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

In the Matter of:

 SAMIR ZIA CHOWHAN,

Attorney-Respondent, 

No.  6274702.

 

Commission No.  09 CH 53

FILED -  October 21, 2009

FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT

Jerome Larkin, Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, by his attorneys, Athena T. Taite and Wendy J. Muchman, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 753(b), complains of Respondent Samir Zia Chowhan, who was licensed to practice law in Illinois on November 8, 2001, 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
(Neglect and Misrepresentation in Shirin Oliaei's Immigration Matter)

1. Before or in April 2003, Motorola and Omid Oliaei ("Omid"), an Iranian researcher, agreed that Omid would emigrate to the United States of America to work for Motorola. To work legally for Motorola in the United States, Omid required approval from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS").

2. Before or in April 2003, Motorola retained the law firm of Gessler Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd. ("Gessler"), to file its petition and related applications for Omid to obtain a visa to work for Motorola in the United States.

3. Before or in April 2003, Respondent, as an associate attorney at Gessler, accepted responsibility for filing Motorola's petition and the related applications.

4. Before or in April 2003, Omid entered the United States to work for Motorola on an L-1B visa, which allows a person with specialized knowledge to work in the United States.

5. About April 22, 2003, Respondent filed various petitions or applications with USCIS regarding Motorola and Omid, including Omid's application to adjust his L-1B status to permanent resident.

6. About May 10, 2004, Shirin Chegeni ("Shirin"), Omid's spouse, entered the United States on an L-2 visa, which allows the spouse of an L-1 worker to enter the United States.

7. About May 2004, Respondent accepted responsibility for filing an application with USCIS to adjust Shirin's status from L-2 to permanent resident.

8. About July 2004, Respondent prepared or caused someone to prepare a check from Gessler for filing fees, so he could file Shirin's application for adjustment of status.

9. At no time before April 2005 did Respondent file Shirin's application.

10. About July 2004, Omid contacted Respondent about the status of Shirin's application. On at least one occasion, Respondent told Omid that he had filed Shirin's application.

11. Respondent's statement that he had filed Shirin's application, as described above in paragraph 10, was false and Respondent knew that it was false, because he had not filed Shirin's application.

12. About July 16, 2004, USCIS granted Omid's application to adjust his status to permanent resident.

13. Pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act, after Omid became a permanent resident, Shirin was no longer the spouse of an L-1 worker. As a result, Respondent had to file Shirin's application for adjustment of status based on her status as the spouse of a permanent resident. Respondent had to file the application by December 16, 2004, or within 180 days of Omid's adjustment of status.

14. As of December 16, 2004, Respondent had not filed an application for adjustment based on Shirin's status as the spouse of a permanent resident.

15. About April 6, 2005, Kalman Resnick ("Resnick"), a partner at Gessler, sent an e-mail to Respondent about Shirin's status. Respondent received the e-mail shortly thereafter.

16. In April 2005, in response to Resnick's e-mail, Respondent filed an application with USCIS for adjustment of Shirin's status. With the application, Respondent sent the check described above in paragraph eight.

17. About April 13, 2005, USCIS returned the application described in paragraph 16, above, to Respondent, because Respondent had paid the filing fees with a stale check.

18. About April 2005, Gessler removed Respondent from having responsibility for Shirin's application.

19. By reason of the conduct outlined 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. conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(4) 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; and

  4. 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 II
(Neglect and Misrepresentation in Amit Bajaj's Immigration Matter)

20. Before February 2008, Nand Bajaj ("Nand") retained Respondent to file a petition for his nephew Amit Bajaj ("Amit") to obtain a visa via the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' Premium Processing Service, which provides faster processing of certain petitions and applications filed with USCIS. Respondent requested $320 for filing fees, $1,000 for Premium Processing fees and $1,250 for attorney fees. About February 12, 2008, Nand paid the fees that Respondent had requested.

21. At no time before February 2009, when Respondent's representation had been terminated, did Respondent file a petition for Amit's visa.

22. Between February 12 and April 16, 2008, on at least two occasions, Nand attempted to contact Respondent by phone or e-mail and asked that Respondent contact him about the status of Amit's visa.

23. About April 16, 2008, Respondent sent an e-mail to Nand in which Respondent stated:

I should be hearing something early next week. Unfortunately, I will be out of town next week. As soon as I receive any type of notice, I will contact you. Additionally, Amit does not have to do anything at this time. Once the approval notice comes via regular mail, I will mail to Amit, the original approval notice along with instructions for applying for the visa in India (one must set up the appointment once the approval notice is received). I will take care of instructing him and sending him the required documents. I will touch base with you as soon as I receive something.

