BEFORE THE HEARING BOARD

OF THE

ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION

AND

DISCIPLINARY COMMISSION

In the Matter of:

LAWRENCE FRANCIS PATTERSON,

Attorney-Respondent,

No. 2153718.

Commission No. 2013PR00059

FILED --- June 11, 2013

 

COMPLAINT

Jerome Larkin, Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, by his attorneys, Meriel Coleman, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 753(b), complains of Respondent, Lawrence Francis Patterson, who was licensed to practice law in the State of Illinois on May 21, 1968, and alleges that Respondent has engaged in the following conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute, and which subjects Respondent to discipline pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 770:

COUNT I
(Breach of fiduciary duty-George Wasson)

1. On July 24, 2009, Respondent agreed to represent George Wasson ("Wasson") in a variety of matters, including Wasson's desire to petition for appointment to serve as guardian for the person and estate of Pamela Wasson, Wasson's then-52 year-old daughter, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Their agreement provided, in part, that Respondent would be compensated at a rate of $225 per hour and that Wasson was to pay Respondent $2,500 fee advance upon execution of a signed agreement. Shortly thereafter, Respondent and Wasson signed a document entitled "Security Retainer Agreement", and Wasson paid Respondent $2,500 as an advance toward Respondent's fees, as required pursuant to their agreement.

2. As Wasson's attorney, Respondent owed fiduciary duties to Wasson, including the duty to exercise at all times the highest degree of honesty, loyalty, and good faith in his dealings with Wasson, and to avoid putting his own interest above Wasson's.

3. As of September 17, 2009, Respondent had applied $2,408.10 of the advance fee payment paid by Wasson towards fees and cost that were purportedly owed to him by Wasson.

4. As of December 8, 2010, Respondent had not filed a guardianship petition for Pamela on behalf of Wasson or prepared an estate plan or funded a trust on behalf of Wasson or Pamela.

5. On December 8, 2010, Respondent went to Wasson's residence, removed a check from Wasson's checkbook, had Wasson sign the check, and made the check payable to himself for $5,000. Respondent deposited those funds in his client trust account. As of December 8, 2010, Respondent had not provided Wasson with an itemized bill and has not filed a petition for guardianship of Pamela.

6. Sometime between December 8 and December 17, 2010, Wasson terminated Respondent as his attorney.

7. On December 17, 2010, Respondent filed a document entitled "755 ILCS 5/11a-8 Emergency Petition for Appointment of a Temporary & Plenary Guardian of the Person & Estate Guardian ad Litem & Adjudication of Disability" (hereinafter "petition") in the Circuit Court of Will County, Probate Division, requesting that Wasson be adjudicated disabled and seeking to have himself appointed Wasson's guardian. The case was captioned as Estate of George Wasson, as an alleged disabled person, case number 10 P 938.

8. On December 20, 2010, the Honorable Jeff Allen entered an order appointing attorney Colleen Wengler as Guardian ad Litem for Wasson in case number 10 P 938. Case number 10 P 0938 was continued until December 23, 2010 for a hearing on Respondent's petition.

9. On December 23, 2010, attorney Mark Hanson filed an appearance as counsel for Wasson.

10. On December 23, 2010, after considering testimony offered by Wengler and Hanson, Judge Allen entered an order denying Respondent's request for emergency relief, referred to in paragraph 7, above. Judge Allen continued case number 10 P 938 for status on Respondent's petition for guardianship of Wasson until February 28, 2011.

11. On February 28, 2011, after considering information that included recommendations contained in a neuropsychological evaluation of Wasson, Judge Allen entered an order denying Respondent's petition in case number 10 P 938

12. On May 25, 2011, Wengler, on behalf of Wasson, filed a petition for a recovery citation against Respondent in case number 10 P 938, requesting that Respondent be required to show cause why he should not be required to remit the $7,500 in purported fees that he received, alleging that any legal services were either not rendered or were rendered without Wasson's knowledge or consent.

13. On July 19, 2011, Respondent filed a petition for fees and costs in case number 10 P 938. In Respondent's fee petition, after giving Wasson credit for $4,408.10 that had been paid, Respondent claimed that Wasson owed him $28,271.63 in additional fees and costs.

