Filed February 19, 2009
In re Dennis Charles Segovia
Commission No. 08 CH 54
Synopsis of Hearing Board Report and Recommendation
NATURE OF THE CASE: 1) making a statement of material fact or law to a tribunal which the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is false; 2) making a statement of material fact or law to a third person which statement the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is false; 3) making a statement the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge; 4) engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; 5) bringing a frivolous action where there was no good faith basis to do so; 6) failing to provide information which the Administrator requested concerning a matter under investigation; 7) failing to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority; 8) engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice; and 9) engaging in conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute.
RULES DISCUSSED: Rules 3.3(a)(1); 3.1; 8.1(a)(2); 4.1(a); 8.2(a); 8.4(a)(4); 8.4(a)(5) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct; Commission Rule 5.3; and Supreme Court Rule 770.
DATE OF OPINION: February 19, 2009.
HEARING PANEL: Mark L. Karasik, Chair, Johnny A. Fairman, II and Harry M. Hardwick
ADMINISTRATOR'S COUNSEL: Cass R. Buscher
BEFORE THE HEARING BOARD
ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION
|In the Matter of:
DENNIS CHARLES SEGOVIA,
Commission No. 08 CH 54
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE HEARING BOARD
The hearing in this matter was held on November 5, 2008, at the offices of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission ("ARDC") in Chicago, Illinois before a Hearing Board Panel consisting of Mark L. Karasik, Chair, Johnny A. Fairman, II, lawyer member, and Harry M. Hardwick, public member. The Administrator was represented by Cass R. Buscher. Respondent, Dennis Charles Segovia, did not appear at the hearing and was not represented by counsel.
PLEADINGS AND PRE-HEARING PROCEEDINGS
On June 20, 2008, the Administrator filed a three-count Complaint against the Respondent. Count I alleged that Respondent made false statements about a judge's integrity as well as certain other false statements in connection with a matter he was handling. Count II alleged that Respondent filed a frivolous lawsuit. Count III alleged that Respondent failed to cooperate with the ARDC in its requests for information about these matters.
On July 2, 2008, ARDC Investigative Assistant David Froylan made three separate attempts to personally serve Respondent at his last registered home address as reflected on the
ARDC's master roll of attorneys but was unsuccessful. On July 15, 2008, he made another attempt to serve Respondent at a different address in Chicago where he believed he might be working, but determined that Respondent was not working there.
On July 14, 2008, ARDC Investigator Humberto Bobadilla also attempted to serve Respondent at his last registered home address but was unable to do so. Investigator Kevin Roach attempted to serve Respondent personally at his last registered home address on July 17, 2008, July 18, 2008, July 20, 2008, and July 23, 2008, but was unsuccessful. On July 24, 2008, Investigator Roach again attempted to serve Respondent at his home and Respondent's mother answered the door and accepted service.
On July 31, 2008, the Administrator served Respondent with the Complaint and other materials by way of substituted service on the Clerk of the Illinois Supreme Court pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 765(b). At that same time, copies of all of the materials, including the Substituted Service Upon the Clerk of the Supreme Court, were mailed to Respondent at his last known address. In addition, throughout the course of these proceedings, copies of all orders and filings have also been mailed to Respondent.
On September 8, 2008, the Chair granted the Administrator's Motion to Deem the Allegations of the 753(b) Complaint Admitted Pursuant to Commission Rule 236 and set the matter for hearing.
Administrator's Exhibits 1 and 2 were admitted into evidence. (Tr. 13). The evidence, along with the admitted allegations of the Complaint, establishes the following facts.
Counts I and II
On February 14, 2006, Elite Class Corporation ("Elite") filed a lawsuit against Bobby Binion ("Binion"), Respondent, and others in the Chancery Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County ("Chancery matter"). Elite alleged that one of the defendants had attempted to improperly transfer title to at least twelve parcels of real property to Binion and that the property legally belonged to Elite. It also alleged that one of the defendants had improperly obtained title to nine other parcels of real property. Respondent was alleged to have prepared the deeds that improperly transferred title for all twenty-one of the parcels of property.
