Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries
Articles Posted in Illinois Supreme Court
Boyar died in 2010, suffering from dementia. His will, under which his son Robert was administrator, distributed all property to a trust for the benefit of Boyar’s children and grandchildren. Under the trust, Robert and a bank were named co-trustees, with a provision that a trustee could be removed by beneficiaries. Less than a month before his death, Boyar had executed an amendment naming a lawyer who was his neighbor as trustee, not be subject to removal by beneficiaries. The trust provided that personal property should be divided among the children by their own agreement, which they began to do about a week after the demise. A few weeks later the lawyer informed Robert of the amendment and demanded a personal property itemization. Robert believed that the amendment, not changing substantive dispositions, was orchestrated to permit the lawyer to maintain control of the trust and collect fees. The circuit court rejected a claim of undue influence and dismissed the petition challenging the amendment. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that there was no need to address whether the “doctrine of election” (applicable to will contests) should be extended to living trusts that serve the same purpose as a will, since that doctrine could not be invoked under the circumstances. Allowing Robert to challenge the amendment had no impact on substantive distribution. By accepting the items of personal property, he cannot be said to have made a “choice” that precludes the challenge. View "In re Estate of Boyar" on Justia Law
The Chicago Inspector General initiated an investigation of possible improprieties in how a former city employee was awarded a city contract without the normal competitive process. Documents were sought from the city’s law department. Some furnished documents contained redactions, based on attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine. The Inspector General issued a subpoena, under the Municipal Code, but when the law department refused to comply, private lawyers were retained. The trial court dismissed, with prejudice, an action seeking an order to produce unredacted documents. The appellate court reversed and remanded for in camera inspection of the unredacted documents to resolve the claims of privilege. The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the dismissal. Although the municipal code allows the Inspector General to conduct investigations and issue subpoenas, it does not confer the power to unilaterally retain private counsel to initiate enforcement proceedings or prosecutions in the Inspector General’s own name. The office of the Inspector General is a creature of municipal ordinance, not state statute, and has no legal status apart from the city. The Illinois Municipal Code gives that authority to Corporation Counsel. There are no statutory provisions for appointment of special counsel, even though Corporation Counsel, the one subpoenaed, has a conflict of interest in resisting production by claiming privilege. The Inspector General should look to the mayor for recourse. View "Ferguson v. Patton" on Justia Law
Hernandez developed Parkinson’s disease, allegedly as the result of his exposure to chemicals at Central Steel, where he worked from 1968 to 1995. From 1995 to 1996, Hernandez was represented by a firm that filed a social security disability claim. From 1999 to 2002, he was represented by Bernstein, Grazian and Volpe, who filed a 1999 workers’ compensation claim, alleging chemical exposure at work. A third law firm was retained in 2004 and filed suit for civil damage recovery, strict product liability and negligence lawsuit against various companies involved in the manufacture and sale of those chemicals; that suit dismissed as time-barred. Hernandez alleged that the Bernstein firm should have advised him that he had other ways to recover beyond seeking workers’ compensation benefits and should have advised that he file a legal malpractice action against the first law firm for its failure to file a product liability suit. In 2009 the circuit court dismissed on grounds of res judicata. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the elements of res judicata had not been proven. View "Hernandez v. Pritikin" on Justia Law
Plaintiffs are minority limited partners in Urban Shopping Centers, L.P., in which defendants acquired a majority interest in 2002. Plaintiffs allege breach of fiduciary and contractual duties, claiming that, pursuant to the operating agreement, defendants were not to compete with them in business opportunities. They alleged that defendants stopped growing plaintiffs’ business, disregarded partnership agreement terms, and stole plaintiffs’ opportunities. During discovery, plaintiffs moved to compel production of documents concerning business negotiations in which each defendant’s attorney discussed with nonclients liability and obligations as Urban’s general partner and use of a “synthetic partnership” to avoid partnership obligations. Defendants claimed privilege, but plaintiffs argued that, having disclosed legal advice on these subjects with each other outside of any confidential relationship, defendants could not later object that those subjects were privileged. The motion was granted; defendants refused to comply and were held in contempt. The appellate court affirmed. The supreme court reversed, holding that attorney-client privilege had not been waived because the sought-after disclosures had occurred in an extrajudicial context and were not thereafter used by the clients to gain a tactical advantage in litigation. The “subject-matter waiver” doctrine was not shown to be applicable. View "Ctr. Partners, Ltd. v. Growth Head GP, LLC, " on Justia Law
