Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Illinois
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In 2012, Wendy was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and arranged for her boyfriend, Mirenda, to care for her six-year-old daughter, Br. Br. came to the attention of DCFS in 2013 based on pending allegations that Mirenda sexually abused a previous partner’s daughters. The court conducted a hearing. Wendy and Assistant State’s Attorney Filipiak were present. Assistant Public Defender Bembnister was appointed as counsel for Wendy, and Assistant Public Defender Drell was appointed as guardian ad litem (GAL) for Br. Proceedings concerning Br. continued for several years.At a 2018 status hearing, Wendy appeared with a new, privately retained attorney, Drell. Drell’s appearance as Br.’s GAL at three hearings on the 2013 neglect petition before the same judge was not mentioned. In 2019, Drell withdrew and the public defender represented Wendy. The trial court terminated Wendy’s parental rights. The appellate court reversed, holding that a per se conflict existed because Drell served as Br.’s GAL before she served as Wendy’s attorney. Wendy had not raised the conflict-of-interest issue.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. A “ ‘realistic appraisal’ ” of Drell’s professional relationship with Br. indicates that Drell was not associated with the victim for purposes of the per se conflict rule when she acted as Br.’s GAL. An allegedly neglected minor is not a victim but “the subject of the proceeding” under the Juvenile Court Act; such proceedings are not adversarial. Drell was never associated with the prosecution. Drell acted at the behest of the court, not the state. View "In re Br. M. & Bo. M." on Justia Law

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Fox Lake patrol officer Zander was charged with misconduct arising from multiple job-related incidents. The chief recommended termination. Zander's union, FOP, assigned Attorney Carlson, an FOP employee. Zander had no input into the choice of an attorney, had no retainer agreement with Carlson, and was not charged for Carlson’s services. Under the Illinois Municipal Code (65 ILCS 5/1-1-1), police officers who face removal or discharge are entitled to a hearing before the local board of fire and police commissioners unless a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) provides for arbitration. The CBA between Fox Lake and FOP gave officers the option of pursuing either avenue. On Carlson’s advice, Zander chose arbitration. The arbitrator upheld the termination. Zander sued, alleging legal malpractice and that FOP has no right to employ attorneys to furnish legal services under its direction to FOP members, and cannot control what attorneys assigned to help FOP members may do and “should be vicariously liable.”The circuit court dismissed, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s "Atkinson" holding, which immunizes union members and officers against personal liability for actions taken while acting as a union representative in the context of the collective bargaining process. The court noted the parallels between federal labor law and the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed. But for the collective bargaining agreement. FOP would have owed Zander no duty. Zander’s claim against the union fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Illinois Labor Relations Board. View "Zander v. Carlson" on Justia Law

