Filed December 5, 2007
In re Hall Adams, III
Commission No. 05 CH 30
Synopsis of Review Board Report and Recommendation
The Administrator filed a three-count complaint charging Respondent-Appellee, Hall Adams, III, with misconduct based on false billing. In each count, the complaint charged that Adams engaged in conduct involving fraud, dishonesty, deceit, or misrepresentation, conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, and conduct that tends to defeat the administration of justice or bring the courts or legal profession into disrepute. In his answer, Adams admitted many of the facts alleged in the complaint, plus additional incidents of false billing.
The Hearing Board found that Adams engaged in all of the misconduct charged. The Hearing Board recommended that Adams be suspended for five and a half months.
The case was before the Review Board on the Administrator's exceptions, objecting to the Hearing Board's sanction recommendation. Adams sought to have the Review Board uphold the Hearing Board's sanction recommendation or recommend a lesser sanction. Neither party challenged the Hearing Board's findings of misconduct, which the Review Board affirmed.
The Review Board majority concurred in the Hearing Board's recommendation of a five and a half month suspension. The Review Board majority relied on the mitigating factors presented and deferred to the Hearing Board's assessment of the demeanor of Adams and his witnesses, in concluding that it was highly unlikely that Adams would engage in similar misconduct in the future.
The third member of the review panel dissented from the majority's sanction recommendation. The dissent recommended a suspension for one year, given the seriousness of Adams's misconduct and the principle that there should be consistent discipline for similar misconduct.
BEFORE THE REVIEW BOARD
ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION
|In the Matter of:
HALL ADAMS, III,
Commission No. 05 CH 30
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE REVIEW BOARD
The Administrator-Appellant filed a three-count complaint charging Respondent-Appellee, Hall Adams, III, with misconduct based on false billing. Each count charged that Adams engaged in conduct involving fraud, dishonesty, deceit, or misrepresentation in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(4) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (210 Ill. 2d R. 8.4(a)(4)), conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (210 Ill. 2d R. 8.4(a)(5)), and conduct that tends to defeat the administration of justice or bring the courts or legal profession into disrepute in violation of Supreme Court Rule 770 (210 Ill. 2d R. 770).
Adams admitted many of the facts alleged in the complaint, as well as incidents of false billing in addition to that charged by the Administrator.
The Hearing Board found that Adams engaged in the misconduct charged and recommended that Adams be suspended for five and a half months.
The case is before the Review Board on the Administrator's exceptions. The Administrator challenges the Hearing Board's sanction recommendation, seeking to have the Review Board recommend a suspension of one year. Adams seeks to have the Review Board uphold the Hearing Board's sanction recommendation or recommend a shorter suspension.
Adams was licensed to practice law in Illinois in 1988. He has no prior discipline. At the time of the hearing, Adams was in private practice, sharing space with other attorneys. Adams concentrated in plaintiff's personal injury work. He also did some business litigation, as co-counsel with other attorneys. Two attorneys worked for Adams. Adams worked with those attorneys on a contractual basis, rather than employing them, pending the outcome of the disciplinary case.
Before opening his own office, Adams was employed at Williams, Montgomery, & John and concentrated his practice in insurance defense. Adams began working at Williams, Montgomery in 1990 as an associate. In 1995, Adams became a non-equity partner. He became an equity partner in 2002; as such, he shared in any firm profits. Adams was managing partner from 1998-2000 and again from 2002 until he resigned from the firm. As managing partner, Adams had various responsibilities, including recruiting new attorneys, assisting in managing the support staff, helping manage workloads, and dealing with outside service providers. Those duties occupied significant time, although it was less than half of Adams's time.
When Adams began working for Williams, Montgomery, the firm required attorneys to bill a minimum of 900 hours every six months. This was increased to 1000 hours while Adams was either an associate or a non-equity partner. About the time Adams became an equity partner, the minimum billing requirement was increased to 2100 hours per year. During his tenure at Williams, Montgomery, Adams's time was billed at an hourly rate that ranged from $100 to $250. In 2000-03, his annual salary was approximately $200,000 - $250,000.