Chicago issued plaintiff, Downtown Disposal, notices for violating ordinances pertaining to dumpsters and requiring Downtown Disposal to appear at administrative hearings on various dates. When Downtown Disposal failed to appear, the department of administrative hearings entered default judgments for costs and penalties. Van Tholen, president of Downtown Disposal, moved to set aside the judgments, alleging the company did not receive notice. At a consolidated hearing, Van Tholen advised the hearing officer that for five years, Downtown Disposal had made several attempts to change its address on file with the city, but the city had not changed its records. The hearing officer rejected the argument. Van Tholen filled out and signed pro se complaints for administrative review, using preprinted forms supplied by the clerk’s office. Attorney Boonstra later filed appearances on behalf of Downtown Disposal. The trial court dismissed, holding that actions filed by nonattorneys on behalf of a corporation are null and void. The appellate court reversed and remanded. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. An attorney’s signature was not jurisdictional and its absence did not render the proceedings null and void. Application of the nullity rule would be harsh since no purpose underlying the rule was implicated and an alternative remedy was available. View "Downtown Disposal Servs. Inc. v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law
Defendant was charged with sex offenses against his wife’s daughter in Henry County. While still married, he had moved in with another woman in Rock Island County and was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against her nine-year-old daughter. In the Henry County case, the state introduced testimony about the Rock Island crime and the conviction. Defendant was again convicted. In both prosecutions, defendant was represented by the same attorney. On appeal of his Henry County conviction, he alleged that his lawyer had a per se conflict of interest because the Rock Island victim, who also testified at the Henry County trial, had been represented by this attorney in the capacity of guardian ad litem in an unrelated matter. The appellate court remanded for a new trial. The Supreme Court reversed, reinstating the conviction. A per se conflict of interest, requiring automatic reversal, does not require proof of impact on the attorney’s performance. The guardian ad litem involvement with the witness was long over when defendant was tried and the witness, as person, could not be considered an “entity” assisting the prosecution. View "People v. Fields" on Justia Law
The attorney, admitted to practice in Illinois in 1969, was the subject of a 2004 Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission complaint following convictions relating to driving under the influence of alcohol and driving while his license was revoked. The state Supreme Court issued an order suspending him from the practice of law for a period of 18 months, and ordering him to reimburse the Disciplinary Fund for any client protection payments arising from his conduct. In 2007 the ARDC charged him with misrepresentation to a tribunal and engaging in the unauthorized practice of law during his suspension. The Hearing Board found proven misconduct and recommended suspension for two years, but the Review Board recommended dismissal of the charges. The Supreme Court suspended him for one year. While the violations primarily involved representation of the attorney's own bankrupt company and occurred within days of the suspension, the attorney attempted to conceal the misconduct and refused to admit wrongdoing. View "In re: Thomas" on Justia Law
The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint against an attorney, claiming that he converted third-party funds; failed to hold property of a third person separate from his own; failed to promptly deliver to the third person funds to which the person was entitled; engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, deceit, fraud, or misrepresentation; engaged in conduct prejudicial to administration of justice; and engaged in conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute. The Hearing Board found that he had converted funds and violated three rules, but found that the Administrator did not prove conduct involving dishonesty, deceit, fraud, or misrepresentation, and recommended suspension for three months and mandatory attendance at a seminar on professionalism and office management. The Review Board affirmed, but recommended a six-month suspension. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Hearing Board. The attorney, apparently unaware of proper procedures for handling funds, admitted wrongdoing, expressed remorse, and cooperated. He had not been previously disciplined and offered several witnesses who testified to his excellent reputation for honesty. He spends large amounts of time providing pro bono services and made full restitution.
In 2003, wife filed domestic battery charges against husband; he was found not guilty and filed for dissolution. At a 2005 hearing on a motion to modify temporary child support, the judge stated that the parties had been before him in the domestic battery case. Neither lawyer objected. Nearly a year later, husband sought substitution of judge, asserting bias. Wife testified that she worked part-time at a fitness club where the judge was a member, but had only said "hello," twice, in passing; husband testified that wife had indicated that she was "taking care of" the judge and that the judge had disclosed that wife had approached him several times. The petition was denied for lack of proof of actual prejudice. The appellate court and highest court affirmed. The "actual prejudice" standard was properly applied; a proposed "appearance of impropriety" standard would encourage judge-shopping. A litigant is entitled to one automatic substitution if requested before trial or hearing begins and before the assigned judge has ruled on any substantial issue, 735 ILCS 5/2–1001(a)(2)(ii). After a substantive ruling, however, (a)(3) requires substitution only when cause exists. The statute does not define "cause," but recusal is required when the probability of actual bias is too high to be constitutionally tolerable.