On April 10, 2006, Respondent filed an appearance on behalf of all defendants, except Binion in the Chancery matter. On January 10, 2007, due to their failure to comply with discovery requests and various court orders, Elite obtained default judgments against all the defendants except Binion. On May 18, 2007, Elite filed a motion for entry of final judgment against the defaulted defendants and a motion to voluntarily dismiss Binion from the Chancery matter. On June 26, 2007, after the motions were briefed and argued, the Honorable Kathleen M. Pantle granted Elite's motion for entry of a final judgment and executed nine judicial deeds on the twenty-one parcels of property in question. Judge Pantle also granted Elite's motion to dismiss Binion from the Chancery matter. On July 2, 2007, over Binion's objection, Judge Pantle executed twelve additional judicial deeds on the remaining parcels of property at issue.
On July 13, 2007, Respondent, without notice to Elite or its counsel, filed with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds a notice of lis pendens on all twenty-one parcels of property. Each lis pendens stated "appeal pending." Respondent filed the lis pendens in an attempt to cloud title on the twenty-one parcels of property. Respondent's statements in the lis pendens were false and
Respondent knew they were false because at the time he filed each of the lis pendens, no appeal was pending in the case.
On July 19, 2007, Respondent, on behalf of Binion, filed a motion to reconsider and vacate the final judgment order and voluntary dismissal order. In that motion, which requested nullification of the judicial deeds granted on July 2, 2007, Respondent stated that "(t)he court not only failed to be impartial to the parties it was seemingly acting as a (sic) Advocate for the plaintiff given the hostility shown to counsel for Binion." Respondent asserted several times in the motion that Judge Pantle acted as an advocate for Elite. Respondent further alleged in the motion that, by executing the judicial deeds, the court had "engaged in a fraudulent conveyance." Respondent's allegation that the court had engaged in a fraudulent conveyance was false and Respondent knew it was false because his statement had no basis in fact or law.
On or about July 24, 2007, Respondent filed an amended motion wherein he repeated his assertions that Judge Pantle had acted as an advocate for Elite. He also alleged that, on June 26, 2007, Judge Pantle had an ex-parte communication in chambers with Elite's lawyers. Respondent's claim that Judge Pantle had an ex-parte communication with Elite's lawyers was false and Respondent knew or should have known that it was false because no such ex-parte communication occurred.
On July 25, 2007, Elite's attorney filed a response to Respondent's motions and also filed a "Suggestion that Sanctions be Imposed on Binion's Counsel." On August 8, 2007, Elite filed a motion asking Judge Pantle to quash and strike the 21 lis pendens filed by Respondent. In a response filed to that motion, Respondent stated that he had only filed the lis pendens on the 12 properties in which Binion claimed an interest. That statement by Respondent was false and he knew it was false because he had filed lis pendens on all twenty-one properties.
On August 10, 2007, Judge Pantle entered an order denying Respondent's motions to reconsider and entered and continued Elite's motions seeking to strike the lis pendens and requesting sanctions against Respondent. On that same day, Respondent filed a notice of appeal in the case in the First District Illinois Court of Appeals.
On September 5, 2007, Judge Pantle continued Elite's motion for sanctions and stated in the order that Respondent "is advised to hire an attorney." On September 17, 2007 Respondent filed a motion and an amended motion for substitution of judge for cause relating to Elite's pending motion for sanctions. On October 18, 2007, after argument, the Honorable Richard J. Billik denied Respondent's motion to substitute Judge Pantle. In his order he stated "(t)here is NO indicia of bias or prejudice against movant/Binion or in favor of plaintiff on the part of the trial judge."