24. About April 2008, Respondent sent an e-mail to Nand in which Respondent stated:

While I was gone I received a call from Immigration. I spoke to them this past week, they wanted a clarification of a couple of things in the application. I should hear from them anytime regarding a decision. I will keep you posted.

25. Respondent's statements described in paragraphs 23 and 24, above, were false, and Respondent knew that they were false, because Respondent had not filed a petition for Amit's visa.

26. Between April and August 2008, on at least four occasions, Nand or Nand's wife attempted to contact Respondent by phone, e-mail or in person and asked that Respondent contact Nand about the status of Amit's visa. Respondent knew or reasonably should have known that Nand and Nand's wife were attempting to contact him.

27. About August 6, 2008, Respondent sent an e-mail to Nand, explaining that he had been in and out of town due to his mother's illness. Respondent also stated that he assumed that the petition for Amit's visa was still being processed, and that on August 18, 2008, he would forward a copy of the petition to Nand.

28. Respondent's statement that he assumed that the petition was still being processed, as described above in paragraph 27, was false, and Respondent knew that it was false, because Respondent had not filed a petition for Amit's visa.

29. About September 17, 2008, after not receiving a copy of the petition from Respondent, Nand contacted Respondent by e-mail, stating that he would contact the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission ("ARDC") if Respondent did not contact him.

30. About September 22, 2008, Respondent sent an e-mail to Nand in which Respondent stated:

…I think I've figured out what has happened. It seems like the application was not put into premium processing and is in the regular processing line which takes about 6-9 months. I am fairly certain this has happened because I went through my records and discovered that the $1000 check for the premium processing was not cashed. It seems that in their mailroom, the premium processing part of the application somehow was mishandled.

Today I have resent the premium processing form with check to immigration to have the case converted from regular processing to premium. This should give us a response within 2 weeks at the latest….

31. Respondent's statements that the application had not been put into premium processing and that he resent the premium processing form to have the case converted from regular to premium processing, as described above in paragraph 30, were false, and Respondent knew that they were false, because Respondent had not filed an application or petition for Amit's visa.

32. Between September 22, 2008, and February 2009, on at least three occasions, Nand attempted to contact Respondent by phone or e-mail and asked that Respondent contact him about Amit's visa. Respondent knew or reasonably should have known that Nand was attempting to contact him. However, Respondent did not respond to Nand's attempts to contact him.

33. On February 2, 2009, Vandana Kamboj ("Kamboj"), a California attorney and Nand's niece, sent a letter to Respondent at Nand's direction. The letter advised Respondent that Nand wanted a full refund of fees paid to Respondent. Respondent received the letter shortly thereafter.

34. On February 9, 2009, Nand filed a request for an investigation of Respondent with ARDC. Shortly thereafter, Respondent received notice from ARDC of Nand's request for an investigation.

35. About April 1, 2009, Respondent provided a refund to Nand of the $2,570 that Nand had paid to him.

36. By reason of the conduct outlined 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. conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(4) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct; and

  3. 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
Conduct prejudicial to the Administration of Justice and Misrepresentation to the ARDC
in the Course of a Disciplinary Investigation

37. In May 2009, Respondent was a sole practitioner who shared office space with several other attorneys.

38. On May 28, 2009, Respondent logged onto the Internet at his law office at 134 N. LaSalle, Suite 1800, Chicago, Illinois through AT&T Internet Services, the Internet provider of the attorney who had an office in the same suite and building and from whom Respondent was then renting an office. At approximately 1:25 p.m. Respondent accessed the website, "Craigslist.org," ("Craigslist") and posted an ad in the "Adult Gigs" section of the classified advertisements of Craigslist. The title of the post was "Loop lawyers hiring secretary/legal assistant." The post read as follows:

Loop law firm looking to hire am [sic] energetic woman for their open secretary/legal assistant position. Duties will include general secretarial work, some paralegal work and additional duties for two lawyers in the firm. No experience required, training will be provided. Generous annual salary and benefits will be provided, including medical, dental, life, disability, 401(k) etc. If interested, please send current resume and a few pictures along with a description of your physical features, including measurements. We look forward to meeting you.

§ Location: Loop

§ It's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

§ Compensation: Annual salary negotiable

39. The Craigslist post by Respondent referred to in paragraph thirty-eight above provided that replies were to be made to gigs-cdxwa-1193445671@craigslist.org. Subsequently, replies to the ad would be forwarded via Craigslist to Respondent's immigration law office's e-mail address.

