BEFORE THE HEARING BOARD
ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION
In the Matter of:
Commission No. 06 CH 53
JOINT STIPULATION OF FACTS
AND RECOMMENDATION FOR REPRIMAND AGAINST RESPONDENT
Jerome Larkin, Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, by his attorney, Robert J. Verrando, and Respondent, Edward A. Voci, pro se, stipulate that the following facts are true and that a reprimand by the Hearing Panel is warranted:
I. JOINT STIPULATION OF FACTS
Count I (Client Rebecca Fisher):
1. In November 2004, Respondent agreed to represent Rebecca Fisher to pursue a defamation action against her former boyfriend, William Tannebaum and his employer, UAL Corporation. Fisher's prior attorney had filed suit, but had not obtained service upon the defendants. Respondent and Fisher agreed that Respondent would be paid legal fees at the rate of $350 per hour, and that Fisher would advance $6,000 toward Respondent's fees.
2. Fisher paid the $6,000 fee advance. Between November 2004 and May 24, 2005, Respondent represented Fisher in her suit, filed pleadings, made court appearances, conducted research, met with his client and made attempts to obtain service upon the defendants. He was unable to affect service upon Tannebaum, who was an out-of-state airline pilot. In the course of representing Fisher, Respondent spent 21.5 hours and earned the entire amount of Fisher's fee advance.
3. On May 2, 2005, the federal court dismissed Fisher's suit because service had not been made within 120 days of the filing of the complaint.
4. On May 24, 2005, Fisher demanded the refund of the unearned portion of her fee advance. Respondent did not respond to her request or account for his time in her matter.
5. After the Administrator filed the complaint in this matter, Respondent provided a detailed fee statement showing the time he had devoted to her matter.
6. The pleadings in Fisher's suit reveal that Respondent filed pleadings, made court appearances and made attempts to serve defendant Tannebaum.
Count II (Client Linda Sapit):
7. In March 2005, Respondent agreed to represent Linda Sapit in an employment discrimination claim she had filed pro se with the Illinois Department of Human Rights in 2004. Sapit paid Respondent a $4,500 fee advance and informed Respondent that she was required to file on or before April 18, 2005, a surreply in support of her pending request for review by the Department.
8. Between March 22 and April 18, 2005, Respondent did not respond to telephone messages left by Sapit regarding the deadline. On April 18, 2005, Respondent filed an appearance and a request for additional time to file a surreply on Sapit's behalf. On the same day, Sapit, unaware of Respondent's action, filed a pro se surreply in her case.
9. On April 21, 2005, the Department denied Respondent's request for additional time to plead. On April 22, 2005, Sapit submitted a request for an investigation of Respondent to the Commission and demanded a refund of her fee advance.
Counts III and V (Failure to respond to ARDC requests for information):
10. The Administrator sent letters to Respondent on several occasions in 2005 requesting information about the Sapit matter and regarding Jerome Kalish, the subject of Count IV of the Administrator's Complaint, which has been withdrawn, and served a subpoena upon him on June 18, 2005 relating to the Sapit matter, requiring his appearance at the Administrator's office on July 5, 2005. Respondent did not appear pursuant to the subpoena, but in September 2005, he sent a letter to the Administrator providing information about the Kalish matter.
11. Respondent's failure to communicate with Fisher or Sapit, his failure to promptly refund the unearned portion of Sapit's fee advance and his failure to respond to the Administrator's requests for information violated the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. By reason of the facts set forth above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:
failure to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information in violation of Rule 1.4(a);
failure to promptly refund upon withdrawal or discharge from employment any part of a fee paid in advance that has not been earned in violation of Rule 1.16(e);
failure to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority in violation of Rule 8.1(a)(1);
conduct which is prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5); and
conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute in violation of Supreme Court Rule 770.
III. FACTORS IN MITIGATION
12. Respondent was admitted in 1977, practices as a sole practitioner and has not previously been disciplined.
13. In March 2005, while he was working on the Fisher and Sapit matters, Respondent contracted an infection and was hospitalized for ten days on an emergency basis and ultimately required and underwent surgery. Respondent's hospitalization and convalescence prevented him from responding to clients' telephone messages during a period of several weeks during that time.
14. In October 2006, after Sapit had filed suit against him to recover her fee advance, Respondent and Sapit reached a settlement agreement, and Respondent refunded $3,400 to Sapit. Respondent has also provided a detailed fee statement establishing that he earned the entire $6,000 fee advance paid by Rebecca Fisher, and the United States District Court records relating to Fisher's litigation corroborate his fee statement.
