Filed March 25, 2010

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

In the Matter of:

STEVEN LEE POPUCH,

Attorney-Respondent,

No. 2233843.

Commission No. 09 CH 3

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE HEARING BOARD

INTRODUCTION

The hearing in this matter was held on December 3, 2009 at the offices of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission ("ARDC") before a panel consisting of Michael C. Greenfield, Chair, Devlin J. Schoop and Darryl H. Armstrong. Lea S. Black represented the Administrator and Respondent Steven Lee Popuch appeared pro se.

PLEADINGS

On February 11, 2009, the Administrator filed a three-count Complaint against Respondent. Count I alleged Respondent assisted a disbarred attorney in the unauthorized practice of law. Counts II and III alleged he made false statements to the ARDC in connection with the Administrator's investigation into the matters alleged in Count I.

On April 30, 2009, Respondent filed his Answer to the Complaint, in which he admitted most of the facts and misconduct alleged in Counts I and II, but stated he had insufficient information to respond to many of the allegations in Count III. Thereafter, on July 17, 2009, Respondent filed an Amended Answer to Count III in which he admitted the factual allegations of that count, as well as some of the charged misconduct.

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THE EVIDENCE

The Administrator submitted twenty-two exhibits which were admitted into evidence. Respondent testified on his own behalf and presented one character witness.

Background

Respondent testified he has been practicing law since 1977 without prior discipline. He began his legal career with the Public Defender's office, but left that office in 1981 to open a solo practice specializing in criminal work. As time progressed he also began handling civil litigation and now devotes most of his time to that type of work. He has handled a small number of real estate closings over the years. (Tr. 46, 57-59).

Count I

Admitted Facts

On January 12, 2007, the Illinois Supreme Court issued its mandate disbarring attorney Marc Erwin Levine. Thereafter, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 764(b), Levine was prohibited from engaging in the practice of law, holding himself out as an attorney authorized to practice law in the State of Illinois, or maintaining a presence in or occupying an office where the practice of law was conducted. (Adm. Ex. 22).

Between about 2001 and 2004, Respondent and Levine were partners in the practice of law and thereafter remained close personal friends. Respondent was informed of Levine's disbarment shortly after the mandate was issued by the Court.

After January 12, 2007, the date of Levine's disbarment, Levine engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. After January 12, 2007, Respondent permitted Levine to practice law out of Respondent's law office by allowing Levine to use his office equipment and by allowing Levine to receive mail and telephone calls at Respondent's law office. Levine used

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office equipment made available to him by Respondent and drafted documents using Respondent's name and other information to hold himself out as an attorney to buyers or sellers in connection with seventeen real estate transactions. (Adm. Exs. 1-17).

Levine's conduct violated Supreme Court Rule 764(b) and constituted the unauthorized practice of law in violation of the Court's mandate. During the time Respondent permitted Levine to receive mail at his office and to use his law office and office equipment, including his business telephone and facsimile machine, he knew Levine was disbarred, knew Levine was prohibited by Supreme Court Rule from maintaining a presence in or occupying an office where the practice of law is conducted, and knew Levine was engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

Testimony of Respondent

Respondent testified that prior to Levine's disbarment in 2007, they shared office space and shared fees on some cases. They were not formal partners, but had a de facto partnership relationship. (Tr. 59).

At the time of the events alleged in the Complaint, Respondent had his own law firm, known as Steven L. Popuch & Associates. Respondent denied having any preprinted letterhead or stationery with his firm name and contact information on it, but stated the information was stored on his office computer and could be printed from the computer. (Tr. 23, 48-50).

Respondent acknowledged that following Levine's disbarment, Levine visited Respondent's office approximately once a week and used Respondent's computer and other office equipment. Respondent was aware Levine had been disbarred for converting client funds and was aware Levine was using the office equipment, but did nothing to prevent him from doing so. (Tr. 23, 27, 47, 53).

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Respondent stated he initially did not know why Levine was using the computer. When telephone calls and mail regarding real estate closings came to the office, however, he realized Levine was involved in those closings and was using Respondent's firm name and contact information to engage in the unauthorized practice of law. Respondent stated he had no knowledge of the specific files or documents involved, and denied giving Levine any preprinted stationery to use. He stated Levine's clients did not come to his office, Levine had a separate Northbrook mailing address, and Levine performed ninety-five percent of his work from outside of Respondent's office. (Tr. 24-25, 51-52, 60-61, 66-67).

