The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers
Former Assistant Public Defender suspended
In re Sutherin, Commission No. 03 CH 61, M.R. 20636 (Supreme Court entered September 20, 2006)
While she was employed as an assistant Kane County public defender, Cynthia Sutherin approached three of her colleagues at the Public Defender’s office, as well as another attorney employed by the Kane County State’s Attorney, telling them that she was going to open a law firm with two other assistant public defenders. Sutherin told the attorneys that she had sufficient personal wealth to fund the law firm for at least five years, corroborating her statements by showing them a deposit slip for $5.2 million, which, she said, was earmarked to fund the firm. She also related that she had received commitments for business that would be undertaken by the firm; she engaged a real estate agent to purchase property to house the firm; she entered into, and backed out of, contracts to purchase real estate and office furniture; and she guaranteed a specific salary and benefits to the four attorneys, inviting them to choose automobiles that would be paid for by the firm as part of their compensation. In reliance on Sutherin’s representations, the four attorneys, as well as one of the designated future partners, resigned their public sector employment.
Shortly before the attorneys submitted their resignations, Sutherin told them that she was suffering from leukemia, but that her condition would not prevent her from going forward with her plans for the new firm. After the attorneys gave up their public sector employment, however, Sutherin told them that she would not be able to go forward with her plans.
Sutherin’s representations regarding her plans for the firm, the promised firm business, her personal finances, and her health were all false. Evidence at the disciplinary hearing included her diagnosis, by a forensic psychiatrist, of a personality disorder with borderline features, a condition that was manifested in a sense of inadequacy that led her to fabricate a story that would make her the center of attention. The Hearing Board accepted the psychiatrist’s explanation that Sutherin was consciously aware that her representations were untrue; the doctor also explained that her conduct was consistent with the characteristics of her condition, which include manipulation, deceit and impulsivity.
The Hearing Board and the Review Board of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission agreed that Sutherin knowingly made misrepresentations, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and that she brought the legal profession into disrepute, in violation of Supreme Court Rule 770. The Review Board rejected the Hearing Board’s recommendation that Sutherin be placed on probation and recommended, instead, that she be suspended for one year and until further order—a sanction that would require her to apply for reinstatement, after completing the period of suspension, and affirmatively prove her fitness before she would be allowed to resume the practice of law.
Explaining its recommendation, the Review Board observed that Sutherin has a mental condition that is difficult to treat, that her understanding of her condition appeared limited, and that she had continued to make misrepresentations—including those directed to her current, private sector employer—during the months preceding her disciplinary hearing. The Review Board cited the criteria for probation set forth in Supreme Court Rule 772(a) and concluded that Sutherin had not met her burden of proving her eligibility for probation under that rule. On September 20, 2006, the Illinois Supreme Court denied Sutherin’s petition for leave to file exceptions to the report and recommendation of the Review Board, and the Court suspended Sutherin for one year and until further order.
The full texts of the reports of the Hearing Board and Review Board, as well as the Supreme Court’s final order, may be accessed through the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commissions Web site at www.iardc.org, by selecting “Rule and Decisions.”