While at Williams, Montgomery, Adams typically arrived at his office at 6:15 a.m. on Monday through Friday. He was the first person to arrive in the morning. He typically did not get home until 8:00 - 8:45 p.m. Adams generally worked every Saturday, from about
4:00 a.m. until mid-afternoon. He also regularly worked every Sunday morning. He took only two or three vacations in the over 13 years he was employed at the firm. Adams thus billed over the firm's customary billing requirements, and typically billed more than any other attorney in the firm, i.e. about 2300 - 2400 hours per year.
Compensation was determined by a committee of equity partners in the firm. Adams testified that the number of hours he worked did not have a direct impact on his compensation, except that, when he was an associate and a non-equity partner, the number of hours billed was used as a benchmark for compensation. When he became an equity partner, his share of the profits was small, so his own billed hours had a relatively small impact on his compensation.
When he worked on a case at Williams, Montgomery, Adams prepared records of the time he spent and any expenses he incurred. Adams forwarded these records to the firm's billing department, which used the records to prepare a billing memorandum. The memorandum was sent to the attorney who submitted the time and expense records, so the attorney could review the entries for accuracy and make any corrections needed. The partner in charge then also reviewed and, if necessary, corrected the memorandum and returned it to the billing department. The billing department then generated a bill and sent it to the client.
While at Williams, Montgomery, Adams was assigned to work for Alpha Therapeutic Corp. Multiple product liability cases were pending against Alpha Therapeutic, including three cases filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County that had been consolidated. Count I related to Adams's billing of Everest National Insurance Co., for legal services provided to its insured, Alpha Therapeutic, in connection with those cases.
When Adams attended court proceedings on the consolidated cases, the three cases were generally heard at the same time. Adams, however, billed the full amount of time spent in court for each of the three matters. Adams claimed to have spent 41.05 hours, for which fees totaling $9,853 were billed and paid. This represented triple billing. This conduct occurred between April 2000 and October 2002.
Count II related to Gwinner Oil Co., which was also insured by Everest. Adams represented Gwinner in litigation. He billed in that matter for court appearances that he did not make, depositions that he did not attend, and a vehicle inspection that he did not attend. In addition, Adams billed for expenses that he did not incur. Everest paid, on Gwinner's behalf, at least some of these false bills.
Between October 2002 and September 2003, Adams billed 30.80 hours, representing $5,388.00 in fees, to Everest for the Gwinner litigation. Between October 2, 2003 and November 23, 2003, Adams prepared time records in which he purported to have spent 49.20 hours on the Gwinner matter, which would represent fees of $8,856.00. Adams also purportedly incurred expenses of $293.60 on November 13, 2003. These items were not billed, as the misconduct was discovered before this bill was sent.
Count III involved allegations that, between January 2002 and October 2003, Adams submitted false billing statements for representing various clients. This count involved 34 entries, totaling 73.5 hours. Adams testified that, in those cases, he billed for activities that he did not perform, including court appearances, depositions, and travel time.
On November 18, 2003, Charles Barry Montgomery, a principal of the firm, received information that Adams had billed for attending a deposition in the Gwinner litigation that he had not actually attended. Montgomery met with Adams that day, and Adams admitted
the improper billing for the deposition in the Gwinner matter. Adams also told Montgomery that there were other matters in which he had billed for services that he had not actually performed.
The firm did an internal audit to identify any other potentially improper entries in Adams's billing over the preceding two years. Adams and his attorneys reviewed the audit results. Adams cooperated in providing information to the firm. He corrected some items and advised the firm of additional fictitious billing entries the firm had not identified. Adams testified that every fictitious bill he submitted was included in the allegations of the Administrator's complaint, as supplemented by his answer.
Adams resigned from Williams, Montgomery on December 15, 2003, after completing a previously scheduled trial. Adams reported his misconduct to the ARDC.
Adams agreed to reimburse the firm for any charges the firm's clients had paid for services Adams had not rendered and expenses he had not incurred, including any amounts later determined to have been improperly billed and paid. Adams and the firm reached an agreement as to the amount due; consistent with the agreement, Adams paid Williams, Montgomery a little over $28,000. Adams made this payment after his resignation, and very shortly after completion of the firm's audit into the amount of improper billing. The firm refunded this money to any clients who had been overbilled.