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Green, was convicted of two counts of the first-degree murder for the gang-related shooting death of Lewis and was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment on one of those convictions. The conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. The trial court rejected a post-conviction petition alleging that Green’s trial counsel, Ritacca, labored under a per se conflict of interest because his trial counsel had previously represented Williams, the intended victim of the murder, who was in the vehicle with Lewis at the time of the shooting. Green neither knew about the conflict nor waived the conflict was rejected.The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, finding no per se conflict of interest. Only three situations establish a per se conflict of interest: where defense counsel has a prior or contemporaneous association with the victim, the prosecution, or an entity assisting the prosecution; where defense counsel contemporaneously represents a prosecution witness; and where defense counsel was a former prosecutor who had been personally involved with the prosecution of the defendant. Ritacca’s representation of both defendant and Williams did not fit within any of those three per se conflict situations. View "People v. Green" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the Foundations and their insurance broker, Gallagher, discussed the renewal of the Foundations’ $25 million directors and officers (D&O) insurance coverage. The Foundations wanted to obtain the same coverage with a reduced premium. Gallagher offered renewal of the existing Chubb policy or the purchase of a $25 million Chartis policy, stating that the Chartis policy provided the same coverage with a premium that was $3400 lower. Unbeknownst to the Foundations, the Chartis policy contained a broad exclusion of claims related to securities transactions; the Chubb policy contained a narrower exclusion. In 2007, the Foundations sold their Tribune stock for $2 billion during a leveraged buyout. A year later, the Tribune filed for bankruptcy. The Foundations were named in suits filed by aggrieved shareholders, alleging fraud. The Foundations tendered the litigation to Chartis, which denied coverage. The Foundations, asserting that Chubb would have defended and indemnified them, sued Gallagher for breach of contract and professional negligence. Gallagher’s defenses asserted that the Foundations’ conduct was fraudulent and uninsurable and that the Foundations knew of “an ongoing, progressive loss” before changing insurers. Gallagher subpoenaed the Foundations and their attorneys, seeking communications related to the Tribune bankruptcy and the litigation. The Foundations asserted attorney-client privilege. The circuit court applied an exception, finding that Gallagher had a “common interest” with the Foundations because it was “standing in the insurer’s shoes for the purposes of this malpractice issue and may bear the ultimate burden of payment of the underlying claims and defense costs.”The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. The common-interest exception to the attorney-client privilege does not extend to these circumstances, where there is no insured-insurer relationship between the parties and the party claiming the privilege is bringing suit based on the defendant’s negligence in failing to procure appropriate insurance as a broker. View "Robert R. McCormick Foundation v. Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued Defendant for tortious interference with Plaintiff’s share of the trust by making false statements and presenting misleading evidence against Plaintiff in earlier litigation. Both parties were licensed attorneys, acting pro se. The complaint was dismissed. The Cook County circuit court entered an order imposing Rule 137 sanctions against Plaintiff. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiff’s tortious interference claim and the finding that Plaintiff violated Rule 137 in filing that frivolous claim but reversed a finding that Defendant was entitled to attorney fees. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded with directions to reinstate Defendant’s attorney fee award View "McCarthy v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Defendant was charged with the sexual assault of his 10-year-old daughter, J.G. The indictment alleged that defendant inserted his fingers in J.G.’s vagina, licked her vagina, and touched her buttocks. After his conviction, Defendant filed multiple pro se collateral challenges to his convictions and at various times was represented by different attorneys. In 2015, Defendant filed a pro se motion seeking DNA testing under the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ILCS 5/116-3). The state argued that the controversy at trial was not whether another individual had committed the crime but whether the alleged assault occurred at all. At a hearing, Defendant appeared pro se but was accompanied by attorney Brodsky, who sought to file a Supreme Court Rule 13 limited scope appearance. The court denied Brodsky’s oral request, stating that allowing the motion would mean that attorney Caplan, Brodsky, and the defendant were all working on the case. Defendant later argued extensively in support of his DNA motion. Brodsky was not present. The appellate court vacated the denial of the motion, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s "Powell: decision concerning a court's refusal to hear chosen counsel. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, finding no “Powell” violation. A section 116-3 action is civil in nature and independent from any other collateral post-conviction action and Brodsky’s request failed completely to comply with the requirements of that rule. View "People v. Gawlak" on Justia Law

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The Diamond law firm filed a qui tam action against My Pillow, under the Illinois False Claims Act, 740 ILCS 175/1, asserting that My Pillow had failed to collect and remit taxes due under the Retailers’ Occupation Tax Act (ROT) and the Use Tax Act (UTA), and had knowingly made false statements, kept false records and avoided obligations under the statutes. The cause was brought in the name of the state but the state elected not to proceed, yielding the litigation to Diamond. At trial, Diamond, who had made the purchases at issue, served as lead trial counsel and testified as a witness. While an outside law firm also appeared as counsel of record for Diamond, its involvement was extremely small. Diamond essentially represented itself. The court ruled in favor of My Pillow on Diamond’s ROT claims, but in favor of Diamond on Diamond’s UTA claims; ordered My Pillow to pay $782,667; and recognized that the litigation had resulted in My Pillow paying an additional $106,970 in use taxes. A private party bringing a successful claim under the Act is entitled to receive 25%-30% of the proceeds. The court held that My Pillow should pay $266,891, to Diamond; found that Diamond was entitled to reasonable attorney fees, costs, and expenses, and awarded Diamond $600,960. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the damage award but held that Diamond could not recover attorney fees for work performed by the firm’s own lawyers. To the extent that Diamond prosecuted its own claim using its own lawyers, the law firm was proceeding pro se. View "Schad, Diamond and Shedden, P.C. v. My Pillow, Inc." on Justia Law