On November 5, 2007, Judge Pantle entered an order sanctioning Respondent and Binion jointly for their post-judgment conduct in the amount of $24,055.91. Respondent had not paid any portion of the sanction at the time the disciplinary complaint was filed.
On August 28, 2007, Respondent filed a "Verified Petition to Quite [sic] Title and Declaratory Judgment and Other Relief" on behalf of Binion in the Chancery Division in the Circuit Court of Cook County ("Binion matter"). In that case, Respondent sought to re-litigate the issues already decided in the earlier Chancery matter which was then pending before the First District Court of Appeals. Respondent's complaint in the Binion matter was filed without any good faith basis and sought to avoid the appropriate standard of review by having a second trial judge determine the facts differently from Judge Pantle.
On October 12, 2007, Elite filed a motion to dismiss the Binion matter on the basis that it sought to re-litigate the issues decided in the earlier Chancery matter. On November 6, 2007,
Respondent file a "First Amended Verified Petition to Quite [sic] Title," again seeking to re-litigate the issues set forth in the earlier Chancery matter. In response, Elite again filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the case was an improper collateral attack on Judge Pantle's previous final order. On December 14, 2007, after the matter had been briefed and argued by the parties, the Honorable Mary K. Rochford entered an order dismissing the Binion matter with prejudice and stating, in part, "After a proper notice of appeal has been filed, the trial courts cannot enter any orders which would change the judgment or interfere with the appellate court's review of the judgment….This court does not have jurisdiction to review the final order of a circuit court judge."
On February 11, 2008, the Administrator received a communication from the Honorable Kathleen M. Pantle relating to Respondent's conduct in connection with the Chancery matter. On February 14, 2008, the Administrator sent a letter to Respondent at his registered business address which requested that Respondent submit information in writing in response to Judge Pantle's allegations. Respondent did not respond to that letter. On March 6, 2008, the Administrator issued a subpoena duces tecum commanding Respondent's appearance on April 7, 2008, for a sworn statement at the offices of the ARDC and for the production of certain documents.
Respondent was personally served with the subpoena on March 18, 2008. However, Respondent did not appear on April 7, 2008, or produce the items specified. Respondent's mother contacted Administrator's counsel by telephone and stated that Respondent would not be available for 30 days and would contact counsel to reschedule his appearance. At no time has
Respondent contacted Administrator's counsel to reschedule his appearance, responded to the investigation, or produced the documents requested in the subpoena.
Evidence Offered in Aggravation
Two bench warrants were issued against Respondent on May 6, 2008, in two criminal proceedings pending in the Circuit Court of DuPage County. Each warrant directs Respondent's arrest for "Failure to Appear" and reflects that the underlying violation was "Forgery." People v. Dennis Segovia, Case Nos. 04 CF 3011, 05 CF 1193. (Adm. Ex. 1, 2).
Although Respondent has not been the subject of any prior orders or opinions imposing discipline, he is currently the subject of a disciplinary matter that is now pending before the Review Board. In re Dennis Charles Segovia, 06 CH 86, Hearing Board (February 20, 2008). In that matter, Respondent was charged in a two-count complaint with committing criminal acts that reflect adversely on a lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness and fitness to practice law. The alleged misconduct occurred in 2004 and 2005 and both involved situations where Respondent obtained access to blank prescription sheets from physicians and forged prescriptions for Ritalin, which he then attempted to have filled at different pharmacies. In one of these cases, the physician was his mother. Each of these instances led to the institution of felony criminal charges against Respondent in DuPage County for forgery and attempted unlawful acquisition of a controlled substance. According to the Hearing Board Report, these charges were addressed on May 25, 2006, through a guilty plea by Respondent and his entry into a two-year mental health deferral program wherein he was required to comply with certain conditions in order for the charges to ultimately be dismissed.