Adams testified that his misconduct arose out of his desire to achieve, rather than being motivated by financial gain. Adams stated that he had been ambitious, arrogant, and overly driven and that he thought he had to be "the number one guy." He perceived the number of hours billed as the way to achieve. Adams recognized that his behavior was wrong and accepted sole responsibility for his misconduct. He testified that this type of behavior was limited to billing at Williams, Montgomery and did not extend into other aspects of his life.
Adams also testified that he had come to understand that being number one was not the key and that being good was much more satisfying. He had learned from the lawyers with whom he shared space that the important thing was not to nickel and dime clients or sneak an hour here or there, but to help people. Adams testified that that was what he was trying to do in his current practice.
Adams no longer dealt with billable hours in his practice, because most of his cases were taken on a contingency basis. Adams did some work on an hourly basis, but solely in situations in which he was co-counsel. In those cases, all of Adams's time was billed through the lawyer with whom Adams was collaborating.
At the time of the hearing, Adams was 43 years old. He was married and had two daughters.
Adams had one sister. When Adams was seven years old, he witnessed their mother being murdered. His sister, then age 2, was also in the house. This information was presented as background, to explain the testimony regarding Adams's ongoing care and concern for his sister, who had been significantly affected by the incident. Adams testified that the incident did not affect his misconduct.
Adams participated in athletics during high school and college. While in high school, he was involved in a service organization and ran a Christmas tree sale to raise money to provide scholarships to disadvantaged youths. Adams regularly had summer jobs in high school.
While in college, Adams attended the Marine Corps Officers Training Camp in Quantico, Virginia. He intended to join the Marine Corps after graduation, but health issues prevented him from doing so at that time.
Therefore, Adams decided to go to law school. He was licensed to practice law in 1987. Adams then joined the Marine Corps. The health issues that previously prevented his enlistment had been resolved. During most of his active duty, Adams worked as a lawyer in the Marines. Adams was in the reserves for a couple of years after his active duty ended. He joined Williams, Montgomery after completing his active military duty.
Adams formerly worked with the Constitutional Rights Foundation, teaching grade school and high school students how the legal system worked. He donated blood on a regular basis.
John Clinton Mabie testified as a character witness. Mabie and Adams had been friends since childhood. Mabie was a client relationship manager for the Chicago Community Trust, a charitable endowment. Adams was a member of the Springboard Foundation, an organization founded by Mabie's brother, which worked to teach successful young professionals about philanthropy and to support after school programs and growing non-profit organizations. Members donated $5,000 per year to the foundation. In addition, Adams solicited others to join Springboard as members. Adams also reviewed several of the organizations the foundation supported and reported to the foundation how those organizations were doing.
Mabie testified that Adams was a person of unquestioned integrity and utmost truthfulness, who gave 110% to everything he did. Mabie was aware of the charges against Adams. While Mabie was disappointed in Adams because of this situation, it did not change his opinion of Adams.
Attorney Robert Cummings also testified as a character witness for Adams. Cummings had a long history of involvement in bar association work, particularly in the area of professional responsibility. He had chaired the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board for eight years,
chaired the judiciary committee of the Chicago Bar Association, and served on the ARDC Review Board for seven years. Cummings had known Adams for about ten years. Cummings was in the suite of offices in which Adams practiced after leaving Williams, Montgomery. Adams and Cummings were co-counsel on a number of cases.
Cummings testified that Adams was a highly competent attorney and a person of highest integrity. Cummings considered Adams to be a very decent person and a good lawyer. Other people with whom Cummings had spoken had a similar opinion. Cummings knew of the charges against Adams; they did not change his opinion or Adams's reputation.
Attorney Edward Pacer met Adams when Pacer was an associate at Williams, Montgomery. Pacer testified that Adams acted as a mentor for many younger attorneys. Adams and Pacer set up training programs at the firm for summer associates and new associates. Pacer had worked with Adams on cases while at Williams, Montgomery. After leaving the firm, Pacer referred cases to Adams and worked with him on various cases. They had also become friends.
