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

In the Matter of:

 JAY ROBERT GRODNER,

Attorney-Respondent, 

No.  3123771.

 

Commission No.  08 CH 55

FILED -  June 23, 2008

COMPLAINT

Jerome Larkin, Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, by his attorney Lea S. Black, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 753(b) complains of Respondent, Jay Robert Grodner, who was licensed to practice law in Illinois on May 19, 1978, and alleges that Respondent has engaged in the following conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute:

COUNT I
(Misconduct relating to Respondent's conviction for damaging Sgt. McNulty's car)

1. At all times alleged in this count United States Marine Corps Sergeant Michael McNulty owned a 2002 BMW with U.S. Marine Corps license plates and a U.S. Marine Corps bumper sticker.

2. On December 1, 2007, Respondent intentionally scraped a metal object along the passenger side of Sgt. McNulty's 2002 BMW, scratching the paint off of the vehicle while it was parked in front of 7631 N. Eastlake Terrace, in Chicago, Illinois, and causing at least $2,500 of damage to the vehicle. Respondent said to Sgt. McNulty, "Just because you are in the military you don't run the roost!"

3. On that same date, Respondent was arrested in connection with the incident described in paragraph two, above, and charged with criminal damage to property in violation of 720 ILCS 5.0/21-1-1-A. The Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court docketed the matter as The People of the State of Illinois vs. Jay Grodner, docket number 071318441.

4. On January 18, 2008 Respondent stipulated to a set of facts before the Honorable William P. O'Malley, following which Judge O'Malley found Respondent guilty of criminal damage to property, sentenced Respondent to one year of supervision, ordered him to pay $600 in restitution to Sgt. McNulty by February 25, 2008, and to complete 30 hours of community service.

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

  1. committing a criminal act, in violation of 720 ILCS 5.0/21-1-1-A, that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(3) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct;

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

  3. conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute, in violation of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 770.

COUNT II
(Neglect of the Studzinski matter and failure to return unearned fees)

6. At all times alleged in this count, Steve Studzinski ("Studinski") resided in Peoria, Arizona.

7. On July 26, 2004, after Studzinski did not appear for a hearing in relation to the Cook County Circuit Court case entitled Steve Studzinski v. Tina Studzinski, docket no. 99 D 345, the Honorable Karen G. Shields ordered Studzinski to pay $3,032.29, representing his child support arrearage, and allowed his ex-wife to file a fee petition for her attorney fees. Judge Shields also entered a rule against Studzinski for failure to comply with job search mandates, and she made the rule returnable on October 7, 2004, at 9:30 a.m.

8. On or about July 29, 2004, Studzinski's ex-wife filed a petition for attorney fees stating that her attorney had spent 17.5 hours in connection with representing her, at an hourly rate of $200.00, for at total amount of $3,518.78. A hearing on the fee petition was scheduled for October 7, 2004.

9. On or about August 5, 2004, Respondent agreed to represent Studzinski in matters relating to case number 99 D 345, including filing a motion to vacate the July 26, 2004 order. Respondent and Studzinski entered into a written fee agreement, whereby Studzinski agreed to pay Respondent $350.00 per hour and to provide an initial retainer fee of $5,000. Respondent received the $5,000 retainer fee from Studzinski shortly thereafter.

10. At the time that Studzinski retained Respondent, he informed Respondent of the July 26, 2004 order and of the October 7, 2004 court date. Studzinski also informed Respondent that, according to the legend on the back of the Uniform Order of Support Withholding Order, any motion to vacate the order had to be filed within 20 days, which would have been on or before August 15, 2004.

11. As of August 15, 2004, Respondent had not filed any motion to vacate Judge Sheild's July 26, 2004 order in case number 99 D 345.

12. At no time did Respondent inform Studzinski that he had not filed a motion to vacate Judge Shield's July 26, 2004 order in case number 99 D 345.

