret of the court; and a breach of the fiduciary duty he continued to owe the appellate court as a former employee. He was suspended for four years and until further order of the court.

In re Krakowski, M.R. 14228, 96 CH 823 (January 29, 1998). While employed as an Assistant Attorney General, the attorney attempted to fraudulently avoid payment of a parking ticket, he misrepresented to his supervisors the circumstances surrounding his receipt of the ticket, and he made misrepresentations to the ARDC about the incident. The attorney was suspended for six months.

In re Blake, 97 CH 101 (recommendation of March 31, 1998). The attorney, who died before the disciplinary proceedings became final, was a hearing officer with the Illinois Department of Employment Security. While so employed, she applied for and received state unemployment insurance benefits, and she pled guilty in circuit court to state benefits fraud. It was recommended by the Hearing Board that she be suspended for one year and until further order of the court.

In re Mellen, M.R. 14936, 98 DC 1006 (May 27, 1998). Mellen was licensed to practice in 1994. He was disbarred upon consent after he was found guilty official misconduct and criminal sexual abuse. The conviction arose out of his conduct while serving as an Assistant Grundy County prosecutor. He forced a young woman to perform sexual acts in exchange for dismissal of a traffic citation. He told her that if she did not do as he asked, she would face a $2,000 fine and would not be able to get a driver's license for two years. Mellen also engaged in similar misconduct with other women who had cases pending in Grundy County.

In re Stewart, 98 SH 97, M.R. 15437 (February 1, 1999). Stewart was employed as an Assistant State's Attorney for Moultrie County, Illinois, when he delivered crack cocaine on three separate occasions to a friend who was also a paid informant of the East Central Illinois Police Task Force. He was terminated from his position and prosecuted. Stewart asserted an entrapment defense and was eventually acquitted after a jury trial. Since Stewart had admitted in trial, however, that he had delivered the crack cocaine to the informant, disciplinary charges were subsequently filed against him. Stewart agreed to a voluntary disbarment and his name was stricken from the Master Roll.

In re Bretz, M.R. 12243, 96 CH 118 (March 24, 1999). While serving as a county prosecutor, the attorney improperly charged a criminal defendant with felony aggravated criminal sexual abuse when he knew that a felony-charge requirement of a five-year age difference between a victim and the defendant was not met. Because there was no five-year age difference between the victim and the defendant, the defendant's offense only warranted a misdemeanor charge. In addition, while serving as the First Assistant State's Attorney, the attorney hid a file in his office during an ongoing criminal investigation of illegal storage of hazardous waste in order to impede further investigation or prosecution of a defendant. He was also disciplined for his role in a criminal trial where he failed to disclose on the record that he had a prior professional relationship with the judge. Finally, shortly after being appointed First Assistant, but while acting as a private attorney, he handled an "emergency" legal matter for a friend. In that matter, he failed to conduct a reasonable factual investigation before filing a petition for an emergency restraining order and failed to give notice to the opponent's counsel when he presented the petition. He was suspended for three years retroactive to the date of his interim suspension.

In re Berkel, 97 SH 115, Hg. Bd. Reprimand (March 24, 1999) (Michele Berkel) The respondent, a young assistant prosecutor, improperly attempted to gather information for use in a friend's contemplated divorce proceeding. She sent a letter to the Secretary of State's office using the State's Attorney's letterhead and inquired whether the friend's husband was publicly listed as an officer or agent for any registered business entities. In the letter, she falsely represented that the State's Attorney's office was investigating the husband. She also telephoned the Madison County Recorder's office and requested a search of their records for any public information relating to the husband, without disclosing that her request was unrelated to her official duties. The respondent was reprimanded.

In re Chrisler, M.R. 16097, 98 CH 58 (September 29, 1999). The attorney was convicted of misdemeanor theft for requesting and accepting payment from a client to represent her in a criminal case while he was employed as an assistant public defender and assigned to represent the client as part of his official duties. He was suspended for two years, retroactive to an interim suspension.

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