Filed January 31, 2013
In re Robert T. Hall
Commission No. 2011PR00136
Synopsis of Hearing Board Report and Recommendation
This matter arises out of the Administrator's Complaint, filed on December 1, 2011, charging the Respondent with misconduct arising out of his actions as an associate judge. The Respondent, while serving as an associate judge, dismissed a traffic ticket that was issued to the daughter of a fellow judge, by falsely representing in the order that it was dismissed based upon a motion to dismiss filed by the State. The Respondent knew that no motion to dismiss was filed.
The Hearing Board found that the Respondent engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. The Hearing Board recommended that the Respondent be suspended from the practice of law for six months.
BEFORE THE HEARING BOARD
ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION
In the Matter of:
ROBERT T. HALL,
Commission No. 2011PR00136
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE HEARING BOARD
The hearing in this matter was held on May 16 and 17, at the offices of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, Springfield, Illinois before a Hearing Board Panel consisting of Richard W. Zuckerman, Chair, Judith N. Lozier, and Ted L. Eilerman. The Administrator was represented by Gary S. Rapaport. The Respondent appeared at the hearing and was represented by Stephen R. Kaufmann.
On December 1, 2011, the Administrator filed a Complaint against the Respondent. The Complaint alleged that the Respondent, while sitting as an associate judge in the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Sangamon County, entered an order on June 7, 2010, that he knew was false.
Specifically, on April 30, 2010, the daughter of another associate judge, Christopher Perrin, received a traffic citation for disobeying a road closed sign. (Case No. 2010 TR 01776). On Wednesday, June 2, 2010, the Respondent and Judge Perrin had a conversation during which the Respondent complained about the unusually large traffic call he was to have on Monday, June 7, 2010. Judge Perrin then stated that his daughter's traffic case was on that June 7, 2010
docket and that it conflicted with a missionary trip she had planned. The Respondent replied that he would continue the case of Judge Perrin's daughter. Following the foregoing conversation, the Respondent contacted the Circuit Clerk's office and requested that the file in the case of Judge Perrin's daughter (2010 TR 017760) be sent to his chambers. The Respondent received that file on June 2, 2010.
On about Friday June 4, 2010, another associate judge agreed to take one-half of the traffic call on June 7, 2010. The court administrator assigned the cases of defendants whose last names began with the letters A through O to the Respondent, and the cases of defendants whose last names began with the letters P through Z to the other judge. The Respondent did not forward the case of Judge Perrin's daughter to the other judge, but retained it in his chambers.
On Monday June 7, 2010, the Respondent entered an order dismissing the traffic citation issued to Judge Perrin's daughter in Case No. 2010 TR 017760. On the face of the order, the Respondent checked boxes that showed the citation was dismissed on motion of the State and that the motion was based on "insufficient evidence." Following his call, the Respondent placed the file in Case No. 2010 TR 017760 with the files from his call and returned them to the Circuit Clerk's office. At the time the Respondent entered the foregoing order, he knew that no one from the State's Attorney's office had moved to dismiss the traffic citation in the case of Judge Perrin's daughter.
It was further alleged that, by reason of the conduct set out above, the Respondent engaged in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(c) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010); engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct
(2010); and 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.
In his Answer, the Respondent admitted the factual allegations. However, he asserted that he did not intend to deceive, but that his "intent was simply to implement the State's Attorney's anticipated wishes, as evidenced by their dismissal of all cases, with this past pattern, in Respondent's court."
The Administrator called six witnesses, and the Administrator's Exhibits 1 through 11, 13, and 16 through 18 were received into evidence. The Respondent called 19 witnesses, including himself. The Respondent's Exhibits 2, 3, 11, and 13A through 15 were received into evidence.
Judge Mehlick testified that he was an associate judge in the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Sangamon County for more than 21 years. He retired in July 2010. He was the chief of the misdemeanor and traffic divisions during the 10-year period immediately before his retirement. (Tr. 36-38).
Judge Mehlick served as a mentor for several judges. One of the judges he mentored was Associate Judge Christopher Perrin. In May or June 2010, Judge Perrin told Judge Mehlick that his daughter, Hannah Perrin, had received a traffic ticket in the Village of Leland Grove for going around a closed street sign. Judge Perrin was "upset about it" and asked Judge Mehlick for advice. After "hearing [Judge Perrin] out and discussing trial options," Judge Mehlick told him "he should have her plead guilty and get it over with and forget it because basically, I said, you're sounding like a dad and an attorney and now you've got to think like a judge." Judge
Mehlick further advised him that ?if you want a trial and don't plead guilty, we'll bring in a judge from out of county [and] there'll be a special prosecutor." (Tr. 38-40).
The traffic case call for Monday, June 7, 2010, was initially assigned to the Respondent. Because it was a very large call, Judge Mehlick agreed to help with it. The cases in which a defendant's last name began with the letter P to the letter Z were then assigned to Judge Mehlick. He was not aware that the case of Hannah Perrin was on the call of June 7, 2010. (Tr. 40-42, 56-58, 66-67). Judge Mehlick said that after a judge completes the orders in traffic cases, a runner or clerk picks up the files and takes them to the Circuit Clerk's office. (Tr. 45).
Judge Mehlick said he had no knowledge of any "standard or unusual practice regarding the handling of citations issued for violations of those Leland Grove road closure signs" by the State's Attorney. He also said he had no knowledge of any policy by the State's Attorney "of moving to dismiss those cases" in which citations were issued to someone who lived in the neighborhood. (Tr. 40). Judge Mehlick heard the traffic cases of Rabbi Michael Datz and his wife Josephine Datz. They received tickets for going past the road closed sign in Leland Grove, and hired an attorney. Their attorney filed a motion to dismiss, claiming the village did not have authority to close the road or put up the road closed sign. The State's Attorney opposed the motion to dismiss. Judge Mehlick denied the motion and found them guilty. He acknowledged that other judges may not be aware of what occurs in his courtroom, and he did not discuss the Datz case with the Respondent. (Tr. 46-47, 51-53, 63-64; Adm. Exs. 14 and 15).
Judge Mehlick said that the Respondent's dismissal of Hannah Perrin's traffic ticket had an impact on the reputation of the legal system in Sangamon County, the courts, and the administration of justice. He explained that it "brought some ridicule to both the legal profession and the judicial area." (Tr. 47-48).
The Respondent's dismissal of Hannah Perrin's traffic ticket received a "whole lot of press," and a newspaper article referred to the incident as "ticket fixing." Judge Mehlick agreed that "ticket fixing" denotes that there is a "quid pro quo, a tit for tat, a judge asks another judge to do something as a favor for him expecting something in return." He further agreed that, if "nothing was asked for [and] nothing expected," it would not be "ticket fixing." (Tr. 50-51). He acknowledged, however, that the term "ticket fixing" "connotes different things to different people. (Tr. 74-75).
Finally, Judge Mehlick said that the Respondent has very good reputation for integrity within the community. (Tr. 71-72).
Mr. Kim testified that he is an assistant state's attorney for Sangamon County and has been the chief of the traffic and misdemeanor divisions since 2008. (Tr. 92-93, 109, 398).
Kim learned from attorney Matt Cate that a traffic ticket had been issued to Hannah Perrin, the daughter of Judge Perrin. Cate said his law firm was representing Hannah. Cate also indicated that a defense to the ticket might be filed, and asked that the ticket be dismissed. Kim replied that the ticket would not be dismissed, and noted that a dismissal may create "the appearance of impropriety." Kim and Cate then discussed a possible trial and a possible guilty plea to supervision in the matter. Following this conversation, Kim thought that Hannah was going to plead guilty in return for supervision. Kim also had a conversation with Sergeant Lokaitis, a Leland Grove police officer, and told him that "we could not dismiss the ticket" that was issued to Hannah Perrin.(Tr. 93-94, 106-107, 113, 403).
The ticket issued to Hannah Perrin was for violating a road closure sign in the Village of Leland Grove. Kim said that the State's Attorney had no policy of leniency as to that charge for
people who live in the neighborhood near the sign. Kim became aware that Hannah's case was on the call for the afternoon of Monday, June 7, 2010. (Tr. 94-95).
On June 7, 2010, Kim had lunch with attorney Bernie Segatto, who was in the same law firm as Mr. Cate. After their lunch, Kim asked Segatto if he was coming to court that afternoon to handle Hannah Perrin's ticket. Segatto replied that he had spoken with Judge Perrin and understood that Hannah's case was being continued. (Tr. 96-97, 107).