15. Since 1979, Respondent has provided pro bono legal services to several clients in First Amendment and tenant eviction defense matters. From 1990 to 1999, he served as Litigation Director of the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, a not-for-profit fair-housing advocacy organization. Respondent has taught annually for several years in a 3-day fair housing trial skills program presented by the John Marshall Law School, which is attended by lawyers from across the United States. He served for four years on the board of directors of a Montessori school in Oak Park, Illinois, where he initiated a financial-need scholarship program, provided pro bono legal service and now serves on the school's scholarship committee. Respondent has spoken on fair housing, First Amendment and other civil rights, and tenant rights at seminars presented by Northwestern University Law School, Loyola University Law School, Northeastern Illinois University, The Indiana Human Rights Commission, The University of Washington at St. Louis Law School, New Orleans Legal Services, Evanston High School, and various professional real estate agents' associations, among others similar institutions and organizations. Respondent's handling of a pro bono case in behalf of a Nazi prison camp survivor was praised in a column by the late Mike Royko in the Chicago Tribune. In addition, Respondent served as a volunteer teacher at Albizu Campos High School in Chicago for a year.
16. Respondent has identified several witnesses who are able to testify to his good reputation for honesty and integrity, including John Marchall Law School professor Michael Seng, Chicago attorney Kingsley Clarke and Leadership Council associate Khalid Halhoul. The Administrator has communicated with these witnesses and confirmed their knowledge of Respondent's community service activities and his reputation for honesty and integrity.
17. Respondent has admitted his misconduct, is remorseful and has been cooperative with the Administrator in the Hearing Board proceedings.
18. Respondent has agreed to complete the Commission's Professionalism Seminar within one year.
IV. RECOMMENDATION FOR DISCIPLINE
19. The parties hereby waive the twenty-one day period for filing exceptions and request that the Hearing Board administer a reprimand to Respondent at the conclusion of the hearing in this matter pursuant to Commission Rule 282.
20. This recommendation is consistent with In re Ambrose, 93 Ill. 2d 42, 442 N.E.2d 900 (1982) where the court held that when an attorney has engaged in an isolated act of misconduct, reprimand is an appropriate sanction. In In re Ambrose, the attorney failed to withdraw as counsel from a divorce proceeding after the client's failure to pay and failed to advise the client that he was no longer handling her case.
21. In In re Nelson, 05 CH 77 (reprimand imposed April 5, 2006), the attorney was reprimanded by the Hearing Board after he failed to promptly refund $8,000 of a client's fee advance. He had not previously been disciplined, and he refunded $5,000 to the client several months after the Administrator filed a complaint against him.
22. In In re Banks, 99 CH 17 (Reprimand imposed June 28, 2000), the Hearing Board reprimanded the attorney after he failed to promptly refund a $5,000 fee advance he had not earned in representing a client in a criminal matter. Banks refunded $3,000 to the client after the complaint was filed.
23. In In re Zdarsky, 98 CH 84 (Reprimand imposed March 19, 1999), the Hearing Board reprimanded the attorney for failing to respond to the Administrator's requests for information.
WHEREFORE, the Administrator and Respondent jointly request that the Hearing Board enter an order reprimanding Respondent as a result of his misconduct.
Jerome Larkin, Administrator
By: Robert J. Verrando
Counsel for the Administrator
By: Edward A. Voci
Based upon the agreement and stipulations of the parties, the panel of the Hearing Board hereby makes findings, and reprimands and admonishes you, Edward Arthur Voci, as follows:
1. You were charged with and found to have failed to communicate with two clients, failed to promptly refund the unearned portion of one client's fee advance, and to have failed to respond to ARDC requests for information in two matters.
2. The Hearing Board has determined that your actions were wrongful and in violation of the Illinois Code of Professional Responsibility. Specifically, you failed to keep clients reasonably informed about the status of their matters or to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information in violation of Rule 1.4(a), failed to promptly refund the part of one client's fee advance which had not been earned in violation of Rule 1.16(e), engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5) and conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute in violation of Supreme Court Rule 770.
3. The Hearing Board has also determined that you have not been previously disciplined, that you have cooperated in these proceedings, that you otherwise have an unblemished career and that you have presented evidence of community service, pro bono legal work and of your good character. The Board has concluded that your misconduct partly resulted from a 2005 illness and hospitalization and from the resulting disruption of your practice in the ensuing weeks. The Panel also acknowledges that you have agreed to attend the Commission's Professionalism Seminar within the next year.
4. The Hearing Board has the authority, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 753 (c )(3) to administer a reprimand to a Respondent in lieu of recommending disciplinary action by the court. The Board has determined that this course of action is appropriate in this case. You are therefore reprimanded for engaging in conduct which did not comport with the level of professionalism required of an attorney.
5. You are further advised that while this reprimand is not formally presented to the Illinois Supreme Court, it is not to be taken lightly. This reprimand is a matter of public record and is on file with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and may be admitted into evidence in subsequent disciplinary proceedings against you.
Michael C. Greenfield, Chair
Vincent A. Lavieri,
Cheryl M. Kneubuehl,