Respondent acknowledged that, after becoming aware of Levine engaging in the practice of law, he did nothing to stop Levine from doing so, but did advise him to be careful so as not to get caught. Respondent described Levine as a friend who was in desperate financial trouble. (Tr. 26, 46-47, 53, 66).

Documents relating to the real estate transactions handled by Levine were admitted into evidence and included various letters directed to Levine or Respondent at Respondent's office address or e-mail address. Respondent's firm name and contact information appear at the top of some items of correspondence, and certain form documents include a notation they were prepared by Respondent's law firm. (Adm. Exs. 1-17).

Count II

Admitted Facts

On January 21, 2008, the Administrator received correspondence from Kathryn F. McDonough, an attorney representing the seller in a real estate transaction in which Levine purported to represent the buyer. Based upon McDonough's allegations that she had received a letter from Levine proposing attorney modifications to a real estate contract, which letter was

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printed on correspondence bearing Respondent's name and office information, the Administrator initiated an investigation into Respondent's conduct. (Adm. Ex. 18).

On January 24, 2008, the Administrator sent Respondent a letter requesting he submit a written response to McDonough's allegations. In February 2008, Respondent submitted to the Administrator his written response to McDonough's allegations, stating, in part:

[McDonough's allegations related to] a real estate contract for a purchase that was referred to me by Mr. Levine who faxed me the contract. I can only assume that it must have been a former client of Mr. Levine's or someone who was referred to him not knowing his current status.

My secretary . . . was out sick from January 17 - January 22, 2008. I had a temporary secretary fill in [her] absence. I dictated a letter with instructions to fax it to the attorney for the seller of the real estate contract.

Unfortunately, and clearly by error, after the modification letter was prepared, the temporary secretary, seeing Mr. Levine's name on the fax, put his name on the letter, and since I was in court that morning, signed the letter and faxed it out to the seller's attorney.

(Adm. Ex. 19).

The foregoing statements regarding the preparation of the attorney modification letter and how Levine's signature came to be placed on the letter were false in that Respondent never represented the buyer in the real estate transaction, he did not dictate the attorney modification letter to his secretary, and his secretary did not sign it. Rather, Levine prepared and signed the attorney modification letter. Respondent knew or should have known his statements were false.

Testimony of Respondent

Respondent testified that when he received correspondence from the Administrator regarding McDonough's allegations, he confronted Levine and asked him to explain why he used Respondent's firm's name. He received no answer from Levine. Respondent admitted that when he submitted his response to the Administrator in February 2008, he was to trying to cover up the wrongdoing. (Tr. 54; Adm. Ex. 19).

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Count III

Admitted Facts

On May 5, 2008, Respondent gave sworn testimony regarding his conduct in connection with Levine. During the sworn statement he was questioned about a January 17, 2008 letter regarding a real estate transaction, which letter was written on correspondence bearing his name and office information and was purportedly signed by Levine. Respondent testified as follows:

  1. Can you explain how Marc Levine's signature or his purported signature came to be placed on [the modification letter]?

  1. First of all, I don't know that that's his signature. Second of all, in my letter response to you, I told you the circumstances under which this occurred. My secretary Laura Thompson was off for that week and I had a secretary who I've known for a few years fill in for her, and I dictated this letter to her over the phone. I believe I was in court. And when she finished it, she called me, and I said "Read it back to me." And she did and I said, "Okay. Sign it and fax it."

  1. What's her name?

  1. Ann Korach, K-o-r-a-c-h.

. . . .

  1. Why would she put Marc Levine's name on the bottom of [the letter]?

  1. I really don't know. The fact is Marc referred this client to me. I got the contract, looked it over. And maybe because the fax came from him or she pulled up an old letter of his, I don't really know. I've asked her, and she just shrugs her shoulders. She doesn't know why. And, you know, I know how it looks, but you know, he's not there.

(Adm. Ex. 20).

Respondent's testimony regarding how Levine's name came to be placed on the letter was false because Respondent did not dictate the letter to Ann Korach or tell her to sign and fax the letter. Levine prepared the letter, signed the letter, and faxed the letter. Further, Respondent did not have a conversation with Korach about why she placed Levine's name on the letter.

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Respondent knew or should have known his statements regarding Korach placing Levine's name on the letter and his subsequent conversation with Korach were false.