The traffic call on the afternoon of June 7, 2010, was "very large," and it was divided between the Respondent and Judge Mehlick. The cases of defendants whose last names began with the letters P through Z were assigned to Judge Mehlick. Kim and another assistant appeared at the call before Judge Mehlick. Kim noticed during the call that the Hannah Perrin's case was not in the file with the other P through Z cases. (Tr. 95-98).
Kim thought that Hannah's case was continued. About two days later, he went to the Circuit Clerk's office to look at Hannah's file in order to find out the next court date. When he looked at the file, he saw that it was dismissed. He said that neither he nor any one else from the State's Attorney's office had moved to dismiss Hannah Perrin's case. (Tr. 98-100, 404-405, 411-12; Adm. Exs. 6, 7).
Kim was asked about two other cases that were before the Respondent, and which involved traffic tickets for disregarding traffic control devices in Leland Grove. In the first case, the ticket was issued in December 2007, and the defendant ultimately entered a plea of guilty in return for supervision. (Adm. Ex. 16). In the other case, the ticket was issued in March 2008, the defendant failed to appear on two occasions, and a bond forfeiture judgment was ultimately entered. (Tr. 103-104; Adm. Exs. 16, 17).
Finally, Kim said that the Respondent had a reputation for having good character and good integrity. (Tr. 111).
In response to questions by Respondent's counsel, Kim testified that he, Judge Schmidt, and Judge Kelly are Republicans, and that the Respondent is a Democrat. He also testified that the Respondent announced in May 2010 that he was retiring, and that Kim submitted an application for an associate judge position in August 2010. Kim said he did not know if he applied to fill the Respondent's vacancy because there were two vacancies at that time. (Tr. 396-97).
Mr. Sneed testified that he was employed as a deputy clerk in the Sangamon County Circuit Clerk's office from January 2008 to February 2011. (Tr. 86-87).
In June 2010, the local newspaper reported that the daughter of Judge Perrin had received a traffic ticket and that the Respondent had dismissed it. On June 14 or 15, 2010, Sneed was at his work station in the basement of the county building with two other people when the Respondent came in and made a statement. The Respondent said "you might have read some bad things in the paper, and I'm here to tell you that it is my fault, and I think I have a case of senioritis, and I was frustrated with the workload that was coming up. And I made a mistake." (Tr. 88-91).
Ms. Landgrebe testified that she has been employed by the Sangamon County Circuit Clerk for 16 years. She has worked for various judges, but never worked directly for the Respondent. (Tr. 119-20).
On June 14 or 15, 2010, she was at her work area in the basement of the county building when the Respondent came in and made comments to her and two others who were present. The Respondent said that they "would be reading in the newspaper about some trouble that was coming for him and Judge Perrin and that he just wanted [them] to know that Judge Perrin didn't know about the ticket being dismissed" and that "he had done it himself." (Tr. 120-21).
Ms. Landgrebe also testified that the Respondent had a reputation for having good character and good integrity. (Tr. 123).
Judge Schmidt testified that he has been a circuit court judge since September 2010. Prior to that, he was the State's Attorney in Sangamon County for about eleven years. (Tr. 124-26).
While he was State's Attorney, he had no separate policy pertaining to the handling of traffic citations issued for violating road closed signs in the Village of Leland Grove. Specifically, there was no policy to dismiss tickets for violating road closed signs that were issued to people who lived in the nearby neighborhood. He also said that, if any of his assistants had such a policy he "probably would have heard about it." (Tr. 127-28, 130-31).
Judge Schmidt said he learned of the Respondent's dismissal of Hannah Perrin's traffic ticket from Richard Kim, who was the chief of the traffic and misdemeanor divisions. In dismissing the ticket, the Respondent stated in his order that it was dismissed on the motion of the State. Kim told Schmidt that no prosecutor had made a motion to dismiss that ticket. Schmidt advised Kim to make sure that no motion to dismiss had been filed. Kim later returned, and again said that no prosecutor had moved to dismiss Hannah Perrin's ticket. Schmidt then brought the matter to the attention of Chief Judge Patrick Kelley. Judge Schmidt has not discussed the matter of the dismissal with the Respondent. (Tr. 139-41, 146).
It was brought out during questioning by Respondent's counsel that Judge Schmidt and Judge Kelley are Republicans, and that the Respondent is a Democrat. (Tr. 131-32). It was also brought out during questioning by Respondent's counsel that the Respondent announced his retirement in May 2010, to be effective in September, and that during the summer Mr. Kim applied for the associate judge position from which the Respondent was retiring. An associate judge is selected by vote of the circuit court judges in the Judicial Circuit. (Tr. 132-33, 136-39, 141-42).
Finally, Judge Schmidt said that the Respondent has a good reputation as to character and integrity. (Tr. 135).
Mr. Burton testified that he has been an investigator with the ARDC for seven years. Before that, he was a police officer with the Springfield Police Department for 30 years. He retired at the rank of deputy chief. (Tr. 148-49).
Mr. Burton explained how he prepared Administrator's Exhibit 13. That exhibit contains a list of 41 cases in which traffic citations were issued for disobeying a road closed sign in Leland Grove from January 2007 to January 2012. The exhibit also set out each defendant's name and address, the judge who heard the case, and the disposition thereof. (Tr. 158-67).
Administrator's Exhibit 13 shows that 9 of the cases listed were before the Respondent. Five of the cases before the Respondent were disposed of by pleas of guilty and two cases were dismissed on motion of the State. (Tr. 174-75; Resp. Ex 13D at 2, 7). The exhibit also showed that 14 of the 41 cases listed resulted in pleas of guilty and that 5 were dismissed on motion of the State. (Tr. 177).
Burton acknowledged that the case of a defendant named McKinney, who received a citation in Leland Grove for disregarding a traffic sign (Resp. Ex. 13D at 13), was not included in Administrator's Exhibit 13. (Tr. 170-72). He also acknowledged that the second case listed on Administrator's Exhibit 13, which states that a defendant named Smith entered a plea of guilty to the charge of disregarding a traffic device, appears to be inaccurate based upon the docket detail for the Smith case. (Tr. 180-81; Resp. Ex. 13D at 4).
Judge Perrin, an associate judge in Sangamon County, testified that he had a "very brief conversation" with the Respondent about a traffic ticket that was issued to Judge Perrin's 16-year old daughter, Hannah. He said he did not ask the Respondent to dismiss the ticket, and the Respondent did not say that he was going to do so. Judge Perrin noted that he and the Respondent were "friendly" toward each other, but they did not socialize together. (Tr. 413-15).
On Thursday, June 10, 2010, Judge Perrin received a telephone call, during which he was informed that Chief Judge Kelley wanted to meet with him. During their meeting, Judge Perrin was informed that Hannah's ticket was dismissed. The dismissal was later vacated, and a fine was paid. (Tr. 419-20).
Mr. Zalar testified that he is a special prosecutor with the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor office in Springfield. In the summer of 2010, he was appointed to be the special prosecutor in a case involving the Respondent. A Petition for Adjudication of Indirect Criminal Contempt was filed against the Respondent. (Adm. Exs. 9, 10). A plea agreement was negotiated through the Respondent's attorney, Jay Elmore. An Agreed Order was presented to and signed by the judge. (Adm. Ex. 11). A judge was from another county was specially
assigned to the case. (Tr. 312-13, 320). Mr. Zalar acknowledged that, in presenting the Agreed Order to the judge, he stated that "we have no evidence that he fixed a ticket." (Tr. 322, 324).
One of the provisions in the Agreed Order requires the Respondent to "make a truthful proffer relating his conversations and actions with anyone relating to the events
in question," and to "fully cooperate and give truthful testimony in any charges brought against Judge Perrin or others, by a prosecutor, the ARDC, or the Judicial Inquiry Board." Mr. Zalar said he has not taken any action against the Respondent for noncompliance with the Agreed Order. (Tr. 313-16).
Mr. Zalar further testified that the Respondent's dismissal of Hannah Perrin's traffic ticket had an impact on the image and reputation of the judiciary in Sangamon County. (Tr. 336-38).
The Respondent testified that he is 60 years of age and has been married for 34 years. He and his wife have three adult children. Their youngest child is 23 years of age and is in college. (Tr. 228).
