Filed October 11, 2007

In re Jeanne E. Gettleman
Commission No. 06 CH 69

Synopsis of Hearing Board Report and Recommendation

NATURE OF THE CASE: 1) failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client; 2) failing to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter; 3) failing to hold property of clients separate from the lawyer's own property; 4) failing to refund an unearned fee; 5) failing to make reasonable efforts to expedite litigation consistent with the interests of a client; 6) counseling or assisting a client in conduct the lawyer knows to be illegal or fraudulent; 7) committing a criminal act, including obstructing justice that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer; 8) engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice; and 9) engaging in conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or bring the courts or legal profession into disrepute.

RULES DISCUSSED: 1.3, 1.4(a), 1.15(a), 1.16(e), 3.2, 3.3(a)(6), 8.4(a)(3) and 8.4(a)(5) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct and Supreme Court Rule 770.

RECOMMENDATION: Two-year suspension and until further order of the Court.

DATE OF OPINION: October 11, 2007.

HEARING PANEL: John M. Steed, Chair and William M. Dickson.

ADMINISTRATOR'S COUNSEL: Athena Taite.

BEFORE THE HEARING BOARD
OF THE
ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION
AND
DISCIPLINARY COMMISSION

In the Matter of:

JEANNE E. Gettleman,

Attorney-Respondent,

No. 6210609.

Commission No. 06 CH 69

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE HEARING BOARD

INTRODUCTION

The hearing in this matter was held on March 23, 2007, at the offices of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, Chicago, Illinois, before a Hearing Board Panel consisting of John M. Steed, Chair and William M. Dickson, lawyer member. Athena Taite represented the Administrator. Respondent, Jeanne E. Gettleman, failed to appear for the hearing and was not represented by counsel.

PLEADINGS AND PRE-HEARING PROCEEDINGS

On August 31, 2007, the Administrator filed a three-count Complaint against Respondent pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 753. Counts I and II charged Respondent with accepting fees but failing to represent two separate clients in child custody and support disputes. Count III charged Respondent with advising her client in a child custody dispute to hide herself and her minor daughter in order to evade a court order transferring custody of the child to the child's father.

On September 1, 2006, Jack Kelly, a Senior Investigator for the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, was assigned to serve Respondent with the complaint in this matter. (Adm. Ex. 5). Mr. Kelly reviewed the Master Roll of Illinois Attorneys and determined

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that Respondent' registered business address was P.O. Box 268, Lemont Illinois, 60439 and her registered home address was 14194 127th Street, Lemont, Illinois. (Adm. Ex. 5, Tr. 10-11). Mr. Kelly further determined that Respondent's registered business and home telephone number was 630.257.2604. (Adm. Ex. 5).

On September 8, 2006, Mr. Kelly went to Respondent's registered home address but was told by a woman that Respondent was not present; that she was at the hospital assisting a friend. (Adm. Ex. 5). He left a card and asked the woman to have Respondent contact him. (Adm. Ex.5). While at Respondent's home, Mr. Kelly saw two vehicles in the driveway; one of which was registered to Respondent. (Adm. Ex. 5).

Mr. Kelly made two more attempts to serve Respondent at her home. Each time, he was told that Respondent was not at home. (Adm. Ex. 5). Mr. Kelly phoned Respondent three times, each time leaving a message requesting a return phone call and each time receiving no response. (Adm. Ex. 5).

On October 24, 2006, the Administrator obtained substitute service on the Respondent by serving a copy of the Complaint and other documents on the Clerk of the Illinois Supreme Court pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 765(b). In conformity with Rule 765(b) and Commission Rule 214(b), the Administrator also sent a copy of the complaint and other documents to Respondent at her registered home and business addresses by regular and certified mail.

On January 4, 2007, after Respondent failed to file an answer or other responsive pleading, the Chair granted the Administrator's Motion to Deem the Allegations of the Administrator's Complaint Admitted Pursuant to Commission Rule 236. Accordingly, no

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further proof of the allegations of the Administrator's Complaint was required and the evidence presented at the hearing was limited to matters of aggravation and mitigation.