Respondent's testimony regarding Levine's referral of a client to him was also false. The client to whom Respondent made reference was a Patrick McKevitt, but at no time did Levine refer McKevitt to Respondent and at no time did Respondent represent McKevitt.

On May 5, 2008, Respondent further testified as follows:

  1. So this was a matter that you were handling?

  1. Yes.

  1. And you were representing who in this transaction?

  1. Mr. McKevitt. I mean, I just got the contract and looked it over. I didn't even call him yet. But there was I think the attorney approval period was running out, so I was under some time constraints as to getting this in before the attorney approval expired. I mean, the whole thing was - I don't ordinarily say go ahead and sign something when I haven't actually seen it, but the circumstances were such that it just happened.

  1. And you had never actually spoken with Mr. McKevitt at the time that you prepared or you had your secretary prepare this document?

  1. No. I was going to call him when I got back to the office.

  1. Did you ever call him after this letter.

  1. I did.

  1. And when did you call him?

  1. Within a day or two.

  1. What did you talk to him about?

  1. About him hiring me.

(Adm. Ex. 20).

Respondent's testimony regarding his representation of McKevitt and his purported phone call with McKevitt were false because at no time did Respondent represent McKevitt in

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relation to the referenced real estate matter and at no time did Respondent have a telephone conversation with McKevitt. McKevitt hired Levine to represent him, and did not hire Respondent's firm. Respondent knew or should have known his statements regarding his representation of McKevitt and his phone conversation with McKevitt were false.

Testimony of Respondent

Respondent acknowledged making untrue statements during his May 5, 2008 sworn statement and acknowledged he knew his statements were false at the time he made them. He stated counsel for the Administrator confronted him about his falsehoods during a break in his sworn statement and when his statement resumed, he admitted his previous statements were untrue and incorrect, admitted he had not represented McKevitt, and admitted Levine had drafted the letter and signed it. Respondent stated that, after recanting his prior testimony, he made no additional false statements under oath. (Tr. 55, 70-71).

Respondent was then questioned about the following exchange which occurred during his May 5, 2008 sworn statement after he admitted giving incorrect answers:

  1. Has Marc Levine handled any legal matters since January 12, 2007, to your knowledge?

  1. Not to my knowledge. Obviously, he has, but . . .

Respondent explained that "not to my knowledge" meant he had no knowledge of any "specific" cases or matters. He pointed out he did not receive a list of the closings Levine had handled until five months after his May 2008 sworn statement. He acknowledged that many of the documents regarding the closings had come through his office, and were even directed to him personally, but explained that when he looked at the e-mails or documents and realized they involved one of Levine's closings, he would direct his secretary to forward the material to Levine. Respondent

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stated he knew Levine was handling closings, but did have any knowledge of the specific matters. (Tr. 78-84; Adm. Exs. 16, 20).

With respect to another question at the end of Respondent's May 5, 2008 sworn statement as to whether Levine may have handled other matters through Respondent's office or by using Respondent's secretary or stationery, Respondent explained his answer "not that I'm aware of" referred to his lack of knowledge of the specific details of Levine's actions. Respondent stated that when he was asked the questions during his sworn statement, he "generally" knew Levine was practicing law. (Tr. 85-86).

On October 21, 2008 Respondent gave a second sworn statement during which he admitted his wrongdoing with respect to Levine. The transcript of that statement reflects his admission that he knew Levine was handling real estate transactions and knew his own name was being used in connection with transactions. He further admitted he enabled Levine's actions. Respondent testified he was not trying to hide anything and believed he was being candid during his sworn statements, although he may have been splitting hairs or characterizing his conduct in a way that made him seem less guilty. (Tr. 56, 87, 89; Adm. Ex. 21).

Additional Evidence Offered in Mitigation

Testimony of Respondent

Respondent testified that although he has tried to live his life in a decent and honorable way, as evidenced by his character witness and his prior clean record, with respect to Levine's actions he failed to adhere to what he knew was right. Respondent recognized he had a "lapse," and compounded that lapse by trying to cover up his wrongdoing. He acknowledged his actions were inexcusable and wrong, and stated he is not trying to justify his conduct. He described the hearing as one of the saddest days in his life. (Tr. 46-47, 56, 63-64).