Pacer testified that Adams had a reputation, both in and outside the legal community, for being an honest person. Pacer described Adams as a good lawyer, with an excellent reputation for honesty, truthfulness, and integrity. Pacer was aware of the charges against Adams and testified that they did not change his opinion of Adams's reputation.
Jan Dragovich-Stulberg (Dragovich) is the executive director of the Center for Disability and Elder Law (CDEL). The CDEL primarily refers cases to attorneys for pro bono representation. Adams joined the CDEL as a pro bono attorney about two years before the hearing. Dragovich had frequent contact with Adams. She described him as someone whom she could call on in an emergency, on short notice, and for complex cases. Adams obtained good results for the clients Dragovich referred to him and CDEL's clients were very pleased with him.
Dragovich testified that Adams had a reputation within the CDEL for very high integrity. She was aware of the charges against him, and they did not change her opinion of his reputation.
Attorney Michael Coffield had been actively involved with the Chicago Bar Association and the American Inns of Court. He was a founder of the Chicago Inns of Court. Coffield had known Adams for five or six years. After Adams left Williams, Montgomery, Coffield invited Adams to office in a suite Coffield shared with other attorneys, including Cummings. Coffield had worked with Adams on various cases. Coffield testified that Adams performed pro bono work for many people, beyond his work for the CDEL. Coffield also testified that Adams acted as a mentor for the young attorneys who officed in the same space.
Coffield testified that Adams had a reputation of having the highest character, the highest legal abilities and professionalism. Coffield knew of the charges against Adams. They did not change Coffield's view of Adams, particularly as Adams responded to the situation with a desire to make things right and ensure that no one suffered financial loss.
The Hearing Board's findings of misconduct are unchallenged. The only issue concerns the sanction recommended by the Hearing Board.
The Hearing Board's recommendation as to discipline is advisory. In re Ingersoll, 186 Ill. 2d 163, 178, 710 N.E.2d 390, 237 Ill. Dec. 760 (1999). In fashioning the proper sanction in any given case, the Review Board must consider each case, based on its own particular facts and circumstances, while remaining aware that the system seeks to impose sanctions consistent with those imposed in other similar cases. Ingersoll, 186 Ill. 2d at 177-78, 710 N.E.2d 390, 237 Ill. Dec. 760; In re Timpone, 157 Ill. 2d 178, 197, 623 N.E.2d 300, 191 Ill. Dec. 55 (1993). In imposing discipline, the purpose is not to punish the individual respondent, but to protect the public, maintain the integrity of the profession, and protect the administration of justice from
reproach. In re Spak, 188 Ill. 2d 53, 719 N.E.2d 747, 241 Ill. Dec. 618 (1999); Timpone, 157 Ill. 2d at 197, 623 N.E.2d 300, 191 Ill. Dec. 55.
Aggravating and mitigating factors are to be considered. In re Witt, 145 Ill. 2d 380, 398, 583 N.E.2d 526, 164 Ill. Dec. 610 (1991). Mitigating factors can include a lack of prior discipline, cooperation in the disciplinary process, and favorable character evidence. See In re Twohey, 191 Ill. 2d 75, 90, 727 N.E.2d 1028, 245 Ill. Dec. 294 (2000). The extent to which a respondent is, or is not, candid with the Hearing Board is relevant, as is the extent to which a respondent does, or does not, accept responsibility for his or her misconduct. In re Gorecki, 208 Ill. 2d 350, 367-69, 802 N.E.2d 1194, 280 Ill. Dec. 673 (2003). Community service and pro bono legal activities are mitigating factors. Gorecki, 208 Ill. 2d at 368-69, 802 N.E.2d 1194, 280 Ill. Dec. 673.
In arguing for a one-year suspension, the Administrator relies primarily on the principle that consistent sanctions should be imposed in similar cases and the seriousness of Adams's misconduct.
Intentional, repeated false billing is serious misconduct, which merits serious discipline. See e.g., In re Walsh, No. M.R. 16705 (June 30, 2000); In re Quinlivan, No. 01 CH 10 (Review Board July 21, 2004), petition for leave to file exceptions denied, No. M.R. 9653 (Nov. 17, 2004). A suspension is warranted by the nature and extent of Adams's misconduct. Given the nature and extent of the misconduct, a shorter suspension than that recommended by the Hearing Board is not warranted.