40. On or about May 28, 2009, at 10:26 p.m., Debbi Dickinson sent Respondent an e-mail response to Respondent's posting, referenced in paragraph 38 above. Dickinson's response included her employment history. Also, although Dickinson found Respondent's request for a description of her physical features unusual, she believed Respondent was seeking an attractive secretary. At the end of her response, she did included a photo, her height, clothing size and her measurements.

41. Between May 28, 2009, at 10:26 p.m. and May 29, 2009, at 9:23 a.m., Respondent received and read Ms. Dickinson's e-mail. On May 29, 2009, at 9:23 a.m., Respondent responded by e-mail to Dickinson's e-mail. Respondent's response read as follows:

Debbi,

Thank you for your interest in the job. I just wanted to give you some more info about the job and see if you are still interested in interviewing.

Our law firm is a boutique firm, concentrating solely in immigration law. The name of the law firm is Chowhan Law, P.C. You can see the website at www.chowhanlaw.com. You would be working with the two partners of the firm. Your duties will include the general secretarial work and legal work. The legal work will include filling out visa applications, etc. As mentioned in the posting, you will have an annual salary which will depend on your experience and other factors, the range will be from $50,000 to $75,000. In addition, we provide several benefits such as medical, dental, retirement, life, disability.

As this is posted in the "adult gigs" section, in addition to the legal work, you would be required to have sexual interaction with me and my partner, sometimes together sometimes separate. This part of the job would require sexy dressing and flirtatious interaction with me and my partner, as well as sexual interaction. You will have to be comfortable doing this with us.

If you think you're comfortable so far, please let me know and we can proceed with the process.

The next step is to set up an interview. When are you available to interview? I am free to interview today. Please let me know what your availability is.

Lastly, we've actually hired a couple of girls in the past for this position. But they have not been able to handle the sexual aspect of the job later. We have to be sure you're comfortable with that aspect, because I don't want you to do anything that you're not comfortable with. So since that time, we've decided that as part of the interview process you'll be required to perform for us sexually (i didn't do this before with the other girls i hired, now i think i have to because they couldn't handle it). Because that aspect is an integral part of the job, I think it's necessary to see if you can do that, because it'll predict future behavior of you being able to handle it when you have the job.

If you're still okay with everything, let me know what you're availability is and we can figure out a time for you to come in and interview. Let me know. Thanks for your interest.

Samir

42. Dickinson was frightened by Respondent's response and did not reply to Respondent's e-mail.

43. On or about June 1, 2009, Dickinson sent a request for investigation to the Administrator of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, attaching a copy of Respondent's Craigslist post, her e-mail reply, and Respondent's e-mail response, as described in paragraphs 38 through 41, above.

44. As a result of Dickinson's request, on June 3, 2009, the Administrator docketed an investigation captioned Samir Via Chowhan in relation to Debbi Dickinson, and assigned it investigation number 09 CI 2310.

45. On June 16, 2009, counsel for the Administrator mailed a letter to Respondent attaching the request for investigation of Dickinson and requesting Respondent respond in writing within fourteen days. Respondent received the request shortly thereafter.

46. On July 22, 2009, Respondent sent a response to 09 CI 2310 via facsimile to counsel for the Administrator.

47. In his response to counsel for the Administrator, Respondent stated as follows:

…It appears that somebody with malice [sic] intentions has used my business information to post the advertisement on Craigslist. I did not post the advertisement for a legal secretary…

48. Respondent's statement that he did not post the advertisement on Craigslist, referred to in paragraph 47 above was false, and Respondent knew it was false when he made it, because Respondent did in fact post the advertisement on Craigslist and knew when he responded to the ARDC investigation that he had in fact posted the advertisement.

49. On September 22, 2009, Respondent appeared for a sworn statement at the Chicago office of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. At that time, Respondent was sworn upon his oath. In his statement, Respondent acknowledged that he posted the May 28, 2009 Craigslist advertisement and sent the May 29, 2009 responsive e-mail to Dickinson as referenced in paragraphs 38 through 41 above.

50. As a result of the conduct set forth above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:

  1. making a false statement of material fact in connection with a lawyer disciplinary matter in violation of Rule 8.1 (a)(1) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct;

  2. conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(4) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct; and

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

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

Wendy J. Muchman
Athena T. Taite
Counsel for the Administrator
One Prudential Plaza
130 East Randolph Drive, Suite 1500
Chicago, Illinois 60601
Telephone: (312) 565-2600
Respectfully submitted,

Jerome Larkin, Administrator
Attorney Registration and
Disciplinary Commission

By:   Wendy J. Muchman