The Respondent received his law degree from Southern Illinois University in 1980. His first employment as an attorney was as a research assistant for Illinois Supreme Court Justice Goldenhersh, who was Chief Justice at that time. From 1982 to 1984, he worked in law firms. He then became a solo practitioner, and shared office space with two other attorneys. The Respondent became an associate judge in 1994 and served in that position until he retired in July 2010. (Tr. 230-32).
As an associate judge, the Respondent had various assignments. He was assigned to traffic and misdemeanor cases for about six and one-half years, and to family law cases for about
seven and one-half years. He estimated that he handled about 75,000 to 80,000 traffic cases during his judicial career. He also said he dealt with as many as fifty different assistant state's attorneys over the years. (Tr. 232, 242, 347-48).
The Respondent described the proceedings in the first appearance traffic court in Sangamon County, which is sometimes referred to as the "cattle call." The call usually consisted of 150 to 250 cases. When a defendant's case was called, both the defendant and an assistant state's attorney would approach the bench. The assistant state's attorney would make an offer in return for a plea of guilty, and the defendant could enter a guilty plea or request a trial. For defendants who did not appear, an assistant state's attorney would write on their file what disposition was requested, such as a new court date or the issuance of a bench warrant. The Respondent would later review the foregoing files and make a disposition. The Respondent would write the disposition of each case on the file jacket (Resp. Exs. 8, 9) by using a green felt tip pen (Resp. Ex. 12). The Respondent was the only judge in Sangamon County who used green ink. (Tr. 233-40).
The Respondent pointed out that the assistant state's attorneys had discretion to dismiss a traffic ticket at the first appearance call, and they "did it constantly." Assistant state's attorneys were "really happy" to accept a guilty plea and fine on one traffic charge and dismiss other charges against a defendant. By doing so, there was only one file to deal with. (Tr. 240-42). There are certain tickets routinely dismissed by the state. These include the failure to have an insurance card in the vehicle glove box, when the defendant brings proof of insurance to court; failure to be in possession of a driver's license, when the defendant brings a valid license to court; and the failure to have a registration sticker, when the defendant obtains and brings a sticker to court. (Tr. 244-45).
In 1998, the Respondent sent a memorandum on the subject of "fixing tickets" (Resp. Ex. 2) to Judge Sue Myerscough, who was Chief Judge at that time. Judge Myerscough decided not to circulate the memorandum, but advised the Respondent to give people the information verbally. (Tr. 258-59).
The Respondent testified that his involvement with the traffic ticket issued to Hannah Perrin began on Wednesday, June 2, 2010. On that day, the Respondent received a summary sheet showing that there were 702 cases scheduled on his traffic call for Monday, June 7, 2010. He was "doing a little bit of complaining" about the number of cases on the call, when Judge Perrin approached him in regard to an unrelated matter. Judge Perrin apparently heard the Respondent's "griping" about the seven hundred cases, and said "by the way, you can take one of those off, my daughter's got one of those tickets and she's going to be at a mission camp so I'm going to send" one of his attorney brothers-in-law, "over to continue it." The Respondent replied "don't send them over, it's just a waste of time, we'll just go ahead and continue it." The Respondent then asked "what kind of ticket is it," and Judge Perrin said the ticket pertained to "this road closed sign on Huntleigh." The Respondent again said "we'll just continue it." Following the foregoing conversation, the Respondent called the clerk's office and requested that Hannah Perrin's file be sent to his office. The file was brought to the Respondent's office on the same day, June 2, 2012. (Tr. 263-66, 387-88). The Respondent noted that he is not a social friend of Judge Perrin and has never met Judge Perrin's daughter. (Tr. 345).
The Respondent said that, while he was looking at Hannah Perrin's file, he was thinking the "last few ones that I've had in court he wants a continuance, he wants a trial, this is going to get continued, [and] it's going to get dismissed anyway." He said he then decided to set that file on his desk, wait until an assistant state's attorney came to his office, and then asked the assistant
state's attorney if "you want to try this or do you want to dismiss it." He noted that assistant state's attorneys came to his office "consistently." However, no assistant state's attorney came to the Respondent's office between June 2 and June 7, 2010. (Tr. 266-68, 367, 388).
On Friday, June 4, 2010, Judge Mehlick said that he would help the Respondent with the large traffic call on Monday afternoon, June 7, 2010. The Respondent said that, at the time of the call on June 7, 2010, he did not know that the cases in which the defendant's name began with the letter P through Z were assigned to Judge Mehlick. The Respondent handled his portion of the traffic call on June 7, 2010 in the normal process. (Tr. 273- 76).
On Tuesday morning, June 8, 2010, the Hannah Perrin file was still on the Respondent's desk, and the Respondent decided to dismiss it. He said he believed the State was "going to dismiss it anyway." (Tr. 256). He said he thought "I'm signing this thing and just putting it in there" with other files from the Monday call, and an assistant state's attorney will see it because "they have a list of all the cases and they have to decide what the disposition was in every case." He said he further thought that "the worst-case scenario" would be that an assistant state's attorney would "bring it back to me and say, hey, we don't want to dismiss this one because it's a judge's kid, we'll put it back on the trial calendar and I would have done that." He also said that he made no effort to conceal what he had done. After he signed the file with his green ink, he placed it on the top of all the files that were going to be picked up at his office. He said he did not know who picked up the box of files from his office. (Tr. 276-78, 371, 377). The Respondent acknowledged that the State did not make a motion to dismiss Hannah Perrin's ticket (Tr. 278, 348, 376).
The Respondent explained that the reason he believed the State would move to dismiss Hannah Perrin's ticket was because "every time" he opened a file and saw a ticket for violating
the road closed sign near Huntleigh and Greenbrier in Leland Grove, the assistant state's attorney did not want to try the case and moved to dismiss it for insufficient evidence. (Tr. 248-49, 368). The Respondent said that, the first time that the State moved to dismiss such a ticket, he later asked the assistant state's attorney the reason for the motion to dismiss. According to the Respondent, the assistant state's attorney "gave me this whole history of why the residents of these streets got to . . . the city council of Leland Grove and they complained that cars were driving down their street cutting from the big two streets, Chatham Road to Veterans Parkway, and they wanted to put an end to this. And so they wanted to close off the street." The Respondent further explained that "they don't enforce it very well. They certainly don't enforce it for neighbors and such and so they didn't really want to get involved in trying cases." (Tr. 248-50, 368-69). He added that he expected a trial to be requested in Hannah Perrin's case in light of the fact that she was going to be represented by an attorney, and the attorney was going to continue the case. (Tr. 369-70).
The Respondent referred to five specific traffic cases in which tickets were issued for the same or similar offense as in Hannah Perrin's case. The first case involved a defendant named Conran. The Respondent found Conran guilty following a bench trial. (Tr. 247, 378-79, 384-85; Adm. Ex. 18).The second case involved a defendant named Richardson. This case was dismissed on June 4, 2007, by the Respondent based upon a motion by the State. (Tr. 252, 385; Resp. Ex. 13D at 2, 3). The third case involved a defendant named Smith. Smith received two tickets, one for disregarding a traffic control device and the other for disregarding a stop sign. Both tickets were before Judge Mehlick. Smith entered a guilty plea to the charge of disregarding the stop sign, and the charge of disregarding a traffic control device was dismissed based upon on motion of the State on February 13, 2007. (Tr. 253, 382; Resp. Ex. 13D at 4-6). The fourth case
involved a defendant named Murphy. On February 3, 2009, this case dismissed by the Respondent based upon the motion of the State. (Tr. 253, 385-86: Resp. Ex. 13D at 7, 8). The fifth case involved a defendant named McKinney. On June 6, 2008, McKinney's case was dismissed by Judge Mehlick based upon the motion of the State. (Tr. 254, 386-87; Resp. Ex. 13D at 13, 14). The Respondent also mentioned the Datz traffic cases (Adm. Exs. 14 and 15) about which Judge Mehlick testified, but said he was not aware of the Datz cases until July or August 2010. (Tr. 252).
