Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Illinois
Midwest Sanitary Service, Inc. v. Sandberg, Phoenix & Von Gontard, P.C.
Crane filed a complaint for retaliatory discharge, alleging that his employment with Midwest was terminated after he reported numerous health and safety violations to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Crane was awarded $160,000 in compensatory damages and $625,000 in punitive damages. The appellate court affirmed. After losing the underlying action and paying damages to its former employee, Midwest filed a legal malpractice complaint against its attorneys and the Sandberg law firm, alleging that the attorneys failed to list all witnesses intended to be called at trial in compliance with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 213(f), resulting in six defense witnesses being barred from testifying, and several other errors.The circuit court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss but certified a question for immediate appeal: Does Illinois’ public policy on punitive damages and/or the statutory prohibition on punitive damages [in legal malpractice actions, 735 ILCS 5/2-1115] bar recovery of incurred punitive damages in a legal malpractice case where the client alleges that, but for the attorney's negligence in the underlying case, the jury in the underlying case would have returned a verdict awarding either no punitive damages or punitive damages in a lesser sum?” The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court answered the question in the negative and affirmed the judgment. View "Midwest Sanitary Service, Inc. v. Sandberg, Phoenix & Von Gontard, P.C." on Justia Law
Sigcho-Lopez v. Illinois State Board of Elections
Sigcho-Lopez, the alderman for Chicago’s 25th Ward, filed a complaint with the Illinois State Board of Elections, alleging that his predecessor’s (Solis) campaign committee unlawfully paid Solis's personal legal fees from campaign funds. The Board dismissed Sigcho-Lopez’s complaint. On administrative review, the appellate court affirmed the dismissal.The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. Legal fees incurred to pay for a public official’s criminal defense against investigations or charges of public corruption do not amount to a per se prohibited personal debt under the plain language and spirit of Election Code section 9-8.10(a)(3); whether legal defense fees amount to a personal debt that does not defray the customary and reasonable expenses of an officeholder in connection with the performance of governmental and public service functions must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Solis was not indicted but worked with federal investigators using his official capacity to expose public corruption. Considering the evidence before the Board, its conclusion that Solis’s legal fees amounted to a proper expenditure not prohibited as “satisfaction or repayment” of personal debt but incurred “to defray the customary and reasonable expenses of an officeholder in connection with the performance of governmental and public service functions” was not clearly erroneous. View "Sigcho-Lopez v. Illinois State Board of Elections" on Justia Law
Suburban Real Estate Services, Inc. v. Carlson
In 2006, Suburban, owned by Barus, and ROC formed ROC/Suburban LLC, which acted as a vendor to Suburban. In 2010, Barus retained attorney Carlson for legal advice in unwinding that relationship. ROC sued Suburban, alleging breach of fiduciary duty. The Gaspero Law Firm defended Suburban in the ROC litigation. In June 2015, the court entered judgment for ROC and ordered Suburban to pay 50% of the fair value of the assets that Barus had improperly transferred out of ROC/Suburban.In May 2016, Barus and Suburban filed a legal malpractice action against Carlson, who allegedly recommended or approved the self-help actions that resulted in the breach of fiduciary duties. The circuit court held that the claim was barred by the two-year statute of limitations (735 ILCS 5/13- 214.3(b)) because the injury began when the plaintiffs retained new counsel and that the plaintiffs knew they were injured in 2013 at the latest when the judge stated that Carlson had committed malpractice.The appellate court reversed; the Illinois Supreme Court agreed. The plaintiffs did not suffer a realized injury until the court found a breach of fiduciary duty and entered a judgment against them. Although plaintiffs may have been alerted in 2013 that counsel misadvised them, the possibility of damages was not actionable until the ROC litigation ended and plaintiffs became obligated to pay damages as a result of Carlson’s advice. View "Suburban Real Estate Services, Inc. v. Carlson" on Justia Law
People v. Yost
In 2015, Yost was charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder in connection with the fatal stabbing of his former girlfriend, Randall. After Yost was convicted, he notified the court that he had just learned that his appointed counsel, Rau, had represented Randall in a past case; he requested a new trial. Rau also filed a motion for a new trial but did not reference Yost’s allegations of a conflict of interest. The court denied the motion and sentenced Yost to 75 years’ imprisonment. After conducting a preliminary inquiry on remand, the trial court concluded that the allegations had merit and appointed new counsel, Lookofsky, to investigate. Yost’s amended motion for a new trial alleged that Rau had represented Randall, on two prior occasions in an unrelated case. Yost waived any conflict of interest based on Lookofsky’s prior hiring of Rau on an unrelated civil matter and any conflict-of-interest claims based on the judge’s prior representation of Yost’s family members.The court concluded that there was no per se conflict of interest, which would have required automatic reversal of the conviction, absent a waiver. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed. Illinois now recognizes three per se conflicts of interest: when defense counsel has a contemporaneous association with the victim, the prosecution, or an entity assisting the prosecution; when defense counsel contemporaneously represents a prosecution witness; and when defense counsel was a former prosecutor who was personally involved in the defendant's prosecution. Yost did not claim an actual conflict of interest. View "People v. Yost" on Justia Law
In re Marriage of Crecos
Diana initiated divorce proceedings from Gregory in 2007. A final judgment dissolving the marriage and allocating marital property was entered in 2009 and was affirmed in 2012. Both parties filed post-decree petitions. Diana appealed a series of orders, arguing as a threshold issue that the court erred in denying her motion for substitution of judge as of right. The appellate court (Crecos II) agreed that the trial court erred in denying Diana’s motion and that subsequent orders were “void.” In 2016, Diana filed petitions under 750 ILCS 5/508(a)(3) for attorney fees and costs incurred in both appeals. In 2018, the trial court ordered Gregory to pay Diana’s attorney fees: $32,952.50 for the Crecos I appeal and $89,465.50 for the Crecos II appeal.The appellate court found that the 2018 order was not final and appealable; the order awarded interim attorney fees under section 501(c-1), which are temporary in nature and subject to adjustment and inextricably intertwined with the property issues that remained partially unresolved. The claim for attorney fees was not a separable claim for purposes of appeal.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. The 2018 fee award was a final order on a post-dissolution petition. In entering the order, the trial court included Rule 304(a) language. The appellate court had jurisdiction over Gregory’s appeal of that order. View "In re Marriage of Crecos" on Justia Law
In re Br. M. & Bo. M.
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
Zander v. Carlson
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
People v. Green
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
Robert R. McCormick Foundation v. Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services, Inc.
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
McCarthy v. Taylor
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