Filed May 14, 2018

In re Laura Lee Robinson
Respondent-Appellee

Commission No. 2016PR00126

Synopsis of Review Board Report and Recommendation
(May 2018)

The Administrator brought a one-count complaint against Respondent, charging her with improperly entering into an agreement with a client that limited or purported to limit the client's right to file or pursue a complaint before the ARDC, and with filing a response to her client's motion to dismiss counsel in which she revealed information relating to her representation of the client without the client's informed consent, in violation of 2010 Illinois Rules of Professional 8.4(h) and 1.6(a), respectively.

The Hearing Board found that Respondent had engaged in the charged misconduct and recommended that, for her misconduct, Respondent be suspended for 30 days, with the suspension stayed in its entirety by a 60-day period of probation, the only condition of which was for Respondent to complete the ARDC Professionalism seminar.

The Administrator filed exceptions, challenging the Hearing Board's sanction recommendation and asking this Board to recommend a six-month suspension, with no probation. Respondent did not appear for oral argument.

The Review Board agreed with the Administrator that probation was not appropriate in the matter, but disagreed with the Administrator that the Hearing Board erred in its findings regarding certain mitigating and aggravating factors. The Review Board reasoned that the Hearing Board's findings were based on its assessment of Respondent's credibility, and that the Administrator had not shown that the Hearing Board's credibility findings were against the manifest weight of the evidence.

The Review Board concluded that a 90-day suspension was commensurate with Respondent's misconduct and supported by case precedent. It also determined that Respondent would benefit from a review of her ethical obligations to her clients, and therefore recommended that she be required to complete the ARDC Professionalism seminar within one year of the date of the Court's order imposing discipline in the matter.

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

In the Matter of:

LAURA LEE ROBINSON,

Respondent-Appellee,

No. 6216755.

Commission No. 2016PR00126

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE REVIEW BOARD

SUMMARY

The Administrator brought a one-count complaint against Respondent, charging her with improperly entering into an agreement with a client that limited or purported to limit the client's right to file or pursue a complaint before the ARDC, and with filing a response to her client's motion to dismiss counsel in which she revealed information relating to her representation of the client without the client's informed consent, in violation of 2010 Illinois Rules of Professional 8.4(h) and 1.6(a), respectively.

Following the hearing, at which Respondent represented herself, the Hearing Board found that Respondent had engaged in the charged misconduct and recommended that, for her misconduct, Respondent be suspended for 30 days, with the suspension stayed in its entirety by a 60-day period of probation, the only condition of which is for Respondent to complete the ARDC Professionalism seminar.

The Administrator filed exceptions, challenging the Hearing Board's sanction recommendation and asking this Board to recommend a six-month suspension, with no probation. Respondent did not appear for oral argument.

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For the reasons that follow, we recommend that Respondent be suspended for 90 days, and that she be required to complete the ARDC Professionalism seminar within one year of the date of this Court's order imposing discipline in this matter.

FACTS

Respondent was licensed to practice law in Illinois in 1993. She also is licensed to practice in Missouri. She is a solo practitioner. At the time of her disciplinary hearing, she had one active case. She also works as a substitute teacher. She has no prior misconduct.

In May 2015, Respondent began representing John Quincy Adams IV in some criminal and traffic matters. She and Adams entered into a retainer agreement, which she prepared and presented to him and which provided, in part:

Client agrees to make all matters of said representation confidential between client(s), his/her agents, assigns and principals and to refrain from reporting any phase of said representation to any external agency, including but not limited to the Missouri Bar, ARDC etc.

(Hearing Bd. Report at 4 (citing Admin. Ex. 1).)

Respondent represented Adams until March 2016. On March 2, Adams filed with the court a handwritten motion stating that he would like to fire Respondent and hire different counsel. That same night, Respondent and Adams had a phone conversation. Respondent testified that he told her he had made up his mind to fire her, that he was going to get her in trouble, and that he had filed a complaint against her. He did not tell her that he had already filed a motion to dismiss her as his counsel.

Following their phone conversation, Respondent drafted a letter to Adams in which she referred to his "horrible criminal past" and a "violent criminal past;" stated that he has been "arrested and/or convicted in Missouri at least fourteen times;" stated that he "wanted to bribe the court in some manner;" and called him a "paranoid ingrate and miserable con man who

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tries to blame everyone else but yourself for YOUR misdeeds TO WHICH YOU CONFESSED." (Hearing Bd. Report at 11 (emphasis in original).)