13. On August 25, 2004, Respondent filed his appearance on Studzinski's behalf in case number 99 D 345.

14. On October 7, 2004, Respondent appeared without Studzinski at the hearing on Studzinski's ex-wife's petition for attorney fees. The hearing was continued by agreement until December 2, 2004.

15. On December 2, 2004, the hearing on Studzinski's ex-wife's petition for attorney fees was continued by agreement until January 5, 2005. On January 5, 2005, the hearing on Studzinski's ex-wife's petition for attorney fees was continued by agreement until May 9, 2005.

16. On May 9, 2005, Respondent appeared a hearing without Studzinski on Studzinski's ex-wife's petition for attorney fees and Studzinski's ex-wife's pending motion to increase child support. Judge Shields increased the amount of Studzinski's monthly child support payments based upon Studzinski's pay stubs, and she continued the hearing on the petition for attorney fees until June 23, 2005.

17. On June 10, 2005, Respondent filed a motion to reconsider the court's May 9, 2005 order. That motion asked that the proofs be reopened and the issues of child support be arbitrated or mediated. The motion was scheduled to be heard on June 23, 2005.

18. Prior to June 23, 2005, Respondent contacted Studzinski and requested that he travel to Chicago to be present for the June 23, 2005 hearing.

19. On or before June 23, 2005, Studzinski traveled from Arizona to Chicago at Respondent's request, and he appeared with Respondent at a hearing scheduled for June 23, 2005 on Respondent's motion to reconsider and his motion to strike Studzinski's ex-wife's petition for attorney fees. On that date, Respondent's motion to reconsider the May 9, 2005 order was denied, because Studzinski had been ordered to pay child support on June 26, 2004, and Respondent had not filed a motion to vacate that order within the 20-day deadline described in paragraph 10, above. Judge Shields granted Respondent's motion to strike the petition for attorney fees, gave Studzinski's ex-wife until July 7, 2005 to file an amended petition for attorney fees, and scheduled a hearing on the amended petition for July 27, 2005 at 11:30 a.m. Respondent received notice of the hearing date at that time or shortly thereafter.

20. On July 27, 2005, neither Respondent nor Studzinski appeared for the hearing that had been scheduled for 11:30 a.m. regarding Studzinski's ex-wife's attorney fees. At 12:05 p.m., a hearing on the fee petition was held in Respondent's absence. During that hearing, Studzinski's ex-wife submitted an amended petition for attorney fees which increased the amount of attorney fees from the original petition amount of $3,518.78 to $5,600, to reflect attorney fees incurred after the original fee petition had been filed on July 29, 2004. Respondent was not present at the hearing and did not object to Studzinksi's ex wife's petition for attorney fees. On July 27, 2005, Judge Shields entered an order granting Studzinski's ex-wife's amended petition for attorney fees.

21. Between July 27, 2005, and August 3, 2005, Studzinski attempted to contact Respondent at least seven times by telephone for information about the status of his case. Respondent received Studzinski's messages, but he did not return any of Studzinski's phone calls.

22. On August 3, 2005, Respondent faxed a copy of Judge Shields' July 27, 2005 order to Studzinski, showing that Respondent had not appeared for hearing by 12:05 p.m., and that Studzinski had been ordered to pay $5,600 for his ex-wife's attorney fees.

23. After August 3, 2005, Respondent provided no further services to assist Studzinski in his domestic relations matter.

24. In or about August 2005, Studzinski hired another attorney to assist him in his domestic relations matter.

25. In August 2005, subsequent to hiring another attorney, Studzinski requested that Respondent forward his file to his new attorney. At no time did Respondent provide Studzinski's new attorney with a copy of the file.

26. At no time did Respondent perform sufficient work to earn the $5,000 fee Studzinski had paid him.

27. At no time has Respondent refunded any of the $5,000 in legal fees that Studzinski paid Respondent to handle his domestic relations matter.