14. On July 19, 2011, after considering testimony from Respondent and Wasson, Judge Allen entered an order finding that Respondent had not "met his burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that he has exercised the utmost good faith and has not betrayed the trust placed in him" by Wasson, granting Wasson's petition for recovery, and directing Respondent to deliver $7,500 to Wengler within 10 days of the order. Judge Allen ordered the funds to be deposited by Wengler and maintained in her trust account until further order of the court. Judge Allen scheduled case number 10 P 938 for status on August 1, 2011.

15. On July 28, 2011, Wengler filed a petition for fees seeking from Respondent $3,700 for services Wengler provided to Wasson in case number 10 P 938.

16. On July 29, 2011, Respondent filed a motion to vacate the order entered on July 19, 2011, described in paragraph 14, above.

17. As of August 1, 2011, Respondent had not complied with Judge Allen's July 19, 2011 order that required him to tender $7,500 to Wengler, on behalf of Wasson. On August 1, 2011, Wengler filed a petition for a rule to show cause, alleging that Respondent had violated the court's July 19, 2011 order, referenced in paragraph 14, above, by failing to deliver $7,500 to Wengler's office, and asking that Respondent be ordered to show why he should not be found in direct willful contempt for his violation of the July 19, 2011 order.

18. On August 1, 2011, Judge Allen entered an order denying Respondent's motion to vacate and granting Wengler's petition for a rule to show cause. Judge Allen further ordered Respondent to tender $2,820.90 to Wengler to be held in her trust account until further order of the court. Case number 10 P 938 was continued until August 23, 2011 for return of the rule to show and hearings on Respondent's and Wengler's fee petitions.

19. On August 15, 2011, Respondent filed a motion to vacate the August 1, 2011 rule to show cause, referred to in paragraph 18, above.

20. On August 23, 2011, Judge Allen entered an order denying Respondent's motion to vacate the rule to show cause, holding Respondent in indirect civil contempt, but also holding that Respondent could purge the contempt by depositing $4,679.10 with Wengler on or before September 13, 2011. Judge Allen also approved Wengler's fee petition requesting fees in the amount of $3,700, over Respondent's objection. Case number 10 P 938 was continued until September 14, 2011 for status, consideration of Respondent's fee petition and allocation of Wengler's fees.

21. On August 23, 2011, Wengler filed objections to Respondent's fee petition, referred to in paragraph 13, above, alleging, in part, that Respondent did not perform the services for which Wasson retained him to perform.

22. On September 8, 2011, Respondent sent Wengler a check for $4,679.10, which represented the funds that he was required to deposit with Wengler to purge the August 23, 2011 order finding Respondent in contempt, referred to in paragraph 20, above.

23. On September 9, 2011, Wengler filed a petition for additional fees totaling $1,800, related to her representation of Wasson.

24. On September 14, 2011, upon being advised that Respondent had delivered $4,679.10 to Wengler, Judge Allen entered an order purging the contempt finding against Respondent and dismissing the rule to show cause. Judge Allen further ordered Respondent to pay the previously approved GAL fees in the amount of $3,700 to Wengler within 30 days of the order.

25. On September 14, 2011, Respondent filed objections to Wengler's petition for additional fees and a supporting memorandum of law objecting to the court's jurisdiction and Wengler ongoing participation in case number 10 P 938.

26. On September 22, 2011, Respondent filed a motion to vacate portions of the orders entered on August 23, 2011 and September 14, 2011. Specifically, Respondent requested that Judge Allen vacate the portions of the August 23, 2011 order approving Wengler's fees as "usual and customary"; awarding the amount of $3,700; and granting Wengler leave to file objections to Respondent's fee petition instanter. Additionally, Respondent requested that Judge Allen vacate portions of the order entered on September 14, 2011 that provided that Respondent pay Wengler's $3,700 fee and that the payment be made with 30 days.

