Well now, this answer isn’t boring.

Having worked in the Professional Responsibility Program for twenty-three years, I’ve seen, heard, and read some wild stuff.  Never ever did I think I’d read a story like today’s.  Alas, after so long in the field, I should know better than ever to say never.

Mike Frisch is Ethics Counsel at Georgetown Law. He also runs the Legal Profession Blog, which, unlike this one, is in the ABA Journal’s Blawg Hall of Fame. Two days ago, Mike posted Issue Joined, reporting on a disciplinary prosecution that is pending in Illinois.  It took approximately 3 seconds for me to realize that the story qualifies as “wild stuff.”  So, I figured I’d share it and, in the process, continue my quest to shed light on the disciplinary process.

In Vermont, formal disciplinary proceedings can be commenced in two ways: (1) Disciplinary Counsel and the lawyer can file a stipulation of facts; or (2) Disciplinary Counsel can file a “Petition of Misconduct.”  The latter is a charging document that is analogous to a “complaint” that commences a civil proceeding.  As in the civil arena, the lawyer against whom the Petition of Misconduct is filed must file an answer admitting or denying the charges.

The Illinois process is similar. In early August, Illinois disciplinary prosecutors filed this complaint against Lawyer. Last week, Lawyer filed this answer.

In my years as the disciplinary prosecutor, most answers were, frankly, boring. I mean how interesting can “admit” or “deny” be? It was the ensuing hearings where the interesting details emerged. Well, in the Illinois matter, Lawyer’s answer is anything but boring.

The complaint includes six counts.  The first five allege that Lawyer engaged in misconduct during his own divorce.  The sixth charges Lawyer with violating the rules while representing a client in an unrelated matter.  While I recommend reading Lawyer’s entire answer, I’m going to focus on Count II.

According to the complaint, Lawyer’s wife filed a petition to dissolve their marriage in February of 2017. Count II involves two emails.  The Lawyer allegedly sent the first to opposing counsel, the guardian ad litem, the judge’s scheduler, and opposing counsel’s father (who is also a lawyer and who was on Wife’s legal team).  Opposing counsel’s first name is “Caidi.”  The complaint alleges that Lawyer’s email included the following statement:

  • ““Caidi, I strenuously object to you being a lowlife bottomfeeder, who suborns perjury, breaks the [Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct] and extorts your own client.”

Aside: flabbergasted by “lowlife bottomfeeder,” it took me until just now to notice the “strenuous” objection.

Anyhow, the complaint goes on to allege that, a few months later, Lawyer sent an email to opposing counsel’s father that was copied to opposing counsel, the judge, the judge’s scheduler, and the GAL.  Per the complaint, the email stated:

  • “IF it means your fat ass and your suborning perjury piece of shit daughter have to get an order of protection against me, we will be in court before Judge Carr before October 21, 2020 one way or the other. You are all child abusing filth, all of you. Bring it. When the justice system fails, I will have my recourse.”

From there, Count II charges Lawyer with violating two rules:

  1. the rule that prohibits using means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person; and
  2. the rule that prohibits conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Now, having read many answers to formal charges, I tried to anticipate Lawyer’s response.  My best guess was that Lawyer would admit to making the statements, but then express remorse and offer (credible or not) an explanation. Coming in second?  “I was hacked.”

I was wrong.

Lawyer admitted to sending the emails and asserted that the statements were “entirely truthful and accurate.” Lawyer’s response includes:

  • “There was no purpose to embarrass [opposing counsel] or [opposing counsel’s father]. Domestic relations attorneys are well known amongst the bar and the public to be bottom-feeders. Respondent has spoken to ethics attorneys for years who note the volume of complaints they receive involving these attorneys, and call these attorneys bottom-feeders themselves. Domestic relations attorneys generally graduate from 3rd and 4th tier law schools, and will do almost anything for money, including suborn perjury from mentally ill parents.”

The answer goes on:

  • “There was no purpose to embarrass [opposing counsel] when [Lawyer] reminded her that she suborned perjury and violated the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (IRPC). Any attorney should already be embarrassed to suborn perjury, and should not need the assistance of another attorney to remind them they should be ashamed of themselves.”

Wow.

Again, this post deals only with Count II.  Lawyer’s answers to the other counts are equally “not boring.” The response to Count I explains why Lawyer called the judge “a clown.” Meanwhile, answering Count 6, Lawyer admits that he and Client intentionally chose not to attend a hearing, explaining that Client, upset with the process, “effectively went on ‘strike,’ and [Lawyer] felt no professional obligation to cross [Client’s] picket line.”

I’ll try to remember to post a follow-up once the disciplinary proceeding ends.

For now, I’ll also remember never to say never.

PS:  I blog and speak often on civility. In my opinion, it’s sorely lacking in the profession, with incivility affecting the profession’s wellness and well-being.  To those who have suggested that I use civility as a “speech code,” it’s conduct like that at issue in today’s post that I’m referring to when I say Don’t Be A Jerk.

UPDATE:  With a bit of additional research, I found this opinion from an Illinois Appellate Court.  It deals with Lawyer’s divorce.  According to the opinion, “As described in our ruling on the last appeal, the case eventually went to trial and, before any evidence could be presented, [Lawyer] stormed out and did not return.”

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