In the proceedings before the Hearing Board, as Respondent admitted to the misconduct alleged in the complaint and the Hearing Board found that Respondent had engaged in the misconduct charged, the primary issue addressed was appropriate discipline. In arriving at its recommendation, the Hearing Board considered in mitigation that Respondent had not been previously disciplined and he suffered from a variety of medical conditions including bipolar disorder, attention-deficit disorder, personality disorder, poly-substance abuse and dependence issues, sleep apnea, morbid obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. In aggravation, it noted that Respondent had not fully complied with certain requests of the forensic psychiatrist assigned by the Administrator to evaluate him, had failed to present any character or employment documentation evidence, and had failed to offer his own testimony or explanation regarding these and other matters. The Hearing Board also expressed concern that the deferral program in the criminal cases would not be completed by Respondent until after the conclusion of the Hearing Board proceedings and there was a possibility that the charges could be reinstated.
Based on the foregoing, the Hearing Board recommended that Respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a period of two years and that he comply with a variety of conditions during that period of suspension, including abstaining from the usage of alcohol and un-prescribed controlled substances and complying with all treatment recommendations of a mental health professional. The matter is currently pending before the Review Board on the Administrator's exceptions to the recommended discipline.
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. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 753(c)(6); In re Ingersoll, 186 Ill.2d 163, 168, 710 N.E.2d 390 (1999). Clear and convincing evidence
constitutes a high level of certainty which is greater than a preponderance of the evidence but less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. People v. Williams, 143 Ill.2d 477, 577 N.E.2d 762 (1991).
Having considered the Complaint, the order deeming the allegations in the Complaint admitted, and the evidence presented by the Administrator at the hearing, we find by clear and convincing evidence that Respondent engaged in the acts alleged and committed the following misconduct as charged in the Complaint:
made a statement of material fact or law to a tribunal which the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is false in violation of Rule 3.3(a)(1) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct ("Rules") (Count I);
made a statement of material fact or law to a third person which statement the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is false in violation of Rule 4.1(a) of the Rules (Count I);
made a statement the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge in violation of Rule 8.2(a) of the Rules (Count I);
engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(4) of the Rules (Count I);
brought a frivolous action where there was no good faith basis to do so in violation of Rule 3.1 of the Rules (Count II);
failed to provide information which the Administrator has requested concerning a matter under investigation in violation of Commission Rule 5.3 (Count III);
failed to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority in violation of Rule 8.1(a)(2) of the Rules (Count III);
engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5) of the Rules (Counts I, II and III); 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 (Counts I, II and III).
Having found that Respondent engaged in misconduct, we must determine appropriate discipline. In making this recommendation, we take into account that the goal of the disciplinary process is not to punish the Respondent, but to safeguard the public, maintain the integrity of the profession, and protect the administration of justice. In re Timpone, 157 Ill.2d 178, 197, 623 N.E.2d 300 (1993). We also consider the nature of the misconduct, the aggravating and mitigating factors, the deterrent value of the sanction, and whether the sanction will help preserve public confidence in the legal profession. In re Gorecki, 208 Ill.2d 350, 360-61, 802 N.E.2d 1194 (2003). Although each case is unique and must be resolved in light of its own facts and circumstances, in order to ensure predictability and fairness we generally strive to impose sanctions that are consistent with those imposed in 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).
With respect to appropriate discipline, the Administrator suggests that the facts and circumstances present here warrant disbarment. In making this recommendation, the Administrator relies on In re Palmisano, 92 CH 109, M.R. 10116 (May 19, 1994), In re Kozel, 96 CH 50, M.R. 16530 (June 30, 2000), and In re Denzel, 92 CH 114, M.R. 10694 (March 27, 1995).
In Palmisano, the respondent was disbarred for misconduct that involved repeatedly and continually insulting, attacking, defaming and threatening members of the judiciary and disparaging the courts in general. Many of these attacks were made in response to adverse rulings and in retaliation for perceived personal grievances.