A hearing on Adam's motion was set for March 10, and notice of the hearing was sent to Respondent on March 3. On March 9, Respondent filed an answer to Adam's motion with the Circuit Court of Monroe County, and attached the above-quoted letter to her answer. It thus became a matter of public record.

Respondent testified at her hearing that she was "in a blur" and "upset" when she wrote the letter because of Adams' rant during their conversation. She further testified that she included the letter with her filed answer out of "just frustration," because she was "enraged" and in a "rage of emotion," and "reacted on ? [her] own personal hurt." She acknowledged that the letter contained confidential information that she should not have disclosed without her client's consent; that the filing of the letter was "wrong;" and that she "was not justified" in filing it. (Hearing Bd. Report at 17.)

HEARING BOARD'S FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

The Hearing Board found that the Administrator had proved that Respondent violated Rule 8.4(h) by entering into a retainer agreement with Adams that expressly prohibited him from reporting any phase of her representation to the ARDC. It also noted that, in her answer, Respondent admitted that she had violated Rule 8.4(h).

The Hearing Board also found that the Administrator had proved that Respondent violated Rule 1.6(a) by revealing information relating to her representation of Adams in the letter that she filed with the Monroe County Circuit Court. It found that Respondent and Adams did not discuss the letter before it was written or filed, that Adams did not give consent for the letter to be filed with the court, and that the letter contained information relating to Respondent's representation of Adams.

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The Hearing Board found significant mitigation and some aggravation. In mitigation, it noted Respondent has been licensed since 1993 with no prior discipline. It also noted that she admitted in her answer that she engaged in misconduct in violation of Rule 8.4(h), and testified that she knows it was wrong to have the non-disclosure provision in the retainer agreement.

It found that her misconduct of improperly disclosing information about her client took place over a seven-day period. It found that she was angry, upset, and shocked when she drafted the letter upon learning that Adams wanted to fire her and threatened to get her in trouble. It found that, while her emotional state at the time she drafted and filed the letter does not justify her actions, it shows that she "did not make a planned, thoughtful or reasoned decision to attack her client, but unfortunately allowed her temporary frustration, rage, and anger to dictate her actions and overcome sound judgment." (Hearing Bd. Report at 26.)

It further found that Respondent recognized that she had engaged in misconduct, and acknowledged that her filing of the letter was "wrong" and "not justified." It also noted that, in her closing argument, Respondent said she was remorseful and apologized. Finally, it found that Respondent cooperated during her disciplinary proceeding, and that she has provided pro bono services.

In aggravation, it found that Respondent's misconduct could have harmed her client. However, it noted that there was no actual harm to Adams.

Based on the nature of Respondent's misconduct and the aggravating and mitigating factors, the Hearing Board recommended that Respondent be suspended for 30 days, fully stayed by a 60-day term of probation, with the condition that Respondent successfully complete the ARDC Professionalism seminar.

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ANALYSIS

As an initial matter, we note that, to the extent Respondent appended documents to her brief that were not part of the record, this panel did not consider them. See In re Lasica, 07 CH 125 (Review Bd., Jan. 22, 2010), at 8, petition for leave to file exceptions denied, M.R. 23734 (May 18, 2010) (refusing to consider documents appended to respondent's brief that were not part of the record). Nor did we consider any allegations in Respondent's brief that were not found in or based upon the record, because there is "no basis for determining the accuracy of [her] version of events." In re Marcanti, 96 CH 1 (Review Bd., Oct. 16, 1997), approved and confirmed, M.R. 14249 (Jan. 29, 1998).

On appeal, the Administrator challenges only the sanction recommendation. He contends that Respondent's misconduct, combined with the extensive aggravation and minor mitigation present in this matter, warrant a suspension of at least six months and until Respondent completes the ARDC Professionalism seminar. At the crux of his sanction request are his contentions that the Hearing Board erred in determining certain mitigating and aggravating factors, and that this is not a matter for probation. We disagree with the former and agree with the latter.

The Hearing Board did not Err in its Findings Regarding Aggravation and Mitigation

The Administrator argues that the Hearing Board erred in finding no real aggravation but significant mitigation. His primary contention is that the Hearing Board disregarded much of Respondent's testimony throughout her hearing, which showed that she failed to understand her improper actions, blamed and vilified her client, placed her own interests ahead of her client's, and embarrassed her client and affected his view of the attorney-client relationship.