On January 12, 2007, the Administrator filed a Motion for Sanctions Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 219. That motion stated that Respondent had failed to file a report pursuant to Commission Rule 253, failed to respond to the Administrator's request for production of documents, and failed to appear at her deposition. After Respondent failed to respond, the Chair granted the motion and barred Respondent from calling any witnesses, introducing any evidence or testifying at the hearing in this matter.

THE EVIDENCE

The Administrator presented the testimony of Jack Kelly. The Administrator's exhibits 1-6 were also admitted into evidence.

Count I

In September of 2005, Respondent agreed to represent Vanessa Mallegni in a child custody and support dispute, In re the Parentage of Hill n/k/a Mallegni v. Martinez, 94 F 63. (Adm. Ex. 1). On September 19, 2005, Ms. Mallegni paid Respondent $1,500 by check. Respondent agreed to deduct her attorney's fees from this amount. Respondent then deposited this check into her checking account at Bank One. Respondent held both her personal and business funds in this account.

On October 19, 2005, Respondent appeared in court on Ms. Mallegni's behalf and accepted service of a Rule To Show Cause issued against her client. The matter was continued to November 7, 2005. On that date, Respondent left a telephone message for counsel for the minor child indicating that she was ill and unable to appear in court. Respondent also told Ms.

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Mallegni that she did not have to appear in court. The court continued the matter to December 5, 2005.

Counsel for the minor child served Respondent with a copy of the court order continuing the case to December 5, 2005 by facsimile and mail. Nevertheless, Respondent did not appear in court and did not advise Ms. Mallegni to appear. In their absence, the Court entered an order on the minor's petition for temporary relief directing Ms. Mallegni to pay child support. Counsel for the minor child served Respondent with a copy of that order as well. However, Respondent did not advise Ms. Mallegni of the court order directing her to pay child support.

Between October 19, 2005, and December 6, 2005, Ms. Mallegni made several attempts to contact Respondent to discuss her case. Although Ms. Mallegni left several messages, Respondent never returned her calls. Accordingly, in January 2006, Ms. Mallegni moved to discharge Respondent as her attorney. The court granted Ms. Mallegni's motion and she then hired another attorney to represent her.

Respondent did not perform sufficient work to earn the $1,500 Ms. Mallegni paid her and has not returned any portion of the amount paid.

Count II

In August 2005, Respondent agreed to represent Cheryl Fiore and file a petition for support and custody of Ms. Fiore's children. (Adm. Ex. 2). Respondent agreed to charge Ms. Fiore an hourly rate of $180 for attorney fees and $90 for paralegal fees. At that time, Ms. Fiore paid Respondent $1,500 by check. Respondent explained that she would deduct her fees from this $1,500. Respondent deposited the $1,500 in her checking account at Bank One, an account in which she held her business and personal funds.

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Between September 2005 and December 14, 2005, Ms. Fiori attempted to contact Respondent by phone and left several messages. Respondent failed to return any of her messages. Respondent never filed a petition for support and custody of Ms. Fiore's children or otherwise performed work sufficient to earn the $1500 paid to her. At no time has Respondent refunded Ms. Fiori any portion of the $1500.

Count III

Admitted Allegations

In April 2004, Respondent agreed to represent Renata Gromovska in Gromovska v. Kozlowski, 03 F 34, a child custody petition. On September 2, 2004, the trial court awarded Michael Kozlowski sole custody of the minor child and granted Ms. Gromovska visitation. The court further ordered that physical custody of the child be transferred from Ms. Gromovska to Mr. Kozlowski on September 10, 2004.

On September 3, 2004, Respondent filed an appeal of the custody order. Respondent also sent a letter to counsel for Mr. Kozlowski stating that Ms. Gromovska would not be relinquishing custody of the child to Mr. Kozlowski because of his threats to disappear with the child.