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Respondent stated he has received satisfaction from being an attorney, and has tried to give something back to the profession. At any given time he is in involved in a few pro bono legal matters. In addition, he has coached youth basketball, soccer and softball, has been a member of the Winnetka Caucus and the Winnetka Park District Citizens Advisory Board, and has served as the president of his condominium board. (Tr. 62-63).

Respondent denied receiving any financial benefit from Levine's actions. (Tr. 47).

Testimony of Patrick Morse

Patrick Morse, a retired Associate Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, testified he has known Respondent since about 1973 when they were law students at Loyola University. Judge Morse recalled working with Respondent for a short time at the Public Defender's office, and stated they have been social friends for many years. Judge Morse believes Respondent is an excellent trial attorney and has the highest reputation for honesty and reliability. He acknowledged, however, that he has not spoken to anyone about Respondent's reputation for at least five years. (Tr. 30-36, 39).

Judge Morse testified he first became aware of the charges against Respondent shortly before the hearing, but has not read the Administrator's Complaint and is not familiar with the details of the allegations. He is aware Respondent is not contesting the allegations. (Tr. 40-42).

Judge Morse stated his opinion of Respondent has been formed over a period of thirty years, and has not changed because of Respondent's admission of dishonesty. He believes Respondent had compassion for someone in trouble and his compassion overrode his good judgment. Judge Morse is confident the situation will not reoccur. (Tr. 43-44).

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Prior Discipline

The Administrator reported Respondent has not been previously disciplined by the Illinois Supreme Court or any Board of the Commission.

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

In attorney disciplinary proceedings the Administrator has the burden of proving the charges of misconduct by clear and convincing evidence. In re Ingersoll, 186 Ill. 2d 163, 710 N.E.2d 390, 393 (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).

Count I

Count I alleged that Respondent assisted a disbarred lawyer, Marc Levine, in the unauthorized practice of law. Respondent admitted nearly all of the factual allegations, including the allegations that he allowed Levine to use his office and office equipment to practice law, and that he knew Levine was engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

Only one factual allegation was in dispute. Paragraph 4 of Count I of the Complaint alleged, among other things, that Respondent allowed Levine to "use . . . the letterhead stationery . . . at Respondent's law office." Respondent's Answer to that allegation was "Respondent did not allow him to use letterhead." Respondent testified Levine had drafted documents on his office computer, but rather vehemently denied Levine used letterhead or stationery in his office, and therefore claimed he did not "allow" Levine to use letterhead stationery or "provide" letterhead to Levine. Rather, Respondent explained there was a stored document file on the office computer that included his name and office information, which could be used for creating a letter and printed out by anyone. The printed document would then constitute a letter with the

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name and office information at the top. In other words, he understood the term "letterhead" to mean pages on which office information has been preprinted and on which someone types correspondence, and that "stationery" refers to the paper stock on which a "letterhead" is printed.

Having considered Respondent's explanation of his understanding of the allegations relating to the terms "letterhead" and "stationery," we conclude that an ambiguity may reasonably have existed in Respondent's mind as to precisely what those terms mean. In the current era of computer generated documents, the traditional use of preprinted stationery is less common than it once was, and, as used in the Complaint, we think reasonable people can disagree about whether the Administrator is referring in Paragraph 4 of Count I of the Complaint to something other than the traditional type of preprinted paper stationery. In the absence of unambiguous definitions of those terms, we cannot and do not conclude the evidence was clear and convincing on the issue of whether Respondent's denials that he allowed Levine "to use letterhead," or that his testimony in that regard, were untruthful statements. Accordingly, our determinations with respect to misconduct alleged in the Complaint are not based upon such a finding. We emphasize this does not diminish our conclusions, or our findings, as noted below, that Respondent enabled Levine to engage in the unauthorized practice of law, but only that the Administrator did not prove that part of the allegation of Paragraph 4 of Count I regarding "letterhead stationery."

The remaining factual allegations of Count I were proved by Respondent's own admissions and the evidence adduced at hearing. Respondent permitted Levine to use his office, telephone and facsimile machine for the practice of law even though he knew Levine was disbarred and was prohibited by Supreme Court Rule from maintaining a presence or occupying an office where the practice of law is conducted. Respondent was aware of Levine's acts, but

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rather than demanding he stop, Respondent warned him to be careful so as not to get caught. There were an abundant number of exhibits relating to real estate closings conducted by Levine which further substantiated the allegations that Levine used Respondent's office and contact information to practice law. See Adm. Exs. 1-17.