The disciplinary system's goal of consistency in sanctions in similar cases is a valid consideration in choosing a sanction in a particular case. However, the goal of discipline is not punishment, but protection of the public. See Spak, 188 Ill. 2d 53, 719 N.E.2d 747, 241 Ill.
Dec. 618. Further, because each case is unique and must be resolved based on its own particular facts and circumstances, Spak, 188 Ill. 2d 53, 719 N.E.2d 747, 241 Ill. Dec. 618, different cases can legitimately result in different sanctions. Twohey, 191 Ill. 2d at 91-92, 727 N.E.2d 1028, 245 Ill. Dec. 294. Thus, while the system seeks to impose sanctions consistent with those in other cases, different circumstances, particularly aggravating and mitigating factors merit different sanctions for different cases. See Twohey, 191 Ill. 2d at 91-92, 727 N.E.2d 1028, 245 Ill. Dec. 294.
This case is distinguishable from those cases on which the Administrator relies primarily because of the differences in aggravating and mitigating factors.1
In In re Giamanco, No. 97 SH 27 (Review Board Feb. 17, 1999), approved and confirmed in part, No. M.R. 15818 (May 26, 1999), the respondent was suspended for two years. As the Administrator acknowledges, Giamance engaged in serious misconduct in addition to fraudulent billing and, therefore, deserved harsher discipline than Adams. The client whom Giamanco fraudulently billed was a non-profit organization on whose board of directors Giamanco had served. Giamanco overbilled by very significant amounts. While Giamanco presented favorable character testimony and other mitigating evidence, Giamanco's misconduct was aggravated by the fact that he had been disciplined in the past for similar misconduct. This is a significant aggravating factor. See In re Storment, 203 Ill. 2d 278, 786 N.E.2d 963, 272 Ill. Dec. 129 (2002). Given these circumstances, Giamanco does not support the Administrator's argument that a one-year suspension is warranted in this case.
The Administrator also relies on In re Solomon, No. 92 CH 159 (Hearing Board Feb. 26, 1993), approved and confirmed, No. M.R. 9073 (May 21, 1993), in which a one-year suspension was imposed. Solomon sought reimbursement for expenses from the accounting firm
by which he was employed. Over a period of about eight years, in approximately 150 instances, Solomon sought to be reimbursed for expenses for which he had previously been reimbursed. These items totaled over $21,000. Solomon's misconduct affected only the firm by which he was employed; the duplicate expenses involved were not billed to any clients. Solomon admitted his misconduct, was candid in the disciplinary proceedings, and presented favorable character testimony. Solomon had tendered restitution via a check to the firm for the full amount at issue; at the time of the hearing, the check had not been negotiated.
In Solomon, the hearing panel majority recommended a one-year suspension, in lieu of the two-year suspension sought by the Administrator. The majority reasoned that two years was too harsh, given the mitigating evidence Solomon presented. The majority considered a censure, as recommended by the third panel member, too lenient, given the nature and extent of Solomon's misconduct. The dissenting panel member would have given greater weight to the mitigating evidence presented and considered the circumstances in Solomon's firm as factors mitigating the discipline to be imposed.
While Solomon is similar to this case, it is legitimate for a hearing panel, and for this Board, to give differing weight to the aggravating and mitigating factors present in different cases. That appears to be exactly what the Hearing Board did in this case, as more fully discussed below.