A "couple of days" after he dismissed Hannah Perrin's case, Chief Judge Patrick Kelley came to the Respondent's office and said that the dismissal of the ticket of Judge Perrin's daughter was a "serious" matter. Judge Kelley further told him "I've got to take you out of traffic court" and "I have to call the Judicial Inquiry Board and the newspaper's got a hold of this and it's trouble." The Respondent said he was "just dumbfounded" and "shocked," and that his response was "you've got to be kidding." Judge Kelly also asked the Respondent to vacate the dismissal in Hannah Perrin's case, which the Respondent did. Subsequently, Hannah mailed in the amount of the fine for her ticket. (Tr. 279-82, 372).
Thereafter, the Respondent moved up the date of his retirement to July 6, 2010 (Resp. Ex. 15). He has not practiced law since he retired. After he retired, the Judicial Inquiry Board lost jurisdiction in the matter. Also after his retirement, a special prosecutor, Mr. Zalar, was appointed. Attorney Jay Elmore represented the Respondent in regard to the Petition for Adjudication of Indirect Criminal Contempt of Court filed by the special prosecutor. (Adm. Exs. 9, 10). While that matter was pending, his attorney advised him not to give any sworn statements to the ARDC. The matter with the special prosecutor was concluded on December 13, 2010, by way of an Agreed Order (Adm. Ex. 11), which was entered by the court. The
Respondent said that he has complied with the requirements of the Agreed Order. (Tr.283-93, 383).
The Respondent testified that he did not intend "to misrepresent anything to anyone" in dismissing Hannah Perrin's ticket. He also testified that he did not intend to adversely affect the administration of justice, but rather "I thought I was furthering the administration of justice, making it easier. It was a shortcut. It was a dumb shortcut, but it was a shortcut." (Tr. 278-79). The Respondent further testified that he thought "shouldn't she [Hannah Perrin] get the same thing as everybody else," and it did not occur to him that her case was "a hot potato" or that the state's attorney would not want to dismiss the ticket of a judge's daughter. (Tr. 370, 372, 375-76). The Respondent acknowledged that the only time that he dismissed a case on motion of the state, when the state had not made such a motion, was in the case of Hannah Perrin. (Tr. 348).
Finally, the Respondent described his various charitable and community activities. While he was a judge, he made numerous speeches about the legal profession to high school and grade school students. He also spoke to groups, such as the Gateway Youth Foundation, the Youth Service Bureau, and the Women's Bar Association. He said he gave such speeches about once a month for 16 years. Additionally, the Respondent talked with groups who visited the courthouse, and assisted in the presentation of mock trials for them. (Tr. 351).
The Respondent described the various volunteer activities he has performed for the church where his family attends and the schools where his children attended. (Tr. 352-53). He has also been involved with Mercy Communities for about six years, and is currently its president. Mercy Communities provides assistance to women and children, including providing housing to them. He said there are currently 38 mothers and about 66 children in the Mercy programs. He also does volunteer work for Contact Ministries and Helping Hands. (Tr. 271-73,
353-55). He previously was a member of the board for SPARC (Springfield Area Aid to Retarded Citizens) and the board for the YMCA. He was also a volunteer referee and coach for soccer. He assisted in starting a Sangamon County chapter of the Illinois Family Violence Coordinating Council, and currently serves as its chair. For about four years, he has driven a blind neighbor to work when there was inclement weather. (Tr. 356-61).
Mr. Scott testified that he has been practicing law in Springfield since 1978 and is a partner in the law firm of Scott and Scott. (Tr. 191-91).
Mr. Scott has known the Respondent for at least 25 years. They have both a personal and a professional relationship. Scott said he has never had an issue in regard to the integrity or honesty of the Respondent, and has always found the Respondent to be straightforward and truthful. (Tr. 192-96).
Mr. Maurer has been first assistant in the Sangamon County State's Attorney's office since December 2010. Previously, he was in private practice and a part-time public defender for 21 years. (Tr. 196-97).
Mr. Maurer has known the Respondent for about 25 years. He said the Respondent has a "high reputation for his integrity and honesty." He further stated that he thinks the Respondent "was always very fair and impartial to deal with" and "had a high degree of integrity and honesty." (Tr. 198-99).
Mr. Tracy testified that he is a partner at the law firm of Brown, Hay and Stephens in Springfield. He has known the Respondent for about 30 years. Mr. Tracy and his wife are personal friends of the Respondent and his wife. (Tr. 202-203).
Mr. Tracy said the Respondent and his wife were involved in many activities at the grade school and then at the high school where their children attended. Tracy further stated that the Respondent had a reputation for being an "excellent, honest attorney" and an "excellent and honest judge." (Tr. 202-203).
Mr. Elmore testified that he has practiced law in Springfield for about 29 years. He represented the Respondent in the proceedings on the petition for indirect contempt filed against him by the special prosecutor. (Tr. 206-207).
Mr. Elmore has known the Respondent for about 29 years. They and their wives are personal friends. The Respondent was Elmore's daughter's soccer coach for many years. (Tr. 207-208).
Mr. Elmore further testified that he holds the Respondent "in the highest regard, both ethically and personally." He also described the Respondent as "tireless in his efforts in helping the community at large" and as an "excellent" and "fair judge." (Tr. 208-209).
Mr. Flynn testified that he is an attorney and has resided in Springfield since 1982. He has known the Respondent since the early 1970s, when they played collegiate soccer against each other. Flynn's family is "very good friends" with the Respondent's family. (Tr. 219-21).
Mr. Flynn said the Respondent was involved in many activities at the grade school and at the high school where their children attended. The Respondent is also "very active" with the YMCA and many charitable organizations, such as the Hope School and Mercy House. (Tr. 220-21).
Finally, Mr. Flynn said the Respondent has an "excellent reputation for honesty and integrity." (Tr. 222).
Ms. Riddley testified that she was a certified court reporter in Sangamon County for 33 years before she retired in November 2011. She was assigned to the Respondent for at least 11 years. (Tr. 223-24).
Ms. Riddley said that, when high school students visited the courthouse, the Respondent looked forward to talking with them about the court system. She also said "everybody that I know that knows [Respondent] as a person speaks very highly of him, not just [as] judge but as a person." (Tr. 226-27).
Judge Myerscough testified that from 1987 to 1998, she was an associate judge and then a circuit court judge in Sangamon County. In 1998 she became an appellate court judge. She has been a United States District Court Judge since 2011. She noted that the federal code of ethics discourages her from rendering testimony as to the character and integrity of the Respondent. (Tr. 304-305).
Judge Myerscough was the Chief Judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit for period when the Respondent was an associate judge. She never had any occasion to discipline him. The Respondent was involved in special projects for the court. He volunteered and helped create a
domestic violence court and council. This included getting community involvement for it. He then handled the cases in that court, which were not the favorite cases of most judges. He also worked with MADD to create victim impact panels for victim in certain cases. The Respondent was very willing to perform weddings outside the courthouse and on special occasions, even on Saturdays. Additionally, the Respondent was involved with a program in which students visited the courthouse. The student s would meet with Judge Myerscough and the Respondent, watch a mock trial, and tour the jail. The Respondent would also go to schools and conduct mock trials. (Tr. 308-309).
In January 1998, the Respondent sent a memorandum on the subject of "fixing tickets" (Resp. Ex. 2) to Judge Myerscough. She did not distribute the memorandum, but told the Respondent to talk with the individuals involved and tell them his concerns. (Tr. 309-10).
Mrs. Wiss testified that she resides in Springfield and is a speech language pathologist. She has known the Respondent for about 25 years and considers him a friend. Her husband, who died in 2009, was also a friend of the Respondent. (Tr. 426-27).
A few years ago Mrs. Wiss' husband was issued a traffic ticket for speeding. He hired an attorney and appeared in court before the Respondent. The Respondent found him guilty and imposed a fine. A few days later, the Respondent sent her husband a note, saying "his hands were tied" and "he was unable to help with the ticket." The Respondent also enclosed a check in the amount of the fine. However, her husband never cashed the check. (Tr. 428-29).
Finally, Mrs. Wiss testified favorably as to the Respondent's reputation for integrity and truthfulness. (Tr. 429).
Ms. Tibbs testified that she has worked at the county building in Springfield since 1998 and is the Administrative Assistant to the Chief Judge. She has known the Respondent since 1998. They are not social friends. (Tr. 431-32).
Ms. Tibbs said the Respondent treated people at the courthouse with "utmost respect." She also said that the Respondent would always agree to go to another county when a judge was needed there. Also, the Respondent performed weddings on Saturdays and met with students who visited the courthouse. She further stated that the Respondent had a reputation for having the "highest integrity." (Tr. 433-35).