In Kozel, the respondent was disbarred for an extensive pattern of misconduct that included multiple instances where he made false and unfounded statements about various judges for the purpose of causing delay in proceedings. There was also additional misconduct that included neglect of a matter, an attempt to practice law in a jurisdiction where he was not licensed, and communication of scurrilous and unfounded accusations about an elected official. In aggravation, it was noted that the respondent had been suspended by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and had continued his obstructionist behavior in the disciplinary proceedings by filing various baseless motions.
In Denzel, the respondent was suspended for two years and until further order of the court for misconduct that included filing multiple suits against former clients for unwarranted amounts of legal fees and filing petitions in several of those cases alleging bias and prejudice on the part the judges in Cook County. In all of these instances, it was determined that the respondent's actions were aimed at harassing or maliciously injuring the defendants in the cases. In mitigation, it was noted that the respondent had not been previously disciplined, had a record of public service, and had utilized proper channels in voicing his concerns.
In addition to the cases cited by the Administrator, we also note a number of other cases where the Court has imposed discipline for misconduct that involved baseless and unwarranted attacks on the integrity of judges. Many of these cases have resulted in harsh sanctions, ranging from suspensions until further order of the court to disbarment. See In re Jafree, 93 Ill.2d 450, 444 N.E.2d 143 (1982)(attorney disbarred for filing over 40 groundless lawsuits and appeals and making numerous frivolous and defamatory statements about the judiciary and certain judges); In re Sarelas, 50 Ill.2d 87, 277 N.E.2d 313 (1971)(attorney suspended for two years and until further order of the court for filing numerous frivolous lawsuits against judges, judicial officers,
attorneys and others alleging fraud, intimidation, and interference with the administration of justice); In re Phelps, 55 Ill.2d 319, 303 N.E.2d 13 (1973)(attorney suspended for two years and until further order of the court for filing multiple pleadings containing defamatory statements about certain judges as well as a separate lawsuit seeking damages from certain judges and attorneys); People ex. rel. Chicago Bar Association v. Metzen, 291 Ill. 55, 125 N.E. 734 (1919)(attorney disbarred for bringing a single unauthorized suit against a judge, intimidating the judge and releasing a story to the press concerning the suit).
In several other cases of this nature, lesser sanctions have been imposed. See In re Mason, 33 Ill.2d 53, 210 N.E.2d 203 (1965)(noting a lack of any prior misconduct the Court suspended an attorney for one year for filing a baseless lawsuit against a judge who had restrained him for a weekend pending a hearing on mental illness and for seeking to publicize the matter); People ex. rel Chicago Bar Association v. Standidge, 333 Ill. 361, 164 N.E. 844 (1928)(Court suspended an attorney for six months for bringing a suit against three appellate judges who had ruled against him and accusing them of wantonly making false findings).
In this case, with respect to the underlying misconduct at issue here, we first note that it was clearly serious in nature. Respondent was found to have engaged in multiple instances of misrepresentation in connection with his handling of litigation involving title to certain parcels of real estate, including false accusations and unfounded attacks on the judge presiding over the matter. Specifically, he filed lis pendens notices with the Recorder of Deeds wherein he falsely represented that appeals were pending in connection with the properties at issue. He later falsely claimed in a response to a motion that he had only filed the lis pendens notices on some of the properties. In addition, he falsely asserted in a motion that the court had engaged in a fraudulent conveyance as a result of a ruling in the matter and falsely accused Judge Pantle of having an ex
parte communication with his adversary's attorney. He further impugned the Judge's integrity by accusing her of acting as an advocate for his opponent and by seeking to have her removed for cause after she had ruled against him. A different judge later found no basis for his claims of bias and Respondent was ultimately sanctioned for his behavior in the amount of $24,055.91. These sanctions had not yet been paid at the time the complaint was filed in the disciplinary matter.