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The Administrator's challenge to the Hearing Board's findings regarding aggravation and mitigation is a challenge to its factual findings, which we will not reverse unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. In re Timpone, 157 Ill. 2d 178, 196, 623 N.E.2d 300 (1993). A factual finding is against the manifest weight of the evidence where the opposite conclusion is clearly evident or the finding appears unreasonable, arbitrary, or not based on the evidence. Leonardi v. Loyola University, 168 Ill. 2d 83, 106, 658 N.E.2d 450 (1995); Bazydlo v. Volant, 164 Ill. 2d 207, 215, 647 N.E.2d 273 (1995). That the opposite conclusion is reasonable is not sufficient. In re Winthrop, 219 Ill. 2d 526, 542, 848 N.E.2d 961 (2006).

Moreover, the Hearing Board's findings regarding aggravation and mitigation are based largely on its acceptance of Respondent's testimony that she knew she had committed misconduct, that she was wrong to have engaged in the actions that she did, and that she was sorry for what she had done. Thus, they hinge on the Hearing Board's findings regarding Respondent's credibility, to which this Board must especially defer. See In re Woldman, 98 Ill. 2d 248, 254, 46 N.E.2d 35 (1983) (credibility of witnesses "is to be determined by those who hear and observe them"); Winthrop, 219 Ill. 2d at 542 (Hearing Board's findings regarding the credibility of witnesses are entitled to great deference because the Hearing Board "is in the best position to observe the witnesses, to assess their demeanor and credibility, to resolve conflicting testimony, and to render fact-finding judgments").

We do not believe the Administrator has met his considerable burden of showing that the Hearing Board's findings of fact, and particularly its findings regarding Respondent's credibility, are against the manifest weight of the evidence. As we noted above, the Hearing Board based most of its findings regarding mitigation on Respondent's testimony, during which it had the opportunity to see and hear Respondent and determine her sincerity and credibility. We do not have that opportunity.

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We acknowledge that some of Respondent's statements during her testimony before the Hearing Board appear to place blame for her actions at least partly on her client. But, again, the hearing panel was able to judge for itself the level of her remorse and acceptance of responsibility by observing and listening to her testimony firsthand. It determined, based upon what it saw and heard, that she accepted responsibility and was remorseful for her misconduct. We give deference to the Hearing Board's findings regarding Respondent's testimony and demeanor at hearing because the Hearing Board was in the best position to make that determination. See In re Garza, 2012PR00035 (Review Bd., Jan. 24, 2014), at 7-8, approved and confirmed, M.R. 26657 (May 16, 2014) (citing In re Spak, 188 Ill. 2d 53, 719 N.E.2d 747 (1999)) (accepting Hearing Board's findings that respondent's arguments and demeanor at hearing showed that she had no appreciation of her transgressions and blamed others for her misconduct, because Hearing Board was in best position to make that determination).

That said, based on her arguments in her written submission to this Board, we cannot find that Respondent has fully and unconditionally accepted responsibility and expressed remorse for her actions, which bears upon our sanction recommendation, as discussed below.

Probation is not Appropriate in this Matter

The Administrator argues that this matter is not an appropriate one for probation, because Respondent's misconduct was not the result of any institutional deficiencies and because there is no evidence that probation could effectively improve or reform her attitude or behavior. We agree, and further note that Respondent's misconduct appears to be an isolated occurrence that does not require oversight or monitoring. See In re Martin, 2011PR00048 (Dec. 31, 2013), at 10, approved and confirmed, M.R. 26610 (May 16, 2014) (rejecting Hearing Board's recommendation that suspension be fully stayed by probation subject to conditions including anger management counseling, where there was no evidence that respondent's misconduct

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occurred as a result of a temporary or minor condition and because the nature of the misconduct did not lend itself to monitoring); In re Burke, 00 SH 61 (Review Bd., July 5, 2002), at 6, petition for leave to file exceptions denied, M.R. 18317 (Nov. 26, 2002) (finding probation unwarranted because respondent's conduct involved isolated circumstances rather than systemic deficiencies in his practice); In re Mlade, 99 CH 18 (Review Bd., Dec. 12, 2001), petition for leave to file exceptions denied, M.R. 17977 (Mar. 22, 2002) (rejecting probation where respondent's misconduct resulted from improper blending of his professional and personal relationships with respect to one individual, and where there was no ongoing need to monitor respondent's practice to avoid a recurrence of the misconduct).

However, as discussed below, we believe that the sole condition of probation recommended by the Hearing Board - that Respondent complete the ARDC Professionalism seminar - would be an appropriate element of her sanction.