Sister Runkel testified that she is a Dominican sister and is employed at Benedictine University in Springfield. (Tr. 437-38).
She has known the Respondent since 2000, when she was CEO and president of Sacred Heart-Griffin High School. The Respondent was head of the Parent's Club and "did a lot of activities for the students." She served on the executive committee of Mercy Communities with the Respondent for about six years. Mercy Communities assists women and children obtain transitional and permanent housing, as well providing other programs for them. The Respondent is now the president of that executive committee, and has been a "catalyst for all kinds of events and special activities." (Tr. 438-40).
Finally, Sister Runkel said that the Respondent has a reputation for having "significant integrity." (Tr. 440).
Mr. Blair testified that he resides in Leland Grove and has known the Respondent for about 15 years. They have children of similar age. In fact his daughter and the Respondent's son "went steady" for about two years. (Tr. 442-43).
Mr. Blair described various community volunteer activities in which he worked with the Respondent. For example, for about 5 years the Respondent was the lead organizer for a "post prom event" to encourage high school students to participate in non-alcoholic activities. Mr. Blair also testified favorably as to the Respondent reputation for truthfulness and integrity. (Tr. 443-44).
John Michael Houston
Mr. Houston testified that he is the Mayor of the City of Springfield. He has known the Respondent for about 40 years. Mr. Houston and his wife are friends of the Respondent and his wife. They all attend the same church. (Tr. 447-48).
Mr. Houston said the Respondent is very active with the church and with Mercy Communities. Mr. Houston further stated that the Respondent is a credit to the community and has an excellent reputation for truth and honesty. (Tr. 448-49).
Miss Hall testified that she is the daughter of the Respondent. She is a full-time college student. She described some of the charitable activities in which she participated with the Respondent. (Tr. 450-58).
Mr. Bunn testified that he is a consultant for the Bunn-O-Matic Company. He has known the Respondent for about 25 years. Mr. Bunn and his wife are friends of the Respondent and his wife. (Tr. 459-60).
Mr. Bunn described the volunteer work the Respondent has performed for various charitable organizations. For example, the Respondent was on the board and did other work for Helping Hand. The Respondent would help administer the building of Helping Hands, and go there at night to make sure the people staying there "were okay." Mr. Bunn also testified favorably as to the Respondent's reputation for integrity and generosity. (Tr. 460-61).
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
In attorney disciplinary proceedings, the Administrator has the burden of proving the charges of misconduct by clear and convincing evidence. In re Thomas, 2012 IL 113035, par. 56; In re Winthrop, 219 Ill. 2d 526, 542, 848 N.E.2d 961 (2006). This standard requires a high level of certainty, greater than a preponderance of the evidence, but less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Bazydlo v. Volant, 164 Ill. 2d 207, 213, 647 N.E.2d 273 (1995); In re Barry, 09 SH 5, M.R. 24439 (Mar. 21, 2011) (Review Bd. at 6-7). In determining whether the burden of proof has been satisfied, the Hearing Panel is to assess the credibility and believability of the witnesses, weigh conflicting testimony, draw reasonable inferences from the evidence, and make factual findings based upon all of the evidence. In re Howard, 188 Ill. 2d 423, 435, 721 N.E.2d 1126 (1999); In re Ring, 141 Ill. 2d 128, 138-39, 565 N.E.2d 983 (1991).
Additionally, an admission in a pleading is a formal judicial admission that is binding on the party making it, may not be contradicted, has the effect of withdrawing the fact admitted from issue, and dispenses with the need for any proof of that fact. Thus, when a respondent in a
disciplinary matter admits in his or her answer some or all of the facts alleged in a complaint, it is unnecessary for the Administrator to present evidence to prove the facts so admitted. See In re Sue, 2010PR00167, M.R. 25148 (Mar. 19, 2012) (Hearing Bd. at 22); In re Barringer, 2011PR00079, M.R. 5465 (Sept. 17, 2012) (Hearing Bd. at 15).
We find that the evidence clearly and convincingly established that the Respondent engaged in dishonesty, deceit, and misrepresentation. While serving as an associate judge, the Respondent knowingly falsified a court document in order to dismiss the traffic ticket that was issued to the daughter of a fellow judge. Specifically, the Respondent made it appear in his order that he was dismissing the ticket of Hannah Perrin, who he knew to be the daughter of Associate Judge Christopher Perrin, based upon a motion to dismiss filed by the State's Attorney's office. However, the Respondent knew that no such motion to dismiss had been filed, and he knew he had not even discussed a dismissal with any assistant state's attorney. It is unmistakably clear that the Respondent knowingly and intentionally made a false representation that the State's Attorney's office had filed a motion to dismiss the traffic ticket for insufficient evidence. (See Answer to Complaint, par. 8).
The Respondent testified that he believed the State's Attorney's office would have moved to dismiss the ticket issued to Hannah Perrin if she had contested it. He explained that "every time" there was a case before him for the offense of disregarding a traffic control device at the location where Hannah Perrin received her ticket, the State chose not to try the case and moved to dismiss it. He also said he believed Hannah Perrin was going to contest the ticket based upon a conversation with Judge Perrin.
We first find that there was no policy to dismiss such tickets by the State's Attorney's office. This was clearly established by the testimony of Judge John Schmidt, who was the State's
Attorney of Sangamon County at the pertinent time, and Richard Kim, the chief of the traffic division in the State's Attorney's office. We found both Judge Schmidt and Mr. Kim to be extremely credible witnesses.
The evidence showed there were only two traffic cases involving the offense of disregarding a traffic control device offense before the Respondent, at the location where Hannah Perrin received her ticket, in which the State filed a motion to dismiss, one in 2007 and another in 2009. The Respondent found another defendant guilty of the same offense in 2007, following a bench trial. Judge Mehlick pointed out that judges in Sangamon County may not be aware of what occurs in other judges' courtrooms. In fact, in 2006, Judge Mehlick denied a motion to dismiss the charge of disregarding a traffic control device at the location where Hannah Perrin received her ticket, and found the defendants guilty of that offense. The Respondent testified that he was not aware of the foregoing matter until he left the bench. Even though the Respondent was not fully aware of what was occurring in other courtrooms regarding similar tickets, and there had been only two such cases dismissed in his courtroom, he gave no indication that he had ever discussed a "policy" of dismissing such tickets with other judges. Also, he never made any inquiry to State's Attorney Schmidt about the matter. Thus, we find no reasonable basis for the Respondent to have believed that the State's Attorney's office would dismiss the ticket issued to Hannah Perrin.
The Respondent testified that the first time the State moved to dismiss such a ticket in his courtroom, he subsequently asked the assistant state's attorney the reason for the motion to dismiss. According to the Respondent, the assistant state's attorney "gave me this whole history of why the residents of these streets got to . . . the city council of Leland Grove and they complained that cars were driving down their street . . . and they wanted to put an end to this.
And so they wanted to close off the street." The Respondent further explained, "they don't enforce it very well. They certainly don't enforce it for neighbors and such and so they didn't really want to get involved in trying cases." In light of the fact that there was no policy in the State's Attorney's Office to dismiss such tickets, we find it difficult to believe that an assistant state's attorney would make such a representation to a judge. We note that Judge Mehlick, who was the chief administrator for the traffic division during the 10-year period immediately prior to his retirement in July 2010, was not aware of any such practice or policy of dismissals.
Nevertheless, even if the Respondent believed the State would dismiss Hannah Perrin's ticket in the future, he still engaged in dishonesty, deceit, and, misrepresentation. As stated above, the Respondent expressly represented in the order that the State had filed a motion to dismiss Hannah Perrin's ticket. That was clearly false. The State had not filed a motion to dismiss at the time the Respondent dismissed Hannah Perrin's ticket, and the Respondent knew that no such motion had been filed. Thus, regardless of whether he thought the State might file a motion to dismiss Hannah Perrin's ticket in the future, he knowingly and falsely represented that such a motion had already been filed.