28. At no time has Respondent provided a billing statement to Studzinski.

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

  1. failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client, in violation of Rule 1.3 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct;

  2. failure to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and failure to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information, in violation of Rule 1.4(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct;

  3. failure to take reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable prejudice to the rights of the client and deliver to the client all papers and property to which the client is entitled, in violation of Rule 1.16(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct;

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

  5. 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.

COUNT III

(Neglect and failure to communicate in relation to Deborah Schaff)

30. On March 12, 1996, the Honorable Henry C. Tonigan, III, entered judgment that dissolved the marriage between Deborah L. Schaff ("Deborah") and Walter C. Schaff ("Walter") in the matter entitled In re the Marriage of Schaff, Lake County Circuit Court case number 95 D 2.

31. On May 27, 2004, Attorney Raymond J. Kloss ("Kloss") filed a petition on Deborah's behalf in case number 95 D 2 that sought to modify certain provisions of the judgment referred to in paragraph 30, above.

32. In or about August 2004, Respondent agreed to represent Deborah in relation to the petition to modify described in paragraph 31, above. Because Deborah was disabled, Respondent agreed to petition the court for Walter to pay his attorney fees.

33. On December 1, 2004, the court granted Respondent leave to substitute for Kloss as attorney for Deborah. On that date, the court allowed Charles J. Fleck ("Fleck") to enter his appearance as additional counsel on a pro bono basis on behalf of Deborah. On December 1, 2004, Respondent filed a Financial Affidavit on Deborah's behalf, and he filed a petition seeking interim prospective attorney fees from Walter.

34. On January 5, 2005, on Respondent's motion, the court entered an order awarding Respondent $6,000 instanter as interim attorney fees from Walter. Respondent received the $6,000 shortly thereafter.

35. On March 1, 2006, while Respondent was present in court, the court entered an order that required the parties, in part, to update discovery documents and financial affidavits, schedule depositions within 45 days, and exchange lists of fact witnesses and expert witnesses. The order also set a case management conference for May 2, 2006 at 9:00 a.m.

36. Respondent received notice of the court's order, described in paragraph 35, above, shortly thereafter.

37. At no time prior to May 24, 2006, did Respondent comply with any of the provisions of the court's order of March 1, 2006.

38. On March 28, 2006, Fleck filed a motion to withdraw as addition counsel for Deborah, stating that additional counsel was no longer needed. On that same date, the court granted Fleck's motion to withdraw his additional appearance.

39. On or about April 14, 2006, counsel for Walter served a Notice of Deposition on Respondent notifying Respondent that counsel for Walter would take Deborah's deposition on April 25, 2006, at 2:00 p.m. Respondent received the notice shortly thereafter.

40. At no time on or before April 25, 2006, did Respondent notify Debra of Walter's notice of Deborah's deposition.

41. On April 25, 2006, neither Respondent nor Deborah appeared for Deborah's deposition. At no time on or before April 25, 2006, did Respondent contact Walter's counsel to request a continuance of Deborah's deposition.

42. On May 2, 2006, Respondent did not appear at the case management conference on behalf of Deborah. As of May 2, 2006, Respondent had not complied with any of the provisions the March 1, 2006, court referred to in paragraph 35, above.

43. On May 2, 2006, the court granted Walter's counsel leave to file a Petition for Rule to Show Cause, Motion to Compel Deposition and for Sanctions and set the petition and motion for hearing on May 24, 2006.

44. On May 24, 2006, Walter's Petition for Rule to Show Cause, Motion to Compel and for sanctions was rendered moot due to Respondent's subsequent compliance with requests to update discovery documents and financial affidavits, and Deborah's appearance for her ordered deposition.

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

  1. failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client, in violation of Rule 1.3 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct;

  2. failure to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information, in violation of Rule 1.4(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct;

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

  4. conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute, in violation of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 770.

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

Lea S. Black
Counsel for the Administrator
130 East Randolph Drive, #1500
Chicago, Illinois 60601
Telephone: (312) 565-2600
Respectfully submitted,

Jerome Larkin, Administrator
Attorney Registration and
Disciplinary Commission

By:   Lea S. Black