BEFORE THE HEARING BOARD
ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION
In the Matter of:
Commission No. 2013PR00095
FILED --- August 26, 2013
COMPLAINTJerome Larkin, Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, by his attorney, Gina M. Abbatemarco, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 753(b), complains of Respondent, Betty Tsamis, who was licensed to practice law in Illinois on May 4, 2006, 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:
(Conversion of $2,057.54 from Kris Klimek's settlement proceeds)
1. On January 17, 2011, Kris Klimek ("Klimek") was involved in an incident in which she was injured as a result of an accident on the premises of Malibu East Condominiums in Chicago, Illinois. As a result of the incident, Klimek sustained various injuries and incurred medical expenses.
2. On or about February 27, 2011, Respondent agreed to represent Klimek in a claim against Malibu East Condo Association and Sudler & Company (Malibu's management company) relating to the January 17, 2011 incident. At that time, Respondent and Klimek agreed that Respondent's receipt of a fee would be contingent upon Respondent recovering a settlement or award on behalf of Klimek, and that Respondent would receive as her fee an amount equal to one-third of any such recovery, plus costs.
3. On or about August 2, 2011, Klimek agreed to release her claims against Sudler & Company and Malibu East Condo Association and its insurer, Hartford Fire Insurance Company ("Hartford Insurance"), in exchange for the payment of $14,142.68.
4. On or about August 22, 2011, Respondent received Hartford draft numbers 1053652470, 1053661975, and 1053652488 in the respective amounts of $4,713.75, $5,486.25 and $3,942.68. Draft number 1053652470 represented Respondent's fee under the fee agreement described in paragraph two, above. Draft number 1053661975 represented Klimek's portion of the settlement of her claims. Draft number 1053652488 represented the proceeds owed to Medicare, Medicaid/HFS Bureau of Collections in satisfaction of their respective liens.
5. On September 7, 2011, Respondent sent draft number 1053661975 to Klimek. Respondent deposited draft number 1053652488 into an account ending in the four digits "5051" at PNC Bank, N.A. That account (hereinafter "client fund account") was entitled "Tsamis Law Firm P.C. IOLTA Account" and was used by Respondent as a depository of funds belonging to Respondent's clients, to third parties, or, presently or potentially, to Respondent.
6. Between August 22, 2011 and December 30, 2011, Respondent negotiated an agreed reduction of the Medicaid lien but the Medicare lien remained unresolved. On or about December 30, 2011, Respondent drew check number 1081 on account number 5051, which she made payable to HFS Collections, in the amount of $197.24 in payment of Medicaid's lien.
7. After paying the Medicaid lien on December 30, 2011, as set forth in paragraph six, above, Respondent was obligated to hold for Klimek's or Medicare's benefit, the remaining $3,745.44 from the proceeds of draft number 1053652488.
8. On February 14, 2012, prior to any distribution of settlement funds to Medicare and Klimek, the balance in Respondent's client fund account fell to $1,687.90 as Respondent drew checks on the account in payment of her business and personal obligations.
9. Between September 7, 2011, and February 14, 2012, Respondent used for Respondent's own business or personal purposes at least $2,057.54 of the settlement proceeds owed to Medicare and Klimek.
10. At no time did Klimek, Medicare, or anyone on their behalf, authorize Respondent to use any portion of the proceeds of draft number 1053652488 for Respondent's own business or personal use.
11. On or about April 17, 2012, Medicare agreed to accept $717.63 from the proceeds of Klimek's settlement in satisfaction of its lien.
12. Between April 20, 2012 and April 26, 2012, Respondent paid $717.63 to Medicare in payment of its lien and $3,027.81 to Klimek, which represented the balance of the settlement proceeds due to Klimek after payment of the Medicare and Medicaid liens.
13. By reason of the conduct described above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:
failure to promptly pay or deliver funds to a client which the client was entitled to receive, in violation of Rule 1.15(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010);
conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(c) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010); and
conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010).
(Revealing client information involving Richard Rinehart)
14. On or about September 6, 2012, Respondent agreed to represent Richard Rinehart ("Rinehart") in matters related to Rinehart's securing unemployment benefits from his former employer, American Airlines. Shortly before hiring Respondent, American Airlines had terminated Rinehart's employment as a flight attendant because Rinehart allegedly assaulted a fellow flight attendant during a flight. At that time, Rinehart paid Respondent $1,500 towards her fee.
15. Between September 6, 2012 and January 16, 2013, Respondent met with Rinehart on at least two occasions and obtained information from Rinehart concerning his employment history at American Airlines and information concerning the alleged incident involving the other flight attendant. Respondent also reviewed Rinehart's personnel file, which she had obtained from American Airlines.
16. On or about January 16, 2013, Respondent represented Rinehart at a telephonic hearing before the Illinois Department of Employment Security ("IDES"), which resulted in the IDES denying Rinehart unemployment benefits. Shortly thereafter, Rinehart terminated Respondent's representation of him.
17. On or about February 5, 2013, Rinehart posted a client review of Respondent's services on the legal referral website AVVO, in which he discussed his dissatisfaction with Respondent's services. Rinehart stated in the posting that "She only wants your money, claims "always on your side" is a huge lie. Paid her to help me secure unemployment, she took my money knowing full well a certain law in Illinois would not let me collect unemployment. [N]ow is billing me for an additional $1500 for her time."
18. Between February 7, 2013 and February 8, 2013, Respondent contacted Rinehart by email and requested that Rinehart remove the February 5, 2013 posting about her on AVVO. Rinehart responded that he refused to remove the posting unless he received a copy of his files and a full refund of the $1,500 he had paid.
19. Sometime between February 5, 2013 and April 10, 2013, AVVO removed Rinehart's posting from its online client reviews of Respondent.
20. On or about April 10, 2013, Rinehart posted a second client review of Respondent on AVVO. In the April 10, 2013 posting, Rinehart stated that "I paid Ms. Tsamis $1500 to help me secure unemployment while she knew full well that a law in Illinois would prevent me from obtaining unemployment benefits."
21. On or about April 11, 2013, Respondent posted a reply to Rinehart's April 10, 2013 client review. In that reply Respondent stated that:
"This is simply false. The person did not reveal all the facts of his situation up front in our first and second meeting. [sic] When I received his personnel file, I discussed the contents of it with him and informed him that he would likely lose unless the employer chose not to contest the unemployment (employers sometimes do is [sic]). Despite knowing that he would likely lose, he chose to go forward with a hearing to try to obtain benefits. I dislike it very much when my clients lose but I cannot invent positive facts for clients when they are not there. I feel badly for him but his own actions in beating up a female coworker are what caused the consequences he is now so upset about."
22. By stating in her April 11, 2013 AVVO posting that Rinehart beat up a female coworker, Respondent revealed information that she had obtained from Rinehart about the termination of his employment. Respondent's statements in the posting were designed to intimidate and embarrass Rinehart and to keep him from posting additional information about her on the AVVO website.
23. By reason of the conduct described above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:
revealing information relating to the representation of a client without the client's informed consent, in violation of Rule 1.6(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010);
using means in representing a client that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, in violation of Rule 4.4 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010); and
conduct which is prejudicial to the administration of justice or 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.
Gina M. Abbatemarco
Jerome Larkin, Administrator