Respondent admitted, and we find, he knowingly assisted a disbarred former member of the bar in the performance of activities constituting the unauthorized practice of law, in violation of Rule 5.5(b) and Rule 8.4(a)(2). We further find Respondent engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5) and engaged in conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice and bring the courts and the legal profession into disrepute, in violation of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 770.

With respect to our finding as to Rule 8.4(a)(5), we are aware that there must be clear and convincing evidence that the administration of justice was, indeed, prejudiced. In re Vrdolyak, 137 Ill. 2d 407, 560 N.E.2d 840 (1990) ("a bare assertion of prejudice is insufficient to sustain the charge" of prejudice to the administration of justice). In In re Storment, 203 Ill. 2d 378, 786 N.E.2d 963 (2003) the Supreme Court found that Rule 8.4(a)(5) was not violated where the attorney's misconduct had no impact on the representation of his client or the client's case. Further, the Review Board has stated, in opinions approved by the Supreme Court, that a finding of misconduct under Rule 8.4(a)(5) requires the involvement of a tribunal. See In re Sutherin, 03 CH 61, M.R. 20636 (Sept. 20, 2006); In re McAvoy, 03 CH 8, M.R. 20463 (Jan. 13, 2006); In re Odom, 01 CH 69, M.R. 19772 (May 19, 2005).

In connection with the conduct involved in this matter, Respondent not only turned a blind eye to the fact that Levine was holding himself out as a lawyer, he actually provided the means for Levine to carry out his subterfuge. Knowingly enabling a suspended or disbarred

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attorney to practice law undermined and prejudiced the administration of our system of justice by the subversion of the judicial proceedings in which the suspended attorney was disciplined. In this instance, it is Respondent's subversion of the judicial process by which Levine was disbarred that warrants our finding of a violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5). Our reasoning in connection with this issue also applies with respect to our findings of violations of Rule 8.4(a)(5) in Counts II and III of the Complaint.

Count II

Count II charged Respondent with making false statements to the Administrator. The evidence and admitted allegations established that the Administrator received notice the purported signature of Marc Levine appeared on a letter written on Respondent's letterhead in connection with a real estate closing. When the Administrator initiated an investigation and requested Respondent provide an explanation concerning the letter, Respondent submitted a written response in which he said he dictated the letter on behalf of a potential client referred to him by Levine, and that his temporary secretary mistakenly signed Levine's name to the letter.

In Respondent's Answer to the Complaint, and at hearing, he admitted his representations to the Administrator were false, admitted he had never represented the referenced client, and admitted Levine had written the letter and signed it. Respondent also admitted he knew or should have known his statements were false, and admitted he engaged in all of the misconduct charged in Count II.

Based on Respondent's admissions and the evidence, we find the Administrator proved the following charges of misconduct by clear and convincing evidence:

  1. making a statement of material fact known by the lawyer to be false in connection with a lawyer disciplinary matter, in violation of Rule 8.1(a)(1);

  2. conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4 (a) (4);

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  1. conduct which is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4 (a)(5); and

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

With respect to our Rule 8.4(a)(5) finding, in addition to our conclusions expressed in connection with Count I, Respondent's false statements occurred in the context of a disciplinary proceeding and, by impeding the Administrator's efforts to investigate his conduct, had an impact on the Hearing Panel, which, we believe, would constitute the "tribunal" referred to in the discussion in Count I.

Count III

Count III involves allegations Respondent continued to make false statements to the Administrator regarding the letter referenced in Count II. When Respondent appeared for a sworn statement on May 5, 2008 and was questioned about the letter bearing Levine's purported signature, he again asserted he dictated the letter to his temporary secretary and his secretary mistakenly signed Levine's name. Respondent further testified in May 2008 that when he confronted his secretary about her acts, she had no response. When questioned about his interactions with the buyer/client, Respondent testified he was handling the real estate matter and subsequently spoke to the buyer, who decided not to hire him.

Respondent admitted in his Amended Answer and at hearing his statements to the Administrator were false in that Marc Levine was the person who wrote and signed the letter, Respondent never had a conversation with his secretary regarding the letter, he was never involved in the real estate transaction, and never spoke to the potential client. Respondent further admitted he knew or should have known his statements were false.