On Mr. Kozlowski's emergency petition for indirect civil contempt, the court issued a rule to show cause against Ms. Gromovska ordering her to appear in court on September 17, 2004. On September 17, 2004, Respondent filed a motion to stay enforcement of the custody order in the Appellate Court and a motion to quash the rule to show cause in the Circuit Court. Ms. Gromovska did not appear on September 17, 2004. Accordingly, the trial court entered a default order against Ms. Gromovska finding her guilty of indirect civil contempt and staying the matter until September 27, 2004.

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On September 20, 2004, the Appellate Court denied the motion to stay the enforcement of the custody order. On September 22, 2004, Mr. Kozlowski filed a second emergency petition for indirect civil contempt and Respondent made an oral motion to stay the custody order. The court denied Respondent's oral motion and issued a writ of attachment for Ms. Gromovska.

On September 22, 2004, Respondent directed Ms. Gromovska to meet her at a certain house. Respondent then advised Ms. Gromovska to stay at the house with her minor child while Respondent worked on her appeal. Respondent filed an amended motion with the Appellate Court requesting a stay of enforcement and a vacature of the writ of attachment. The Appellate Court denied these motions on October 1, 2004.

On October 2, 2004, in spite of the Appellate Court's order, Respondent advised Ms. Gromovska to continue to hide herself and the minor child. On October 3, 2004, Gromovska presented herself and the minor child to the Addison Police Department where she told police the details of Respondent's representations to her.

Additional Evidence

When Ms. Gromovska failed to comply with the court order to transfer custody of the child to Mr. Kozlowski, Mr. Kozlowski filed a missing person report with the Addison Police Department. (Adm. Ex. 3). Pursuant to their investigation, the police questioned Respondent about Ms. Gromovska's whereabouts. Although Respondent had arranged for Ms. Gromovska and her children to hide at her home at 14194 127th Street in Lemont, Respondent denied knowledge of Ms. Gromovska's whereabouts. (Adm. Ex. 3).

Respondent told Ms. Gromovska that the police were looking for her, but that she had not revealed Gromovska's whereabouts. (Adm. Ex. 3). Respondent counseled Gromovska to leave the state with the minor child and change their identities. (Adm. Ex. 3). Ms. Gromovska then

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went to the police and provided them with a written statement detailing Respondent's conduct and advice. (Adm. Ex. 3).

Ms. Gromovska told Respondent that she had told the police the truth and had provided them with a written statement. (Adm. Ex. 3). Respondent became upset stating that Ms. Gromovska's statement could get her into a lot of trouble. (Adm. Ex. 3). Respondent advised Ms. Gromovska to lie and tell a judge that the police coerced the written statement from her. (Adm. Ex. 3). When Ms.Gromovska said she could not lie, Respondent said, "Okay, just play dumb to the judges because you're not a good liar, I'll do it for you." (Adm. Ex. 3).

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

In attorney disciplinary proceedings, the Administrator must prove the alleged misconduct by clear and convincing evidence. Supreme Court Rule 753(c)(6); In re Ingersoll, 186 Ill.2d 163, 168, 710 N.E.2d 390 (1999). Upon consideration of the Administrator's Complaint, the orders entered deeming the allegations of the Complaint admitted and barring Respondent from testifying or presenting any evidence, and Administrator's Exhibits 1 through 6, we find that the Administrator proved by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent engaged in the acts and committed the misconduct alleged in the Administrator's Complaint.

Specifically, we find that Respondent engaged in the following misconduct:

COUNT I

  1. failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client in violation of Rule 1.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct ("Rules");

  2. failed to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter in violation of Rule 1.4(a) of the Rules;

  3. failed to hold property of clients separate from the lawyer's own property, in violation of Rule 1.15(a) of the Rules;

  4. failed to refund an unearned fee in violation of Rule 1.16(e) of the Rules;

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  1. failed to make reasonable efforts to expedite litigation consistent with the interests of a client in violation of Rule 3.2 of the Rules;

  2. engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5) of the Rules; and

  3. engaged in 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.

COUNT II

  1. failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client in violation of Rule 1.3 of the Rules;

  2. failed to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter in violation of Rule 1.4(a) of the Rules;

  3. failed to hold property of clients separate from the lawyer's own property, in violation of Rule 1.15(a) of the Rules;

  4. failed to refund an unearned fee in violation of Rule 1.16(e) of the Rules;

  5. engaged in 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.