SANCTION RECOMMENDATION

The Hearing Board recommended that Respondent be suspended for 30 days, with the suspension stayed in its entirety by a 60-day period of probation, the sole condition of which required Respondent to take the ARDC Professionalism seminar. Its sanction recommendation is advisory. In re Ingersoll, 186 Ill. 2d 163, 178, 710 N.E.2d 390 (1999). In making our own recommendation, we consider the nature of the misconduct charged and proved, and any aggravating and mitigating circumstances shown by the evidence, In re Gorecki, 208 Ill. 2d 350, 360-61, 802 N.E.2d 1194, 1200 (2003), while keeping in mind that the purpose of discipline is not to punish the attorney but rather to protect the public, maintain the integrity of the legal profession, and protect the administration of justice from reproach. In re Timpone, 157 Ill. 2d 178, 197, 623 N.E.2d 300 (1993). We also consider the deterrent value of attorney discipline and "the need to impress upon others the significant repercussions of errors such as those

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committed by" Respondent. In re Discipio, 163 Ill. 2d 515, 528, 645 N.E.2d 906 (1994) (citing In re Imming, 131 Ill. 2d 239, 261, 545 N.E.2d 715 (1989)). Finally, we seek to recommend a sanction that is consistent with sanctions imposed in similar cases. Timpone, 157 Ill. 2d at 197, while also considering the unique circumstances of each case. In re Witt, 145 Ill. 2d 380, 398, 583 N.E.2d 526 (1991).

The Administrator argues that a suspension of six months is warranted by Respondent's misconduct and the aggravating and mitigating factors. However, his sanction request is dependent upon his view that the Hearing Board's findings regarding mitigation and aggravation - in particular, its findings regarding Respondent's mental state when she committed her misconduct and her remorse and acceptance of responsibility - were wrong, and that extensive aggravation warrants a lengthy suspension. But, as noted above, we affirm the Hearing Board's findings regarding mitigation and aggravation, and believe that, on balance, the mitigation in this matter outweighs the aggravation.1

Based upon relevant authority, we believe a suspension of 90 days would fall within the range of discipline that has been imposed for comparable misconduct and would achieve the goals of attorney discipline. For a Rule 8.4(h) violation alone, the Court has imposed censure. See, e.g., In re Kostouros, 04 CH 140, petition to impose discipline on consent allowed, M.R. 20215 (Sept. 26, 2005) (censure where respondent entered into an agreement with client by which client agreed not to complain to the ARDC in return for respondent's payment of $5,000).

Sanctions for a Rule 1.6(a) violation typically involve suspensions, the length of which depends on the circumstances of the misconduct, aggravating and mitigating factors, and any additional misconduct involved in the matter. Given the nature and extent of Respondent's misconduct, and taking into account the mitigating and aggravating factors present here, we find

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that the following cases are sufficiently comparable to this one to provide guidance as to an appropriate sanction in this matter.

In In re O'Connor, 01 CH 96 (Hearing Bd., Jan. 21, 2004), approved and confirmed, M.R. 19328 (May 17, 2004), the Court imposed a 30-day suspension on an attorney who sent confidential information relating to his firm's representation of a client to opposing counsel. In mitigation, the attorney had cooperated in the disciplinary proceedings, expressed regret for his conduct, had not been previously disciplined, and presented evidence of his good character. In aggravation, although the disclosure did not cause actual harm, it presented a risk of harm to the client. Moreover, the attorney's disclosure of the information was motivated by the attorney's selfish desire to disrupt the settlement that had been reached in the matter and impugn his former law partner because the law partnership was dissolving. Notwithstanding that the attorney was acting out of self-interest, however, the attorney sent the confidential client information to opposing counsel out of carelessness rather than with an intent to divulge confidential client information.

In In re Peshek, 09 CH 89, petition to impose discipline on consent allowed, M.R. 23794 (May 18, 2010), the Court imposed a 60-day suspension on an assistant public defender who posted information about her clients' identities and confidential information about their cases or her discussions with them on her blog. She also dishonestly failed to disclose to the court that one of her clients had made false statements about the client's drug usage during a guilty plea, and made disparaging remarks about a judge on her blog. In mitigation, she had not been previously disciplined, cooperated during her disciplinary proceeding, and expressed remorse for her misconduct.

In In re Garza, 2012PR00035 (Review Bd., Jan. 24, 2014), approved and confirmed, M.R. 26657 (May 16, 2014), the Court imposed a 90-day suspension on an assistant

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public defender who revealed information relating to her representation of a client without the client's consent in three separate client matters. In each of the three matters, her unauthorized disclosure included inculpatory information that either impacted or could have impacted the criminal proceeding. In addition to this misconduct, the attorney also failed to communicate plea offers and engaged in conduct intended to disrupt the tribunal in multiple matters. The Review Board noted the Hearing Board's findings in mitigation and aggravation, including its finding that, based on the respondent's arguments and demeanor at hearing, she had no appreciation of her transgressions; instead of accepting responsibility, she rationalized her misconduct and blamed others. The Review Board deferred to the Hearing Board's findings about her demeanor because it was in the best position to make that determination.