Based on Respondent's admissions and the evidence presented at hearing, we find the following charges of misconduct were proved by clear and convincing evidence:

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  1. making a statement of material fact known by the lawyer to be false in connection with a lawyer disciplinary matter, in violation of Rule 8.1(a)(1);

  2. conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4 (a) (4);

  3. conduct which is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4 (a)(5); and

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

With respect to Rule 8.4(a)(5), our reasoning is the same as discussed in Count II.

RECOMMENDATION

Having concluded the charges of misconduct were proved, we must determine the appropriate discipline warranted by the misconduct. In determining the proper sanction, we consider the purposes of the disciplinary process. The goal of these proceedings is not to punish but rather to safeguard the public, maintain the integrity of the profession and protect the administration of justice from reproach. In re Timpone, 157 Ill. 2d 178, 623 N.E.2d 300 (1993). Attorney discipline also has a deterrent value in that it impresses upon others the repercussions of errors such as those committed by Respondent in the present case. In re Discipio, 163 Ill. 2d 515, 645 N.E.2d 906, 912 (1994).

In determining the appropriate discipline we consider those circumstances which may mitigate and/or aggravate the misconduct. In re Witt, 145 Ill. 2d 380, 583 N.E.2d 526, 535 (1991). In mitigation we note Respondent has not been previously disciplined, presented evidence of his good character, and testified he routinely handles pro bono matters and is active in his community, although we do not consider serving as president of a condominium board is an activity benefiting the community. See In re Lenz, 108 Ill. 2d 445, 484 N.E.2d 1093 (1985).

We also consider Respondent's expressions of remorse, which we found to be genuine, as a mitigating circumstance. See In re Chandler, 161 Ill. 2d 459, 641 N.E.2d 473 (1994).

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Although the Administrator questioned whether Respondent truly appreciates the seriousness of his misconduct, we believe his statements of regret and acknowledgements of wrongdoing did reflect his understanding the misconduct was egregious.

Respondent asks we consider the fact that, after initialing lying to the Administrator about the McKevitt real estate transaction during his sworn statement on May 5, 2008, he acknowledged his lies and told the truth. We decline to consider his recantation as a mitigating factor, however, because we do not believe his subsequent testimony during that sworn statement was, as he claimed, truthful, nor was it voluntary. When asked if there were other matters Levine had handled through his office, he denied knowing of additional matters. He explained to us his denial was truthful because, although he was aware Levine was generally practicing law, he was not aware of "specific" matters Levine handled. The Administrator's question did not call for specific knowledge, however, and we do not accept as truthful Respondent's narrow interpretation of the question. Nor do we believe Respondent's October 2008 admission that he knew Levine was representing clients in real estate matters mitigates his former lies, since the evidence at that point was indisputable that certain documents had come to his office addressed to him. In essence, he was caught in his web of lies of denial and had no choice but to admit his knowledge of Levine's actions. We see nothing to suggest he would have recanted had he had the option to do otherwise.

In aggravation, we consider the harm or risk of harm caused by Respondent's actions. See In re Saladino, 71 Ill. 2d 263, 375 N.E.2d 102 (1978) (discipline should be "closely linked to the harm caused or the unreasonable risk created by the [attorney's] lack of care"). Respondent pointed out that none of Levine's clients were harmed and, in fact, had received very capable representation from Levine. While that fact may be true, Respondent loses sight of the fact his

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actions allowed Levine, who had been disbarred for converting client funds and who was known by Respondent to be in desperate financial straits, to handle financial transactions involving client and/or third party funds. We therefore consider the risk of harm that could have flowed from his wrongdoing to be very real.

Finally, in aggravation we consider the fact Respondent did not engage in an isolated instance of misconduct. Rather, his actions reflect a series of wrongful acts extending over a period of more than one year. See In re Lewis, 138 Ill. 2d 310, 562 N.E.2d 198 (1990); In re Smith, 168 Ill. 2d 269, 659 N.E.2d 896 (1995). When Respondent received an inquiry from the Administrator regarding a real estate transaction, he had an obligation to respond with accurate information. Instead, he concocted a false scenario to conceal Levine's unauthorized practice as well as his own enabling misconduct. After the passage of several months, Respondent was given a second opportunity to provide an accurate explanation, but did not do so. He repeated his earlier story at his May 2008 sworn statement until the Administrator confronted him during a break in his testimony, at which time he admitted knowing that Levine was handling the real estate transaction in question. Again, he lied until he could no longer get away with it, and then told the truth. Several more months elapsed, however, before he acknowledged the full extent of Levine's practice. We conclude from the foregoing that Respondent's misconduct was not a "single, quick and unreasoned failure of judgment, but rather was a deliberate course of conduct." See In re Thebeau, 111 Ill. 2d 251, 489 N.E.2d 877, 879 (1986).