Misrepresentations and false statements by attorneys, particularly when made in court, have always been viewed as serious misconduct. See In re Bell, 147 Ill.2d 15, 38, 588 N.E.2d 1093 (1992), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 861 (1992); In re Thebeau, 111 Ill.2d 251, 256, 489 N.E.2d 877 (1986). In addition, baseless accusations and unwarranted attacks aimed at members of the judiciary are also highly improper. See People ex re Chicago Bar Association v. Metzen, 291 Ill. 55, 58, 125 N.E. 734 (1919); In re Sarelas, 50 Ill.2d 87, 97-98, 277 N.E.2d 313 (1971), In re Jafree, 93 Ill.2d 450, 460-62, 444 N.E.2d 143 (1982). Although attorneys are permitted to engage in fair criticism of judge's rulings, they are not allowed to engage in unjust criticism, insulting language, scurrilous attacks, or other offensive conduct toward members of the judiciary. Metzen, 291 Ill. at 58. The Court has made it clear that such conduct, which tends to bring the courts and the law into disrepute and to destroy public confidence the integrity of the judicial system, cannot be permitted. Metzen, 291 Ill. at 58, Jafree, 93 Ill.2d at 460.
In addition to these actions, Respondent also engaged in additional misconduct by filing a second frivolous lawsuit in an attempt to improperly attack and re-litigate the issues that had already been decided adversely to him in the prior case. He further compounded his original misconduct by failing to respond to the Administrator's request for information about the matter or appear and produce documents in response to the Administrator's subpoena.
In addition to the seriousness of the underlying misconduct, there are also several aggravating factors present here. First, Respondent not only failed to cooperate with the Administrator's initial investigation, he also failed to answer the complaint, appear at the hearing, or otherwise participate in any way in these disciplinary proceedings. Such behavior, which is indicative of indifference toward and even contempt for disciplinary procedures, demonstrates a want of professional responsibility that is a significant aggravating factor to be considered in determining an appropriate sanction. See In re Brody, 65 Ill.2d 152, 156, 357 N.E.2d 498, 500 (1976); In re Roytenberg, 04 CH 48, M.R. 20155 (May 20, 2005). Moreover, since he did not appear in the case, there was no mitigating evidence presented that can be taken into account in formulating our disciplinary recommendation.
Second, although final disciplinary action has not yet been taken, Respondent is the subject of a prior disciplinary matter that is now pending before the Review Board on the Administrator's exceptions. The misconduct in that matter was serious and not only involved dishonesty, deceit and misrepresentation, but also two felony criminal charges. Although the misconduct was mitigated to some extent by Respondent's various medical conditions, it was nonetheless serious misconduct that, coupled with his actions in this case, raises significant concerns regarding Respondent's continued fitness to practice law.
Generally, prior discipline is a serious factor in aggravation of subsequent misconduct and warrants the imposition of a more severe sanction than might otherwise be imposed. In re Blank, 145 Ill.2d 534, 554-55, 585 N.E.2d 105 (1991). Important elements to consider when determining the weight to be given this aggravating factor include the nature of the prior misconduct and the period of time between the prior misconduct and the current misconduct. See In re Levin, 101 Ill.2d 535, 463 N.E.2d 715 (1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 933 (1984); In re
Weitzman, 93 CH 551, M.R. 12217 (March 26, 1996). Where the prior misconduct occurred before the current misconduct and is of a similar nature, it is considered especially aggravating because it shows that the attorney has failed to reform his behavior in response to past mistakes. See In re Levin, 101 Ill.2d 535, 541-42, 463 N.E.2d 715, 718 (1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 933 (1984). Conversely, where the current misconduct predates the misconduct that was the subject of the prior disciplinary matter, it is considered less aggravating because it is not indicative of recidivism. See In re Teichner, 104 Ill.2d 150, 470 N.E.2d 972 (1984). Nonetheless, even in such circumstances, the Court has recognized that it is appropriate to consider the prior discipline as part of the totality of the respondent's misconduct in determining the appropriate sanction. Teichner, 104 Ill.2d 167-68.