It is also clear that the Respondent intended to deceive by signing the order which included representations he knew were false. He completed an official court document he knew contained the false statement that the State's Attorney's office had filed a motion to dismiss the ticket of Judge Perrin's daughter. He certainly knew that anyone who looked at that official court document would be led to believe, incorrectly, that the State's Attorney's office had filed a motion to dismiss. He also knew that the Sangamon County Circuit Clerk's docket detail, such as those in Resp. Exs. 13A through 13E, would also show, falsely, that the State's Attorney office moved to dismiss Hannah Perrin's ticket. The Respondent did not make a mere mistake or
demonstrate a mere indifference to the accuracy of his order, but rather he knowingly and intentionally made false statements in a court order. Clearly he engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation. See Thomas, 2012 IL 113035, pars. 87-90.
We further find that the Respondent engaged in misconduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice. The Supreme Court has stated, "if the administration of justice means anything, it means a fair and impartial tribunal," and anything that "compromises the fairness and impartiality of the tribunal . . . prejudices the administration of justice. In re Weinstein, 131 Ill. 2d 261, 269, 545 N.E.2d 725 (1989). The Supreme Court has also stated, "the administration of justice requires a tribunal that is impartial in appearance, as well as in fact." In re Lane, 127 Ill. 2d 90, 106, 535 N.E.2d 866 (1989). By falsifying a court document to dismiss a ticket issued to the daughter of a fellow judge, the fairness and impartiality of a tribunal was clearly compromised. We note that the Respondent estimated he presided in 75,000 to 80,000 traffic cases during his judicial career, and the only time that he falsely stated in an order that the State's Attorney's office had filed a motion to dismiss was in the case of a fellow judge's daughter. The Respondent's misconduct compromised his fairness and impartiality as a judge, impugned the integrity of proceedings before him, and could only serve to diminish public confidence in our court system.
While the cases discussed below do not contain facts similar to those in this case, the Supreme Court set out principles in those cases that are applicable in this case.
In In re Powell, 126 Ill. 2d 15, 533 N.E.2d 831 (1989), the respondent assisted a judge in obtaining a loan by having a client post the collateral for the loan. The respondent appeared before the judge on a motion for the disbursement of funds, which was granted. The case was later settled. The respondent contended that his conduct was not prejudicial to the administration
of justice because "his client deserved to win on the merits" of the foregoing motion. The Supreme Court rejected the respondent's argument, stating:
We refuse to read this phrase so narrowly. The administration of justice requires a fair and impartial tribunal. When a party or his attorney performs favors for a judge before whom the attorney or his client is likely to appear, the fairness and impartiality of the tribunal is compromised and the administration of justice is prejudiced.
Powell, 126 Ill. 2d at 27.
In In re Alexander, 146 Ill. 2d 83, 585 N.E.2d 70 (1991), the respondent made a loan to a judge, who was a long-time friend. While the loan was outstanding, the judge appointed the respondent guardian ad litem in a case. The respondent was found to have engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice even though there was "no evidence anyone was prejudiced by [respondent's] conduct." The Court stated that "it is the appearance of impropriety and the fact that the integrity of the judiciary is impugned as a result of respondent's conduct which gives rise to a violation," and "the fact no one was prejudiced is not dispositive." (146 Ill. 2d at 94-95).
In In re Cutright, 05 SH 106, the respondent prepared tax returns for a judge, without charging the judge for such work. When appearing before the judge, the respondent did not disclose the foregoing work to opposing counsel or litigants. There was no showing that any ruling by the judge was based on his relationship with the respondent. Nevertheless, the Hearing Board stated that the "appearance of impropriety is blatant in such a situation," and found that the respondent's conduct was prejudicial to the administration of justice. Cutright, 05 SH 106 (Hearing Bd. at 35). The Hearing Board's findings were affirmed by the Review Board (Review Bd. at 5) and the Supreme Court In re Cutright, 233 Ill. 2d, 474, 481-83, 910 N.E.2d 581 (2009).
We also considered the evidence introduce by the Respondent that he is a Democrat, while Mr. Kim, Judge Schmidt, and Judge Kelly are Republicans. In closing argument,
Respondent's counsel provided the reason for presenting the foregoing evidence: "we wanted to demonstrate to you an explanation as to why Mr. Kim, when he found out that Judge Hall, with his green pen, had dismissed this case, instead of going to Judge Hall to seek an explanation, he ran to Mr. Schmidt, who ran to Judge Kelly, and then who then called the newspaper and away we went." (Tr. 483). We find the foregoing contention both troubling and without any merit whatsoever. As set out above, the Respondent engaged in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation by falsely representing in his order that the State's Attorney's office had filed a motion to dismiss Hannah Perrin's ticket. Mr. Kim and State's Attorney (now Judge) Schmidt became aware that no motion to dismiss had been filed and that the Respondent knowingly falsified the order. Rules 8.3(a) and 8.4(c) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct require an attorney who knows that another attorney has engaged in dishonesty, deceit, or misrepresentation to report such conduct to the appropriate professional authority. To suggest that Mr. Kim, Judge Schmidt, or Judge Kelley should have simply asked the Respondent to correct or vacate his false order, and effectively cover-up his dishonesty, flies in the face of their professional responsibility. We find that Mr. Kim, Judge Schmidt, and Judge Kelley acted in an appropriate and ethical manner in responding to the Respondent's misconduct involving dishonesty. We reject the contention that they acted out of some political motive.
Based upon the above, we find the Administrator proved by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent committed the following misconduct as charged in the Complaint: (a) engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(4) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010); and (b) engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010).
We also find, based upon the opinion of the Supreme Court in In re Thomas, 2012 IL 113035, that the Respondent did not "violate" Supreme Court Rule 770, as charged in paragraph 12 (c) of the Complaint. In Thomas, 2012 IL 113035 at par. 92, the Court stated that Supreme Court Rule 770 is not itself a Rule of Professional Conduct and "one does not ?violate' Rule 770." See also In re Stahnke, 08 CH 101, M.R. 25590 (Nov. 19, 2012) (Review Bd. at 10).
The purpose of the attorney disciplinary system is not to punish the attorney for the misconduct, but "to protect the public, maintain the integrity of the legal profession, and protect the administration of justice from reproach." In re Winthrop, 219 Ill. 2d 526, 559, 848 N.E.2d 961 (2006). In determining the appropriate sanction, we must consider the nature and seriousness of the misconduct, and any aggravating and mitigating circumstances shown by the evidence. In re Gorecki, 208 Ill. 2d 350, 360-61, 802 N.E.2d 1194 (2003). In addition, we may consider the deterrent value of the sanction, the "need to impress upon others the seriousness of the misconduct at issue," and whether the sanction will "help preserve public confidence in the legal profession." In re Twohey, 191 Ill. 2d 75, 85, 727 N.E.2d 1028 (2000); Gorecki, 208 Ill. 2d at 361. 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).
In this case, the Administrator requested the sanction of suspension for two years. (Tr. 470, 476). The Respondent contended that his conduct did not rise to the level of an ethical violation. However, he then argued that, if it is found that he committed an ethical violation and a censure or reprimand are deemed inappropriate, he should be given credit for the time since
July 6, 2010, during which he has voluntarily ceased practicing law, if a suspension is imposed. (Tr. 490-92).
The Respondent's misconduct was of the most egregious nature. While serving as an associate judge, he intentionally and knowingly dismissed a traffic ticket issued to the daughter of a fellow judge and, in so doing, falsely stated in the court order that the dismissal was based upon a motion to dismiss filed by the State for insufficient evidence. However, he knew that no motion to dismiss had been filed and that the State had not in any way indicated there was insufficient evidence. The Respondent engaged in dishonesty by knowingly making false representations in an official court document. Any act of dishonesty is a serious matter. Clearly, "honesty is an important factor in assessing a person's moral character" (In re Glenville, 139 Ill. 2d 242, 255-56, 565 N.E.2d 623 (1990)), and "any act which evidences a want of personal honesty or integrity may be sufficient to warrant disbarment" (In re Vavrik, 117 Ill. 2d 408, 413, 507 N.E.2d 1226 (1987); Chandler, 161 Ill. 2d at 473.