And finally, in In re Gilsdorf, 2012PR00006 (Review Bd., Dec. 10, 2013), petition for leave to file exceptions denied, M.R. 26540 (Mar. 14, 2014), the Court suspended an attorney for five months after he posted on Facebook and YouTube a video given to him by the state's attorney, which he believed showed the police planting drugs on his client, but which actually showed his client delivering drugs to and accepting money from an undercover informant. The attorney's misconduct included revealing information relating to the representation of a client without the client's informed consent, failing to consult with his client, and making improper extrajudicial statements. In aggravation, the Hearing Board found and the Review Board accepted that the attorney had published damning evidence on the internet with little or no thought or discussion with his client about the possible consequences, and that his conduct threatened the fairness of a criminal proceeding and harmed his client. In mitigation, the misconduct was isolated and involved only one client, and the attorney had not been previously disciplined.

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Respondent's misconduct falls toward the middle of the spectrum of misconduct involved in the foregoing cases. Her unauthorized disclosure of confidential information to the court and, effectively, to the public was more egregious than O'Connor's, in that Respondent's disclosure was intentional rather than careless, and involved a criminal matter, which could have had serious repercussions for her client. The nature of her misconduct - disclosing information relating to her client's criminal case - is on par with Peshek's and Garza's misconduct - although those respondents disclosed information relating to multiple criminal clients. And, while Gilsdorf's misconduct involved only one criminal client, like Respondent's, the scope and impact of Gilsdorf's unauthorized disclosure of information about his client's case were vastly greater than Respondent's. Gilsdorf essentially released into the world via the internet a video of his client committing a crime, thereby impacting his client's criminal proceeding and causing actual harm to his client.

On balance, we find this matter most analogous to Garza, although, in that matter, the Hearing Board found, in aggravation, that Garza did not acknowledge, showed no remorse for, and did not accept responsibility for her misconduct, but rather rationalized her misconduct and blamed others for it. The Administrator asks us to make a similar finding of aggravation here. We cannot do so, however, because the Administrator has not given us a basis for overturning the Hearing Board's factual findings regarding Respondent's credibility and demeanor.

But, while we accept and affirm the Hearing Board's finding that Respondent had accepted responsibility and expressed remorse for her actions as of the time of her hearing, we believe that finding is tempered by Respondent's arguments in her appellee's brief, in which she disparaged her client and at least partly blamed him for her disciplinary troubles. Consequently,

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we cannot find that Respondent has accepted full responsibility or expressed unconditional remorse for her misconduct, which diminishes the weight of those factors in mitigation.

In addition, we find that Respondent's derogatory, vitriolic, and potentially inculpatory statements about her client contained in the letter that she filed with the court could have impacted her client's criminal matter and caused him significant harm. That risk of harm should not be minimized.

We conclude that a suspension of 90 days is commensurate with Respondent's misconduct, is consistent with discipline that has been imposed for comparable misconduct, and is sufficient to serve the goals of attorney discipline and deter others from committing similar misconduct. We also believe that Respondent would benefit from a review of her ethical obligations to her clients, and therefore recommend that she take the ARDC Professionalism seminar.

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the Hearing Board's findings of fact and of misconduct, and recommend that, for her misconduct, Respondent be suspended for 90 days. We also recommend that Respondent be required to complete the ARDC Professionalism seminar within one year of the date of the Court's order imposing discipline in this matter.

Respectfully Submitted,

Johnny A. Fairman, II
Robert M. Henderson
Benedict Schwarz, II

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CERTIFICATION

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 Review Board, approved by each Panel member, entered in the above entitled cause of record filed in my office on May 14, 2018.

Kenneth G. Jablonski, Clerk of the
Attorney Registration and Disciplinary
Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois

_______________________

1 We agree with the Administrator that Respondent's testimony that she engaged in pro bono work should receive minimal weight, because she provided insufficient evidence of the nature and extent of her pro bono services. See In re Castagnoli, 07 CH 57 (Hearing Bd., Nov. 6, 2009), at 52, affirmed (Review Bd., Dec. 30, 2010), approved and confirmed, M.R. 24472 (May 18, 2011) (giving little weight to respondent's volunteer activities because her testimony was "too general and vague" to provide the Hearing Board with substantial facts that would mitigate her misconduct). However, we also note that it does not appear that the Hearing Board gave that factor significant weight.