27. On October 24, 2011, Wengler filed a motion for hearing on Respondent's motion to vacate and for sanctions under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 137, alleging that Respondent's motion to vacate had been filed solely to harass the guardian ad litem, unnecessarily delay enforcement of the judgment against Respondent, and needlessly increase the cost of litigation cost in case number 10 P 938.

28. On November 2, 2011, Wengler filed a petition for additional fees related to her representation of Wasson in case number 10 P 938, seeking an additional $2,600.

29. On November 2, 2011, Judge Allen entered an order denying and dismissing Respondent's objection to the court's jurisdiction and Wengler's participation in case number 10 P 938; striking Respondent's motion to vacate portions of the court's August 23, 2011 order because it was untimely; denying Respondent's motion to vacate the court's September 14, 2011 order; and granting Wengler's October 24, 2011 motion for hearing and for sanctions. The court further granted Wengler's petitions for additional fees in the amount $1,800 and $2,600 and ordered that Wengler's fees would be assessed against Respondent. The court further found that Respondent's actions were for purposes of delaying enforcement of the court's order. Pursuant to the court's order, Respondent was ordered to pay $7,500 to Wasson and was ordered to pay the balance of Wengler's fees within 28 days of the court's order. Wengler was granted leave to apply $7,500 that was currently on deposit with her from Respondent towards her fees, leaving Respondent with a balance of $600 owed to Wengler.

30. On December 2, 2011, Respondent filed a notice of appeal in case number 10 P 938.

31. As of February 8, 2012, Respondent had not paid Wasson or Wengler, pursuant to the court's November 2, 2011 order. On February 8, 2012, Wengler filed a petition for a rule to show cause against Respondent in the Circuit Court of Will County, alleging that he had not paid her or Wasson, in compliance with the court's order November 2, 2011 order. Wengler requested that Respondent be held in indirect civil contempt of court.

32. On or around February 15, 2012, Respondent sent Wengler $600, representing the balance of the fees that he owed her.

33. On February 29, 2012, Judge Allen entered an order scheduling a hearing on Wengler's petition for a rule to show cause.

34. On April 4, 2012, Respondent filed a motion seeking to have the judgment against him stayed pending appeal.

35. On April 4, 2012, Judge Allen entered an order denying Respondent's motion for a stay of judgment, and finding him in indirect civil contempt of court for failing to comply with the November 2, 2011 order by paying Wasson $7,500.

36. Judge Wasson further ordered that Respondent had 45 days to purge the contempt finding by paying Wasson, through Wengler, $7,500.

37. As of May 16, 2012, Respondent had not paid the $7,500 that Judge Allen had ordered him to pay Wasson. On May 16, 2012, Respondent filed a motion to reconsider and motion for stay of judgment pending appeal.

38. On May 16, 2012, Judge Allen ordered Respondent to present himself in court on July 31, 2012 to advise the court whether he had paid Wasson the previously ordered $7,500. Judge Allen further ordered that Respondent was to be taken to the Will County Detention Center where he would be incarcerated for 150 days or such lesser time if he proved that he paid Wasson.

39. On May 23, 2012, Respondent appealed the court's April 4, 2012 order finding him in indirect civil contempt.

40. On July 31, 2012, Respondent appeared in court and tendered to Wengler a check for $7,500. Respondent's check represented payment of the judgment owed to Wasson, referred to in paragraph 14, above.

41. On August 13, 2012, the court entered an order purging and discharging Respondent's contempt, after being advised that Respondent's check for $7,500 had been honored by the bank.

42. By reason of the conduct described above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:

  1. breach of fiduciary duty to George Wasson;

  2. overreaching;

  3. charging an unreasonable fee, in violation of Rule 1.5 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010);

  4. conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010); and

  5. conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute.

COUNT II
(Incompetence and charging unreasonable fees-Joseph Gombash)

43. On December 10, 2007, Joseph Gombash ("Gombash") initiated proceedings to become appointed as the guardian for Evelyn Gombash ("Evelyn"), his wife, in the Circuit Court of Will County, Probate Division. The matter was captioned as In re the Estate of Evelyn Gombash, 07 P 893.