Having assessed the mitigating and aggravating factors, we turn our attention to the appropriate discipline. The Administrator has urged us to recommend a suspension of two years, whereas Respondent believes his misconduct warrants a two to three month suspension.

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Cases involving attorneys who assisted persons in the unauthorized practice of law have resulted in a range of sanctions. The three cases cited by the Administrator, which are at the higher end of the range, involved lawyers who not only assisted non-lawyers in the practice of law, but had an actual fee-sharing relationship with the non-lawyers. Two of those cases involved additional misconduct as well. In Discipio, Discipio employed a disbarred lawyer who interviewed clients and completed claim forms requiring a substantial degree of legal skill and knowledge. In addition, Discipio accepted referrals from and shared thousands of dollars of fees with the disbarred lawyer. Discipio admitted he knew his actions were wrong, but nonetheless continued his association with the disbarred lawyer for fourteen years. In suspending Discipio for two years, the Court stated it could find no reason or explanation for his "immense lapse of sound judgment." Discipo, 163 Ill. 2d at 530.

Similarly, in In re McGrath, 98 CH 35, M.R. 17736 (Nov. 28, 2001) the attorney was suspended, on consent, for three years for improperly sharing $550,000 with a non-lawyer entity and assisting the entity's non-lawyer agents in the practice of law. In addition, the attorney engaged in improper solicitation and failed to consult with clients regarding settlement of their actions. In In re May, 93 CH 320, M.R. 11764 (Dec. 1, 1995) the attorney was suspended for four years and until further order of the court for sharing fees with a non-lawyer, aiding in the unauthorized practice of law, lying under oath about his relationship with the non-lawyer, and converting funds. As a condition to reinstatement, May was ordered to pay restitution of more than $73,000.

Lesser sanctions have also been imposed upon attorneys who gave assistance to disbarred or suspended attorneys. For example, in In re Wright, 01 CH 91, M.R. 18833 (Sept. 19, 2003) the Court imposed a six month suspension, on consent, upon an attorney who allowed a

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suspended attorney to use his law office and support staff and assist in the representation of clients for approximately one year. The suspended attorney also used Wright's letterhead for his own cases without Wrights's knowledge. In In re Smock, 94 CH 461, M.R. 1031 (Sept. 23, 1994) an attorney was censured, on consent, for neglecting a case and allowing his wife, a suspended attorney, to continue practicing law with respect to two client matters for a period of five months. In In re Schelly, 94 Ill. 2d 234, 446 N.E.2d 236 (1983) the Court suspended an attorney for three months for employing a disbarred lawyer, who was an old friend, as a law clerk for a period of five years. The attorney continued the employment even after he received notice his actions would be reported.

We believe the situation in the present case is closest to the Wright case with respect to the type and extent of assistance given to a disciplined attorney. However, neither Wright nor any of the foregoing cases, with the exception of May, involved the calculated cover up present here. We consider that conduct to be an extremely serious ethical violation which we believe contributed, at least in part, to the longer suspension imposed in May.

The Supreme Court has emphasized the serious nature of an attorney providing false information to, or failing to cooperate with, the ARDC. In In re Bell, 147 Ill. 2d 15, 39, 588 N.E.2d 1093, 1104 (1992), where the attorney gave a false written response to the Administrator and then repeated the false response in his sworn statement before the Administrator, the Court stated "the giving of false testimony demonstrates a further unfitness of an attorney to practice law."

After considering the nature of Respondent's misconduct, the purpose of the disciplinary proceedings, and the cases discussed above, we conclude a two year suspension would be longer than that imposed by the Court in comparable situations. On the other hand, something more

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than a short suspension is warranted by Respondent's dishonest conduct. We believe a suspension of fifteen months will allow Respondent sufficient time to reflect upon his behavior, and will protect the public and the integrity of the legal profession. Accordingly, we recommend Respondent Steven Lee Popuch be suspended from the practice of law for a period of fifteen months.

Date Entered: March 25, 2010

Michael C. Greenfield, Hearing Board Chair, and Panel Members Devlin J. Schoop and Darryl H.  Armstrong