Here, although disciplinary action in the prior matter is not yet final, we believe that it is appropriate to take that misconduct into account because Respondent admitted the misconduct alleged and the only matter still at issue is discipline. We do, however, take into account the fact that these prior proceedings have not yet been concluded, as well as the other facts and circumstances surrounding that misconduct, in determining the weight to give this prior misconduct as an aggravating factor. Although the prior misconduct also involved acts of dishonesty, deceit and misrepresentation, the misconduct in the two cases was otherwise dissimilar. Further, since discipline has not yet been imposed in the prior matter, this is not a case where an attorney has failed to reform his conduct in response to the imposition of prior discipline.
We also note, however, that the prior misconduct, which took place in October of 2004 and April of 2005, occurred well before the misconduct at issue here, which occurred in July through November of 2007. Furthermore, formal disciplinary proceedings in the prior matter
were instituted on December 6, 2006 and remain pending to date. Therefore, the misconduct here not only occurred after the prior misconduct, but also during the very time that the prior disciplinary matter was being adjudicated. It is troubling that Respondent would engage in additional misconduct at a time when he should have been acutely aware of his responsibility to adhere to his professional ethical obligations. Thus, while Respondent may not be a recidivist in the ordinary sense of the word, he has displayed a repeated failure to adhere to his ethical obligations and we believe that it is appropriate to consider the totality of his misconduct in determining an appropriate sanction in this case. See In re Teichner, 104 Ill.2d 150, 470 N.E.2d 972 (1984); In re Ervin, 05 CH 92, M.R. 21195 (November 17, 2006).
Finally, we also note the evidence presented at the hearing in the form of the two bench warrants that have been issued for Respondent's arrest. These warrants were issued in the underlying criminal cases that were the subject of Respondent's prior disciplinary matter, apparently as a result of Respondent's "failure to appear" in those cases. This is an indication that these charges have not yet been resolved and is an additional aggravating factor.
In this case, taking into account the nature and severity of all of the underlying misconduct, the discipline imposed in cases involving misconduct of this nature, and in particular the serious aggravating factors present here, we conclude that disbarment is the appropriate discipline.
As the cited cases demonstrate, attorneys who engage in unwarranted attacks on the judiciary have often faced harsh discipline, including disbarment. Although the accusations leveled by Respondent at Judge Pantle in this case are not as numerous or extensive as in many of the cases where this sanction has been imposed, the Supreme Court has indicated that even a single instance of this type of improper behavior can warrant disbarment. See In re Sarelas, 50
Ill.2d 87, 98, 277 N.E.2d 313, 318 (1971); People ex. rel. Chicago Bar Association v. Metzen, 291 Ill. 55, 58, 125 N.E. 734 (1919). Moreover, Respondent's misconduct here was not limited to his unfounded attacks on Judge Pantle, but also included his other false statements regarding certain facts in the case, his institution of a frivolous lawsuit in an effort to improperly attack the result in the case, and his failure to cooperate with the Administrator's investigation into the matter. Thus, although his misconduct all arose in connection with the same dispute, it was not an isolated incident but involved multiple instances of improper and unprofessional behavior.
In addition, as discussed, there are significant aggravating factors present here, including Respondent's prior serious misconduct, the outstanding warrants for his arrest, and his failure to participate in the disciplinary process. His failure to respond to the charges or participate in his own disciplinary proceeding is especially troubling since it is indicative of a complete lack of professionalism on his part and has deprived us of the ability to make any meaningful assessment of his current fitness to practice law. Respondent's serious misconduct, coupled with these significant factors in aggravation, convinces us that a sanction of disbarment is warranted in this case.
For the foregoing reasons, we recommend that Respondent, Dennis Charles Segovia, be disbarred.
Date Entered: February 19, 2009
|Mark L. Karasik, Chair, with Panel Members Johnny A. Fairman, II, and Harry M. Hardwick, concurring.|