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Christine, represented by Goldstine, sought dissolution of marriage from Andrew. Andrew was represented by Boback. Holwell later became Andrew’s counsel. Before withdrawing, Boback successfully moved to disqualify Goldstine for improperly ordering Christine to provide Andrew’s mail that arrived at the marital home, opening and viewing the mail. Holwell billed Andrew $37,094.49 for the disqualification matter. Later, Jaquays appeared for Christine. LeVine appeared for Andrew. Christine sought interim attorney fees, arguing that she had paid Jaquays a retainer of $5000 and had an outstanding balance of $27,142.60 and that if the court determined that Andrew lacked the ability to pay her fees, it should order disgorgement from the money that Andrew had paid to Holwell. Andrew also sought attorney fees, owing $17,500.38 to Holwell and $26,000 to LeVine; Holwell testified that she was holding $13,000 that Andrew had paid to Boback because of a dispute as to who owned the money. The court found that both parties lacked an ability to pay reasonable attorney fees. Andrew had paid $66,382.28 to Holwell, $10,000 to LeVine, and $23,639.99 to Boback. Christine had paid $5000 to Jaquays and $13,117.04 to Goldstine. The court held that to “level the playing field,” each party should have $59,069.65 for attorney fees. The court ordered Holwell to disgorge $40,952.61 for payment to Jaquays. Holwell was held in contempt. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed reversal of the disgorgement order. Fees that have already been earned by an attorney in a dissolution of marriage proceeding are not considered “available funds,” such that they may be disgorged under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/501(c-1)(3). View "In re Marriage of Goesel" on Justia Law

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Cook County public defender Campanelli refused an appointment to defend Cole, accused of armed robbery, arson, and murder, citing potential conflicts of interests with co-defendants. The court nonetheless appointed the public defender’s office. Campanelli file notice of intent to refuse appointment, citing Rule 1.7 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, noting that the Counties Code (55 ILCS 5/3-4006) allows a court to appoint counsel other than the public defender if the appointment of the public defender would prejudice the defendant. The court responded that it had not made a finding that appointment of the public defender would prejudice the defendant. There were 518 Cook County public defender attorneys; they did not all share the same supervisors. There is a multiple defender division for multiple offender cases but Campanelli contended that she was in conflict even in those cases and continued to refuse appointment, arguing that she was the attorney for every client assigned to her office. Campanelli also asserted that her office was a law firm and should be treated like any other law firm. The circuit court of Cook County entered an adjudication of direct civil contempt against Campanelli and sanctioned Campanelli $250 per day. The appellate court stayed the fines. On direct appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed that Campanelli was in contempt, but vacated the order and sanction. “At best, Campanelli’s claims of conflict are based upon mere speculation that joint representation of codefendants by assistant public defenders will, at some point, result in conflict.” View "People v. Cole" on Justia Law

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Nelson, and her codefendants, Hall, Cox, and Ball, were tried simultaneously but in severed bench trials for the armed robbery and stabbing death of Wilson. The prosecution produced five eyewitnesses, who gave generally consistent testimony. Police had followed a blood trail to the four defendants. There was DNA evidence linking defendants to the crime. All were found guilty. The appellate court rejected Nelson's argument that she was denied her sixth amendment right to conflict-free counsel where attorneys from the same law firm represented her and codefendant Hall and that the attorneys, in making their choice of defenses, decided to forgo asserting an innocence defense in favor of pursuing a joint defense of self-defense. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, finding that Nelson had not demonstrated an actual conflict. In light of the evidence, Nelson could not show that an innocence defense based on a lack of accountability was a plausible alternative defense. View "People v. Nelson" on Justia Law