44. On February 29, 2008, the Honorable Carmen Goodman entered an order appointing Joseph Gombash as plenary guardian for Evelyn in case number 07 P 893. At that same time, Judge Goodman continued case number 07 P 893 to March 28, 2008, for the report of inventory, a list of the estate's finances as of the date of Gombash's appointment, in case number 07 P 893.

45. On March 28, 2008, Gombash appeared pro se in court on case number 07 P 893. As of that date, no report of inventory had been filed relating to Evelyn's estate. Judge Goodman continued case number 07 P 893 for April 25, 2008 for status.

46. On April 11, 2008, Heather Collinet ("Collinet"), Evelyn's and Gombash's daughter, contacted Respondent by telephone to discuss his possible representation of her family related to the administration of Evelyn's estate in case 07 P 893. At that time, Respondent told Collinet that he would need to meet with her parents to discuss the guardianship proceedings.

47. On April 16, 2008, Respondent met with Evelyn, Gombash, Collinet, and Joseph Lee Gombash, Evelyn and Gombash's son, to discuss Respondent's representation of Evelyn's estate, which was to include his filing of an inventory. At that time, Gombash agreed to pay Respondent $225 per hour plus a $5,000 advance fee payment.

48. Shortly thereafter, Respondent learned that case number 07 P 893 had been scheduled for a status hearing on for April 25, 2008.

49. On April 23, 2008, Respondent sent a letter to the Will County Clerk of the Circuit Court requesting copies of documents from court file 07 P 893. Respondent also stated that he would not be filing an appearance in case number 07 P 893 until he had reviewed the file, and inquired whether it would be possible to change the April 25, 2008 court date to May 9, 2008.

50. On April 25, 2008, Respondent did not appear in court and case number 07 P 893 was stricken from the call. At no time prior to April 25, 2008 had Respondent filed his appearance or file a motion to continue the court date in case number 07 P 893.

51. On April 26, 2008, Gombash signed a written agreement related to Respondent's representation in connection with case number 07 P 893.

52. On May 12, 2008, Respondent sent Gombash a billing statement that outlined services Respondent purportedly provided between April 11, 2008 and May 12, 2008 relating to the administration of Evelyn's estate. The billing statement reflected that Respondent purportedly invested 18.2 hours of billable time into case number 07 P 893, merely in an effort to gather from financial institutions records related to the assets of Gombash and Evelyn which were largely available through Gombash. Respondent claimed to be owed $4,095.00 for fees, plus an additional $87.06 for costs he claimed to have advanced.

53. On May 17, 2008, Gombash paid Respondent $5,000 for the initial fee payment in case number 07 P 893.

54. On May 19, 2008, Respondent filed his appearance on behalf of Gombash, individually, and as the guardian of the person and estate in case number 07 P 893.

55. On June 3, 2008, Respondent sent Gombash a billing statement that represented services Respondent purportedly provided between May 13, 2008 and June 3, 2008 relating to the administration of Evelyn's estate. The billing statement reflected that Respondent purportedly met with the Gombashes, reviewed records related to Evelyn's estate and probate proceedings, and had telephone conferences regarding Evelyn's assets. According to Respondent's billing statement, he invested an additional 12.8 hours of billable attorney time beyond the amount referred to in paragraph 52, above, plus an additional 6.4 billable hours of time purportedly invested by his assistant at a rate of $125.00 per hour into case number 07 P 893. Respondent claimed to be owed an additional $3,680.00 for fees beyond the $5,000 he had already collected, plus an additional $191.79 for costs he claimed to have advanced, for a total balance due of $3,871.79.

56. On or around June 4, 2008, Gombash paid Respondent an additional fee payment of $5,000.

57. On June 27, 2008, Respondent sent Gombash a letter notifying him of Respondent's decision to terminate his representation of Gombash and Evelyn's estate based on their disagreement regarding how best to proceed in case number 07 P 893. Respondent's and Gombash's dispute related particularly to Gombash's request that Respondent file the inventory in case number 07 P 893. At that time, Respondent claimed that Gombash owed Respondent an additional $954.13 beyond the amounts referred to in paragraphs 52 and 55, above, for legal services and costs he claimed to have advanced.