COUNT III

  1. counseled or assisted a client in conduct that the lawyer knows to be illegal or fraudulent in violation of Rule 3.3(a)(6) of the Rules;

  2. committed a criminal act, obstructing justice, that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(3) of the Rules;

  3. engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5); and

  4. engaged in conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute in violation of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 770.

RECOMMENDATION

The purpose of the attorney disciplinary system is not to punish an attorney for misconduct. Rather, the goal is to protect the public, maintain the integrity of the legal

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profession, and safeguard the administration of justice. In re Spak, 188 Ill.2d 53, 67, 719 N.E.2d 747 (1999). In determining the appropriate sanction, the nature of the misconduct, the aggravating and mitigating factors, the deterrent value of the sanction, and whether the sanction will help preserve public confidence in the legal profession are to be considered. In re Gorecki, 208 Ill.2d 350, 360-61, 802 N.E.2d 1194 (2003). Although each disciplinary case "is unique and must be resolved in light of its own facts and circumstances," the sanction imposed should be "consistent with those imposed in other cases involving comparable misconduct." In re Howard, 188 Ill.2d 423, 440, 721 N.E.2d 1126 (1999); In re Chandler, 161 Ill.2d 459, 472, 641 N.E.2d 473 (1994).

The Administrator recommends a two-year suspension and until further order of the Court. In support of this recommendation, the Administrator relies on In re Green, 97 CH 57, M.R. 14732 (May 27, 1998) and In re Foley, 98 CH 4, M.R. 15023 (September 25, 1998).

In Green, the respondent's misconduct involved three instances of conversion, taking an excessive fee, and counseling or assisting a client to engage in fraudulent or illegal conduct. The respondent received a three-year suspension. In Foley, the respondent was suspended from the practice of law for a period of two years for his conviction for bankruptcy fraud. The respondent had prepared and filed pleadings which fraudulently inflated his clients' monthly income and combined gross income; advised one of his clients to lie under oath during a creditors' meeting; and advised one of his clients to provide misleading income tax information to the bankruptcy trustee, all in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 157(2).

We find Foley and Green instructive. The heart of the respondents' misconduct in Foley and Green was in the counseling of their clients to engage in fraudulent or illegal conduct. Here

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too, Respondent counseled her client to engage in illegal conduct when she advised and assisted Ms. Gromovska to evade a court order.

In aggravation, Respondent caused serious harm to her clients. See In re Samuels, 126 Ill. 2d 509, 528, 535 N.E.2d 808 (1989). By following Respondent's advice, Ms. Gromovska was suspected of and investigated for child abduction. Ms. Mallegni incurred the additional expense of hiring an attorney to accomplish that which she had already paid Respondent to do. Similarly, although Ms. Fiori paid Respondent to file for support and custody, Respondent's inaction compelled her to pursue her claim with the assistance of a government agency. Respondent's failure to make restitution to both of these clients is also a factor in aggravation. See In re Fox, 122 Ill. 2d 402, 522 N.E.2d 1229 (1988).

We acknowledge in mitigation that Respondent has not been previously disciplined. However, the Respondent's prior good conduct is insufficient to outweigh the severity of her misconduct in this case. See In re Lewis, 138 Ill.2d 310, 562 N.E.2d 198 (1990). Accordingly, we conclude a two-year suspension is appropriate.

We also find Respondent's conduct in this matter warrants the suspension continue until further order of the Court. Respondent's failure to cooperate in these disciplinary proceedings demonstrates that she is unwilling or unable to meet professional standards of conduct and warrants an "until further order of the Court" sanction. In re Houdeck, 113 Ill.2d 323, 327, 497 N.E.2d 1169 (1986).

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Based upon Respondent's misconduct, the factors in aggravation, and her displayed contempt for the disciplinary process, this Panel recommends that Respondent be suspended from the practice of the law for two years and until further order of the Court.

Date Entered: October 11, 2007

John M. Steed, Chair, with William Dickson concurring.