Ethical misconduct by a judge is particularly egregious and tends to undermine the integrity of the judicial process. See In re Dalton, 05 RT 3002, M.R. 20096 (Nov. 17, 2006) (Hearing Bd. at 35); In re Schickendanz, 90 CH 464, M.R.8317 (May 27, 1992) (Hearing Bd. at 9). It is even more egregious when the misconduct of the judge occurs during the exercise of his or her judicial duties. As we pointed out above, a necessary foundation of our judicial system is the objectivity and neutrality of judges. Thus, "the administration of justice requires a tribunal that is impartial in appearance, as well as in fact." By intentionally falsifying a court document, particularly in dismissing a ticket issued to the daughter of a fellow judge, the Respondent compromised his objectivity and impartiality as a judge, and served to jeopardize public confidence in the courts. See In re Alexander, 146 Ill. 2d 83, 94-96, 585 N.E.2d 70 (1991); In re
Witt, 145 Ill. 2d 380, 399, 583 N.E.2d 526 (1991); In re Lane, 127 Ill. 2d 90, 106, 535 N.E.2d 866 (1989).
There are some aggravating factors in this case. The Respondent's misconduct of falsifying a court document "was not a single, quick and unreasoned failure of judgment, but rather was a deliberate course of conduct." In re Thebeau, 111 Ill. 2d 251, 256, 489 N.E.2d 877 (1986). The Respondent obtained the file pertaining to Hannah Perrin's traffic ticket on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 2, 2010, and kept it in his office until the morning of Tuesday, June 8, 2010, at which time he made the false entries in the file. Clearly, he had ample time to consider his course of conduct, and deliberately chose to dismiss Hannah Perrin's ticket and make false entries in a court document.
The evidence also showed that the Respondent was well aware of the potential harm to the court system by the dismissal of a ticket issued to the relative of a judge. In January 1998, the Respondent sent a memorandum to then Chief Judge Myerscough, and others, on the subject of "FIXING TICKETS." (Resp. Ex. 2). In his memorandum, the Respondent said there were tickets being dismissed for insufficient evidence "when it is obvious that they are being treated differently because of who the Defendants are or who they know." He also said in his memorandum that such a practice of dismissals would cause the public to "lose all faith in the [judicial] system." (Resp. Ex. 2). Despite the strong language in his memorandum, the Respondent deliberately chose, not only to dismiss the ticket of a judge's daughter, but to falsify a court document to do so.
We also consider in aggravation that the Respondent failed to show any recognition or understanding of the seriousness of his misconduct. He acknowledged he was "careless," made a "mistake," and used a "dumb shortcut." However, he denied that he engaged in dishonesty,
deceit or misrepresentation when he knowingly made false representations in his order dismissing Hannah Perrin's traffic ticket. It is bewildering how the Respondent can maintain that "I thought I was furthering the administration of justice" by falsifying a court document. When it was beneficial to him to enter into an agreed order regarding the special prosecutor's Petition for Adjudication of Indirect Contempt of Court, the Respondent admitted that he violated Rule 8.4 (c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, "which prohibits an attorney from engaging in conduct involving fraud, deceit or misrepresentation." (Adm. Exs. 9, 10, 11). It is troubling, however, that he has taken a contrary position in this disciplinary proceeding. He has denied engaging in dishonesty, fraud or deceit, and even claimed that "dismissing the [Hannah Perrin] case on the State's motion resulted in an unintended misrepresentation." (Answer to Complaint, par. 12). Again, it is bewildering how the Respondent can maintain that his dismissal resulted in an "unintended misrepresentation" when he knew the State had not filed a motion to dismiss the case. Contrary to his contention, the Respondent's misrepresentation that the State filed a motion to dismiss Hannah Perrin's ticket was clearly intended.
The Respondent also testified that he believed Hannah Perrin should get "the same thing as everybody else." His conduct, however, was to the contrary. As we previously mentioned, he estimated that he presided in 75,000 to 80,000 traffic cases during his judicial career, yet the only time that he dismissed a ticket by falsely stating in the order that the dismissal was based on the State's motion to dismiss was in the case of Hannah Perrin. (Tr. 348). Thus, the Respondent treated Hannah Perrin's case in a manner different than any other traffic case in his judicial career.
We also find that the Respondent failed to demonstrate any remorse for the impact his misconduct as a judge had on the courts, the administration of justice, or the legal profession.
The only remorse he expressed was in regard to how his dismissal of Hannah Perrin's ticket has affected him and his family. While he has accepted responsibility for his order of dismissal, he attempted to place blame on others for the adverse affect the dismissal has had on the administration of justice. For example, he complained that a newspaper reporter referred, incorrectly, to the dismissal of Hannah Perrin's ticket as "ticket fixing." We agree with Judge Mehlick that the term "ticket fixing" may mean different things to different people. (Tr. 74-75). It is also noteworthy that, in his 1998 memorandum to Chief Judge Myerscough, the Respondent identified the subject as "TICKET FIXING," and then discussed the matter of the dismissal of traffic tickets based on "who the Defendants are or who they know." (Resp. Ex. 2). The Respondent also suggested that Mr. Kim, State's Attorney (now Judge) Schmidt, and Chief Judge Kelly had political reasons for not simply talking with the Respondent about the dismissal and having it vacated, before a newspaper reporter learned of it. As we discussed in our findings, Mr. Kim, Judge Schmidt, and Judge Kelley acted in an appropriate and ethical manner in responding to the Respondent's misconduct involving dishonesty. Based upon the above, the Respondent has attempted to place blame on others and tended to minimize his own actions, rather than accept full responsibility for them. See In re Samuels, 126 Ill. 2d 509, 531, 535 N.E.2d 808 (1989); In re Timpone, 208 Ill. 2d 371. 378, 804 N.E.2d 560 (2004); In re Barry, 00 SH 54, M.R. 18782 (Sept. 19, 2003) (Review Bd. at 16).
There is also extensive mitigation in this case, which is highly significant in regard to the appropriate sanction. See In re Kakac, 07 SH 86, M.R. 23785 (May 18, 2010) (Review Bd. at 20); In re Narmont, 2009PR00027, M.R. 25404 (Nov. 19, 2012) (Review Bd. at 21-22). The Respondent has been licensed to practice law in Illinois since 1980, and has not been previously
disciplined. Several witnesses, including judges, attorneys, and other members of the community, testified as to the Respondent's favorable reputation for integrity and honesty.
The evidence also showed that the Respondent has been involved in many volunteer activities at the grade school and then high school where his children attended. He was also a soccer coach for children. He is a lector and youth minister at the church he and his family attend. He has also been involved in numerous community or charitable activities. Such activities have included Mercy Communities, for which he is currently president of the executive committee; Helping Hands; the Hope School; Contact Ministries, SPARC, and the YMCA. Mercy Communities provides housing and other programs for homeless women and children. The Respondent estimated that there are about 38 women and 66 children in the programs of Mercy Communities. A former chief judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit described various "special projects" the Respondent participated in for the court system while he was an associate judge. For example, he helped create a domestic violence court and council; he worked with MADD to create a victim impact panel; he was involved in programs for students who visited the courthouse; and he went to schools to speak and conduct mock trials. He also spoke to various groups about the court system. The Respondent also helped start a chapter of the Illinois Family Violence Coordinating Council in Sangamon County, and then served as president of the chapter's chairman. Thus, the Respondent's volunteer activities are commendable and very impressive. See Gorecki, 208 Ill. 2d at 368-69.
We recognize that each disciplinary case is different. This case is particularly unique, and we have not found any disciplinary case with near similar facts. However, we believe the following cases are instructive and provide some guidance as to the appropriate sanction in this case.
The cases of In re Buoscio, 01 CH 74. M.R. 18452 (Jan.23, 2003) and In re Sheridan, 01 CH 75, M.R. 18453 (Jan. 23, 2003) pertained to the same matter. Buoscio and Sheridan were associate judges. Buoscio's friend, who owned a trucking company, informed Buoscio that one of his drivers received a citation for having an overweight truck. The case was scheduled on a certain date, in a certain court room. The friend asked Buoscio to "find out about" the citation. While attending a conference with Sheridan, Buoscio learned that Sheridan was assigned to the courtroom where the overweight citation was to be heard. Buoscio told Sheridan about the overweight citation, and asked Sheridan to have the assistant state's attorney assigned to the courtroom to "help Buoscio's friend." Immediately before the court call, Sheridan talked with an assistant state's attorney named Cosgrove. Sheridan informed Cosgrove that he had received a call about the citation from a judge-friend, and asked Cosgrove "to take a look at the case." Cosgrove understood that Sheridan was requesting him to find a way to dispose of the case. When the case was called, Cosgrove said, falsely, that the State did not have evidence to meet its burden, and made a motion to strike the charge. Sheridan granted the motion.