58. On July 18, 2008, Respondent filed a motion to withdraw his appearance for Gombash in case number 07 P 893.

59. On July 23, 2008, the Honorable Carmen Goodman entered an order granting Respondent's motion to withdraw from representing Gombash in case number 07 P 893.

60. As of the date of Respondent's withdrawal from case number 07 P 893, he had not filed the inventory in the case, or otherwise provided any services that benefitted Gombash, Evelyn, or her estate.

61. On July 24, 2008, attorney Edward J. Jarot, Jr. ("Jarot") filed an appearance on behalf of Gombash in case number 07 P 893.

62. On August 7, 2008, Respondent sent Gombash a billing statement in which he claimed to be owed an additional $2,615.35 for fees, plus an additional $80.35 for costs for services completed between June 3, 2008 and August 7, 2008 relating to the administration of Evelyn's estate. The services listed on Respondent's August 7, 2008 billing statement largely related to Respondent's termination of his representation of Gombash.

63. On August 21, 2008, Jarot filed an inventory of Evelyn's property as of February 29, 2008, the date that Gombash was appointed as her guardian.

64. On August 30, 2011, as part of his continued effort to collect payment from Gombash, Respondent sent an amendment to final notice for legal services rendered in which Respondent claimed to be owed $3,569.48 for fees, costs, and interest related to services provided in case number 07 P 849. The services listed on Respondent's August 30, 2011 billing statement largely related to Respondent's termination of his representation of Gombash.

65. At no time between April 16, 2008 and July23, 2008, the period of time that Respondent represented Gombash, did Respondent provide services sufficient to justify the fees that he collected and attempted to collect.

66. By reason of the conduct described above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:

  1. breach of fiduciary duty to Joseph Gombash;

  2. failure to provide competent representation, in violation of Rule 1.1 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010)

  3. charging unreasonable fees, in violation of Rule 1.5 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010);

  4. conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice , in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010); and

  5. conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute.

COUNT III
(Failure to provide competent representation-Lorraine Osterman)

67. On December 14, 2009, Respondent agreed to represent Lorraine Osterman ("Osterman") in relation to her efforts recover all property in which she had interest from David Osterman, her son. Pursuant to the representation agreement, Osterman paid Respondent $5,000 retainer to be applied towards anticipated fees and cost and agreed to pay Respondent $225 per hour as his fee for representing her.

68. Shortly thereafter, Respondent recommended that Osterman allow Respondent to file a petition to be appointed her guardian, claiming that would be the best manner in which to proceed in order to recover her assets.

69. In February, 2010, Respondent arranged for Osterman to have a psychological evaluation by Keith A. Baird, Ph.D. ("Dr. Baird") to determine whether Osterman was able to function independently.

70. On March 12, 2010, Dr. Baird sent Respondent a completed report of the psychological evaluation of Osterman, which stated that Osterman had no cognitive or psychological issues that could reasonably interfere with her managing her own affairs. Respondent received Dr. Baird's report on March 16, 2010 and reviewed it shortly thereafter.

71. On March 30, 2010, Albin M. Osterman, Osterman's husband, filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in Kankakee County. The matter was captioned as In re the Marriage of Albin M. Osterman v. Lorraine Osterman, case number 10 D 132.

72. Shortly thereafter, Respondent hired the law firm of Elliot & McClure P.C. to appear file a motion on the grounds of forum non conveniens and to seek to have case number 10 D 132 transferred to Will County.

73. On April 9, 2010, Dr. Terrence C. Moisan ("Dr. Moisan"), who had previously acted as Osterman's primary physician, wrote a letter at the request of Osterman for Respondent in which Dr. Moisan opined that there was no reason why Osterman should not be able to make personal decisions and care for herself. Shortly thereafter, Respondent received and reviewed Dr. Moisan's letter.

74. On May 4, 2010, Respondent filed a petition in the Circuit Court of Will County, Probate Division, to be appointed as the plenary guardian for Osterman, without a finding of disability. The matter was captioned as In re the Estate of Lorraine Osterman, case number 2010 P 326.