The Hearing Board relied on in In re Garfinkle, No. 97 CH 104 (Hearing Board Aug. 31, 1998), approved and confirmed, No. M.R. 15297 (Nov. 24, 1998), in which the respondent was suspended for six months. Garfinkle, an associate at a large law firm, submitted time records that included false entries. This misconduct occurred during a six-month period of time in which Garfinkle was facing significant personal hardship. Those problems caused
Garfinkle to miss work and distracted him when he was at work. Garfinkle admitted his misconduct when confronted about it. He self-reported to the ARDC; the firm had notified Garfinkle that it would report him to the ARDC. Garfinkle testified that some of his incorrect entries were based on an incorrect memory of his actual time. He testified that, in other instances, he just entered time in order to have something to put down, even though he knew doing so was wrong. Given Garfinkle's lack of prior discipline, personal problems at the time of his misconduct, remorse, timely good faith effort to rectify the consequences of his misconduct, and other mitigating factors, the Hearing Board rejected the Administrator's request for a one-year suspension and determined that a six-month suspension was sufficient. While Garfinkle presented character evidence, it was not as impressive as that presented by Adams.
In this case, the Hearing Board articulated the reasons behind its decision to recommend that Adams be suspended for five and a half months, instead of a longer period. The Hearing Board considered Adams a very credible witness. The Hearing Board was convinced that it was highly unlikely that Adams would engage in similar future misconduct. This was supported by the changes in his practice and the motivation behind his misconduct. The Hearing Board was particularly impressed with the fact that Adams not only admitted the wrongdoing of which his firm and the Administrator knew, but also brought forth evidence of and admitted additional fraudulent billing. The Hearing Board also noted other mitigating factors, including very favorable character evidence, cooperation in the disciplinary process, pro bono work, and lack of prior discipline. These are all legitimate mitigating factors.
Additionally, while we review the Hearing Board's sanction recommendation de novo, we are mindful of the fact that the Hearing Board saw Adams and his character witnesses testify. The Hearing Board members were able to assess the demeanor of the witnesses. In
particular, the Hearing Board members were in a unique position to evaluate Adams's demeanor and sincerity. After reviewing the record, the Hearing Board report, and the arguments of the parties, we are convinced that, in this case, the Hearing Board based its decision as to the sanction to recommend, at least in part, on its assessment of Adams's credibility and remorse. As to such factors, and their significance as to sanction, the Hearing Board's assessment deserves deference. See In re Schencker, No. 95 CH 704 (Review Board Dec. 30, 1997), petition for leave to file exceptions denied, No. M.R. 14598 (March 23, 1998).
For these reasons, we affirm the Hearing Board's findings of misconduct and concur in its recommendation that Respondent-Appellee, Hall Adams, III, be suspended for five and a half months.2
Date Entered: 05 December 2007
Leonard F. Amari
1 In two of the cases on which the Administrator relies, In re Alpert, No. 01 CH 13, petition for discipline on consent allowed, No. M.R. 17749 (Nov. 28, 2001) and In re Nadell, No. 90 CH 348, petition for discipline on consent allowed, No. MR. 12524 (May 28, 1996), discipline was imposed on consent. Such cases have limited precedential value, as they constitute only the Court's acceptance of an agreement between the parties. See In re Rinella, 93 CH 378 (Review Board April 10, 1996), approved in part, rejected in part on other grounds, 175 Ill. 2d 504, 677 N.E.2d 909, 222 Ill. Dec. 375 (1997). The limited precedential value of such cases is apparent here, in attempting to compare the relative weight of aggravating and mitigating factors between those cases and this one. While the petitions for discipline on consent in Alpert and Nadell do set out some of the aggravating and mitigating factors present in those cases, such descriptions do not equate with the presentation of full evidence in aggravation and mitigation. In this case, very significant mitigating evidence was presented to the Hearing Board. That evidence included favorable character evidence from particularly impressive witnesses. In addition, the Hearing Board saw and heard testimony from the respondent, whom the Hearing Board considered credible. This is a legitimate basis on which to give the consent cases less weight as precedent.
2 The Hearing Board also recommended that Adams continue participation in the ISBA mentor program. The record does not indicate any such participation, and we do not include that recommendation by the Hearing Board in our recommendation as to the sanction.
In re Adams, No. 05 CH 30
I concur in the majority opinion, insofar as it affirms the Hearing Board's findings of misconduct. I respectfully dissent, however, from the majority's recommendation that Mr. Adams be suspended for five and a half months.