Based upon the above facts, both Buoscio and Sheridan misused the power of their office and engaged in misconduct that included dishonesty and deceit, and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. During the Judicial Inquiry Board investigation they both resigned their position as judge. Neither of them had been previously disciplined. Buoscio and Sheridan fully admitted their misconduct in Petitions to Impose Discipline on Consent. The Supreme Court allowed the Petitions, and suspended Buoscio and Sheridan for one year.
In Thebeau, 111 Ill. 2d 251, the respondent was the attorney for three brothers in a probate matter. The brothers agreed that one of them could purchase their deceased mother's house by way of an installment contract. The respondent prepared a contract showing the sale of
the house by a single payment, rather than by installments, because he believed the court would keep the estate open for several years if it learned of the installment contract. The respondent filed with the court a petition to authorize the sale of the house and obtained an order for its sale, without disclosing to the court that the sale was an installment one. Additionally, the respondent notarized the signature of the three brothers on the contract while knowing that one brother, Alan, had signed all of the names (with the permission of the others), and filed the contract with the court. When the title company required a quit claim deed from the heirs, the respondent again allowed one brother to sign the names of all three. Respondent notarized the signatures and recorded the deed. Alan had misled his brothers about the transaction, a dispute arose, and, as a result, a granddaughter's trust was not fully funded for a year and interest was lost. The Supreme Court pointed out that the respondent did not act with a dishonest motive, but tried to conclude the probate matter as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, his conduct was a "fraud practiced on the judicial system." The Court also said that the misconduct did not arise from a "single, quick and unreasoned failure of judgment, but rather was a deliberate course of conduct." The respondent, who had no prior misconduct, "did not present any mitigating facts and circumstances and did not present character or reputation testimony." The respondent did "fully acknowledge his fault, and expressed contrition." The Court stated that a two-year suspension "would be an appropriate sanction." However, in light of the fact that the respondent had "closed his office . . . and has not engaged in practice" for about 18 months, the Court imposed a suspension for one year. Id. at 255-56).
In In re Hays, 05 SH 3, M.R. 21050 (Sept. 21, 2006), the misconduct arose out of the respondent's own dissolution of marriage matter. Without the knowledge or authorization of his wife, Joan, the respondent signed her name to an appearance and a marital settlement agreement.
The following day, he appeared in court before Judge Shonkwiler, submitted the foregoing documents, testified to prove up the case, and obtained a judgment of dissolution. During that testimony, he said he and Joan had agreed for the court to impound the case file because they did not wish to have their financial affairs made public. About four months later, when his deception came to light, he confessed what he had done to Joan and Judge Shonkwiler. He also reported his misconduct to the ARDC. Joan's attorney then had the judgment of dissolution vacated. A valid dissolution was entered about five months later, which included the identical settlement agreement the respondent had previously submitted. (Review Bd. at 3). The respondent had been previously disciplined about 14 years earlier. The Review Board said, however, that the prior discipline was "not a highly significant" aggravating factor because of the "nature of the prior misconduct and the period of time between it and the current misconduct." In mitigation, the respondent "admitted his misconduct and made no attempt to justify or rationalize it;" he "expressed genuine remorse;" and he reported himself to the ARDC. Judge Shonkwiler, who knew the respondent for 30 years, testified that the respondent's integrity was "outstanding;" that his misconduct was "totally and completely out of character;" and that respondent has provided "valuable service to the community." The respondent's ex-wife also testified that his misconduct was "an aberration," and described him as an "ethical" and "honest man." Additionally, the respondent did not attempt to cheat his wife out of any money or other property. The Review Board stated "[t]his is a sad episode in a long and respectable career, but it is elementary that an attorney cannot deceive the court. (Review Bd. at 3-4, 7-8, 11). The Review Board recommended, and the Supreme Court imposed, a suspension for one year.
In Witt, 145 Ill. 2d 380, the respondent, while sitting as a circuit court judge, received loans from an attorney who appeared before him. The attorney made two loans to the judge, of
about $1,400 and $1,100. Before the latter loan was repaid the attorney appeared before the respondent on behalf of a criminal defendant for a bench trial. The attorney also appeared before the respondent in another criminal matter and filed a motion for substitution of judge, which was allowed. Finally, the attorney appeared in a forfeiture case, in which the respondent entered an order of forfeiture. The respondent did not disclose the debtor-creditor relationship. The respondent was found to have engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. The Supreme Court stated that the "respondent's conduct, in soliciting and failing to disclose a loan from an attorney practicing before him, created the potential for partiality, jeopardized the integrity of the judicial system, and created the appearance of impropriety." The Supreme Court also stated:
Although we consider respondent's actions to be serious breaches of his professional and legal responsibilities, we deem it significant that, except for the misconduct charged here, respondent's record is unblemished; there was no evidence of dishonest motive; and several witnesses, representing member of both the bench and bar, testified to respondent's honesty and integrity.
The Court imposed a suspension for a period of six months. Id. at 403).
In In re Montalvo, 98 SH 11, M.R. 16865 (Sept. 22, 2000), the respondent signed an affidavit that was prepared by another attorney, and filed the affidavit with a court in a contested proceeding. The affidavit contained false statements. The Hearing Board accepted the respondent's testimony that he did not read the affidavit and did not know the contents of it. Nevertheless, he acted with reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of the affidavit, and engaged in dishonesty and fraud. The respondent also had a conflict of interest. However, the Review Board said the conflict of interest "in and of itself, might not give rise to a significant level of discipline." The Review Board pointed out that there was "very substantial mitigating evidence," which included: "a long history of dedicated community service;" he was "active in numerous community organizations and charitable projects;" he "regularly performed pro bono
work;" he "presented very favorable character testimony;" and he "has no prior discipline." The respondent was suspended for a period of six months. Montalvo, 98 SH 11 (Review Bd. at 11-12, 16-17).
Finally, we note the case of Gorecki, 208 Ill. 2d 350. A woman named Morrison, who was the sister of a friend of Gorecki, asked Gorecki to assist in getting a county highway department job for Morrison's husband. Gorecki said she would make some calls. Subsequently, Gorecki left three messages on Morrison's answering machine that falsely indicated Gorecki had spoken with the president of the county board and that the president of the county board could be bribed into giving Morrison's husband a county job. Initially, Gorecki sought to "rationalize or give some explanation" for her statements, but finally "took full responsibility for the statements on the tape, admitted the statements were fictitious and apologized for her improper conduct." Gorecki, 208 Ill. 2d at 359. The Supreme Court pointed out that the representations made by Gorecki were "quite serious," in that they "undermine public confidence in the integrity of government." Id. at 370. The Hearing Board found that a portion of Gorecki's testimony was not credible, saying "we find it difficult to accept [her] claim that she has a complete and total lack of recall regarding the timing and intent of the taped messages." In mitigation, there was "an impressive history of charitable and community activities;" she "devoted a tremendous amount of time to serving the Kane County community," with her involvement in a long list of organizations and activities; several character witnesses testified as to the respondent's good reputation for honesty and integrity; and she was not previously disciplined. Additionally, unlike in the case before us, the respondent "accepted full responsibility for her actions;" she "expressed deep remorse for the statements;" and she "apologized to the ARDC, the legal
profession" and to the president of the county board. Id. at 366, 368-69. The respondent was suspended for a period of four months.
After considering the cases discussed above, the nature and seriousness of the Respondent's misconduct, the aggravation and mitigation shown by the evidence, along with the purpose of the attorney disciplinary system, we conclude that a suspension is appropriate in this matter. To paraphrase what the Review Board said in the Hays case, quoted above, this is a sad episode in a long and respectable career, but it is elementary that a judge cannot knowingly dismiss a case by making false representations in a court order. We believe that a suspension of six months is adequate for the public to have confidence that dishonesty by a judge will not be tolerated, and to serve as a deterrent. We also believe that a suspension of less than six months would not serve to preserve public confidence in the courts or the legal profession, nor would it sufficiently impress upon others the seriousness of the misconduct in this case.
Therefore, we recommend that the Respondent, Robert T. Hall, be suspended from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months.
Richard W. Zuckerman
I, Kenneth G. Jablonski, Clerk of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois and keeper of the records, hereby certifies that the foregoing is a true copy of the Report and Recommendation of the Hearing Board, approved by each Panel member, entered in the above entitled cause of record filed in my office on January 31, 2013.
Kenneth G. Jablonski, Clerk of the