75. At all times alleged in this complaint, Section 11a-3(b) of the Illinois Probate Act of 1975 (755 ILCS 5/11a-3(b), provided that:

guardianship shall be utilized only as necessary to promote the well-being of the disabled person, to protect him from neglect, exploitation, or abuse, and to encourage development of his maximum self-reliance and independence. Guardianship shall be ordered only to the extent necessitated by the individual's actual mental, physical, and adaptive limitations.

76. At all times alleged in this complaint, Section 11a-2 of the Illinois Probate Act of 1975 (755 ILCS 5/11a-2 defined a disabled person as:

a person 18 years or older who (a) because of mental deterioration or physical incapacity is not fully able to manage his person or estate, or (b) is a person with mental illness or a person with a developmental disability and who because of his mental illness or developmental disability is not fully able to manage his person or estate, or (c) because of gambling, idleness, debauchery or excessive use of intoxicants or drugs, so spends or wastes his estate as to expose himself or his family to want or suffering, or (d) is diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects.

77. At the time that Respondent filed the petition seeking to be appointed Osterman's guardian, based on the findings of Dr. Baird and Dr. Moisan, Osterman did not suffer from any condition that would qualify her as a disabled person pursuant to Section 11a-2 of the Probate Act of 1975 (755 ILCS 5/11a-2).

78. On May 11, 2010, the Honorable Jeff Allen entered an order appointing Edward Jarot ("Jarot") as the guardian ad litem for Osterman in case number 2010 P 326. Case number 2010 P 326 was continued until June 8, 2010.

79. On June 8, 2010, Jarot filed his report of the guardian ad litem in case number 2010 P 326 stating that, in his opinion, after interviewing Respondent, Osterman, and reviewing Osterman's physician's report, the appointment of a guardian for Osterman would be "wholly inappropriate" because Osterman did not qualify as a disabled person, as defined under the Probate Act. Jarot further opined that a suit in chancery court to recover Osterman's assets would be more appropriate and efficient. Respondent attached copies of both Dr. Baird's and Dr. Moisan's written findings to the petition.

80. On July 13, 2010, Respondent filed a petition for appointment of a temporary and limited guardian for Osterman in case number 2010 P 326.

81. On July 13, 2010, after argument, Judge Allen dismissed case number 2010 P 326 for lack of jurisdiction.

82. On August 7, 2010, Osterman, through attorney Lisa Kinser, terminated Respondent.

83. On September 30, 2011, Respondent sent Osterman a "corrected statement" which purportedly reflected services that Respondent provided to Osterman between December 3, 2009 and July 30, 2010. According to Respondent's billing statement, he spent 96.10 hours of billable attorney time, plus an additional 20.80 hours of time provided by Respondent's assistant at a rate of $125.00. Respondent demanded payment of $23,182.50 for fees, plus $511.66 for costs advanced.

84. The majority of time for which Respondent billed Osterman related to his efforts to have himself appointed her guardian and did not serve the purpose for which Osterman retained Respondent, which was to recover property that was being held by her son.

85. At no time between December 14, 2009 and August 7, 2010, the period of time that Respondent represented Osterman, did Respondent provide services sufficient to justify the fees that he collected and attempted to collect from her.

86. By reason of the conduct described above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:

  1. breach of fiduciary duty

  2. overreaching

  3. failure to provide competent representation, in violation of Rule 1.1 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010);

  4. charging an unreasonable fee, in violation of Rule 1.5 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010);

  5. conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010); and

  6. conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute.

WHEREFORE, the Administrator requests that this matter be assigned to a panel of the Hearing Board, that a hearing be held, and that the panel make findings of fact, conclusions of fact and law, and a recommendation for such discipline as is warranted.

Meriel Coleman
Counsel for the Administrator
One Prudential Plaza
130 East Randolph Drive, Suite 1500
Chicago, Illinois 60601-6219
Telephone: (312) 565-2600

Respectfully submitted,

Jerome Larkin, Administrator
Attorney Registration and
Disciplinary Commission

By:  Meriel Coleman