Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss recent Illinois disciplinary hearing board report and recommendation that an Illinois lawyer/arbitrator be suspended from practice for 2 years for conspiring to keep a public administrative proceeding a secret and engaging in multiple ex-parte communications with three lawyers which “discussed the merits of pending cases, contained disparaging comments about their opposing attorneys, and even contained advice from the (lawyer/arbitrator) regarding the handling of the cases.” The case is In the Matter of Jennifer L. Teague, No. 6255716, Commission No. 2011PR00076 (November 26, 2012). The board’s report and recommendation is online at: https://www.iardc.org/HB_RB_Disp_Html.asp?id=10703.
According to the board’s report and recommendation, the lawyer was an arbitrator at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and her duties included conducting trials and issuing decisions in disputed workers’ compensation cases, “thus, she was the person who was required to be, and to appear to be, an impartial arbitrator. She failed miserably in that regard.” The lawyer was found to have engaged in numerous ex-parte e-mail communications with three lawyers in a contested matter and conspiring to keep a public hearing secret.
The board’s report states: “By being in a position of authority and presiding in the cases in which the other three attorneys represented a party, the Respondent could have clearly stopped the exchange of ex-parte e-mails by simply informing the other attorneys not to communicate with her ex parte in regard to any pending matter. Instead, the Respondent affirmatively participated in the ex parte communications and induced (three other lawyers) to continue to communicate with her in that manner. The ex-parte e-mails the Respondent exchanged with (the three lawyers) discussed the merits of pending cases, contained disparaging comments about their opposing attorneys, and even contained advice from the Respondent regarding the handling of the cases.”
“The seriousness of Respondent’s misconduct with respect to her actions concerning the setting of a secret hearing in a case before her is, in our opinion, profound, and she exhibited a total absence of understanding of, and responsibility for, her complicity in, and of the gravity of, her actions in that regard. Freedom of the press, as embodied in the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the freedom to speak, write and publish freely, as embodied in Article I, Section 4, of the Illinois Constitution, are protected and priceless rights. But those rights are not protected if the performing of public functions, including, as in this case, the holding of an administrative hearing, are kept from the media and the public. Every attorney is, upon admission to the Bar, sworn to uphold the laws of the land, which include these constitutional rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”
“Conspiring to keep an administrative hearing secret, as Respondent did, was nothing less than an intentional failure to comply with her responsibilities as a member of the Bar. Moreover, during her testimony Respondent said nothing that indicates to us she understands or is remorseful for that misconduct, but instead she complained that a news organization’s reporting had prevented her from obtaining employment in the legal profession. The Respondent intentionally and repeatedly engaged in misconduct that jeopardized the appearance of her impartiality and the very integrity of workers’ compensation proceedings. In addition, the Respondent deliberately set a special hearing in a case for the purpose of preventing the news media from attending the hearing, and then instructed two attorneys to make false statements if they were asked about the reason for the special setting.”
The board concluded that the lawyer “intentionally and repeatedly engaged in misconduct that jeopardized the appearance of her impartiality and the very integrity of workers’ compensation proceedings. In addition, the Respondent deliberately set a special hearing in a case for the purpose of preventing the news media from attending the hearing, and then instructed two attorneys to make false statements if they were asked about the reason for the special setting.”
After considering the nature of the misconduct, aggravation, mitigation, and relevant cases, the board found that “a sanction less than a two-year suspension would denigrate the seriousness of the Respondent’s misconduct and would erode public trust in the legal profession and administrative officials” and, therefore, that the recommended that the lawyer be suspended for a period of two (2) years. Separate bar disciplinary cases were also brought against the other lawyers who were involved in the improper contacts.
Bottom line: This arbitrator/hearing officer in this matter was in the position of a judge/presiding officer and apparently failed to recognize or ignored the essential requirements of impartiality as a part of her duties (and also not to instruct other lawyers to lie). She may pay for that lapse with a very long suspension of her license to practice law.
Be careful out there!
Disclaimer: this e-mail does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670