The Hearing Board's sanction recommendation is advisory and does not bind the Review Board. In re Twohey, 191 Ill. 2d 75, 85, 727 N.E.2d 1028, 245 Ill. Dec. 294 (2000). The Supreme Court has directed that the sanction imposed on an attorney should be generally consistent with sanctions imposed on other attorneys for similar misconduct. Twohey, 191 Ill. 2d at 85, 727 N.E.2d 1028, 245 Ill. Dec. 294. While each case is unique and must be considered accordingly, the goal of consistency in sanctions for similar misconduct is important. It is the means of ensuring predictability and fairness in disciplinary cases. In re Spak, 188 Ill. 2d 53, 68, 719 N.E.2d 747, 241 Ill. Dec. 618 (1999). One of the functions of the Review Board is to review the disciplinary recommendations from hearing panels from across the State with a concern for, among other things, implementing the Court's requirement of consistency and predictability in sanctions imposed for similar misconduct. In re Ellis, No. 89 CH 476 (Review Board Jan. 22, 1992), approved and confirmed, No. M.R. 8225 (May 27, 1992). I consider that practically this is the most important purpose of the Review Board in the disciplinary process.
I also consider the recommendation of a five and a half month suspension for the misconduct of this respondent is strikingly inconsistent with the sanctions imposed in similar cases, and it is inconsistent with the seriousness of this respondent's misconduct. Respondent Adams intentionally submitted false billing statements. He repeated this misconduct numerous times, over a period of three and a half years. He triple billed one client for the same services. This was a single court appearance in three consolidated cases, billing the client for multiple
court appearances. In other instances, Mr. Adams billed for work that he had not performed and expenses that he did not incur. There is no question that Mr. Adams engaged in this misconduct. His known fraudulent billings totaled over $28,000.
In other cases involving false billing of similar magnitude, the attorneys have been suspended for one year. E.g., In re Solomon, No. 92 CH 159 (Hearing Board Feb. 26, 1993), approved and confirmed, No. M.R. 9073 (May 21, 1993); see also In re Alpert, No. 01 CH 13, petition for discipline on consent allowed, No. M.R. 17749 (Nov. 28, 2001). Mitigating circumstances were present in those cases too. In fact, Solomon and Alpert involved an additional mitigating factor not present here. In each of those cases the respondent's firm was harmed by the misconduct but no clients were overbilled. In this case, false bills were submitted to and paid by clients.
Cases such as In re Garfinkle, 97 CH 104 (Hearing Board Aug. 31, 1998), approved and confirmed, No. M.R. 15297 (Nov. 24, 1998) also demonstrate that a one year suspension is appropriate. Garfinkle was suspended for six months. However, Garfinkle submitted false bills totaling approximately $8,500, over a period of about six months. His misconduct was at least quantitatively and temporally less than that of Mr. Adams. Further, Garfinkle's misconduct was mitigated by the fact that, during the period in which he submitted the false bills, Garfinkle was experiencing significant personal problems. No similar circumstances are present in this case.
I also have a different view of some of the factors considered as mitigating by the majority. Mr. Adams presented an impressive record of pro bono legal work. However, most, if not all of his pro bono legal work began after the misconduct at issue was discovered. Mr. Adams has changed his practice so that he now primarily handles cases that involve contingent,
rather than hourly, fees. However, he still handles some hourly cases and could readily do so in the future; but Mr. Adams is now a sole practitioner. There are no systems in place to serve as a monitor or deterrent to false inflated billing in the future.
The deterrent value of a sanction and the need to preserve public confidence in the legal profession are legitimate considerations in recommending discipline. In re Discipio, 163 Ill. 2d 515, 528, 645 N.E.2d 906, 206 Ill. Dec. 654 (1994). Fraudulent billing more than any other unprofessional conduct, with the possible exceptions of conversion, erodes the public's perception of the legal profession. The client's almost total dependence on the attorney to be honest in recording his time demands that the abuse of this basic trust in the attorney / client relationship be stemmed by the imposition of significant, predictable and consistent discipline. To do less would cause the disciplinary commission's work to be an extension of the problem and an enabler of the conduct that perhaps more than any other brings the profession into disrepute.
For these reasons, I recommend that Respondent-Appellee, Hall Adams III, be suspended for one year.
Date Entered: 05 December 2007
David R. Rolewick