Filed November 14, 2011
In re George Charles Rantis
Commission No. 09 CH 65
Synopsis of Review Board Report and Recommendation
The Administrator charged Rantis in a four-count complaint with misconduct related to his representation of Nick Kanari and Sylwia Muraswka in a parentage action and two dissolution proceedings. The Hearing Board found that the Administrator did not prove some of the charges, but did prove that Rantis (1) failed to correct his client's false statements to the court, in violation of Rule 3.3(a)(4); (2) participated in the preservation of evidence when he knew or reasonably should have known that the evidence was false, in violation of Rule 3.3(a)(5); and (3) engaged in conduct that prejudiced the administration of justice and tended to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5) and Supreme Court Rule 770, by failing to advise judges of information that could impact their decisions. The Hearing Board recommended that Rantis receive a five-month suspension.
On review, Rantis challenged the findings of misconduct, arguing that he took reasonable remedial measures to correct his client's false statements, that he had no clear duty to advise the court about other litigation in which his clients were involved, and that any prejudice to the administration of justice did not result from his conduct.
The Administrator agreed that the charge of participating in the preservation of false evidence should be dismissed, but asserted that the remaining findings of misconduct and the sanction recommendation should be affirmed.
The Review Board concluded that the facts as found by the Hearing Board did not establish any misconduct on Rantis's part. Consequently, the Review Board recommended that the findings of misconduct be reversed and the charges against Rantis be dismissed.
BEFORE THE REVIEW BOARD
ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION
|In the Matter of:
GEORGE CHARLES RANTIS,
|Commission No. 09 CH 65|
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE REVIEW BOARD
The charges against Respondent-Appellant, George Charles Rantis, arose from his representation of Nick Kanari and Sylwia Murawska in a parentage action and two dissolution proceedings. This matter comes before the Review Board on Rantis's exceptions to certain findings of the Hearing Board and to the Hearing Board's sanction recommendation. The Administrator-Appellee requests that one charge against Rantis be dismissed and that the remaining findings of misconduct and the sanction recommendation be affirmed. We recommend that the Hearing Board's findings of misconduct be reversed.
The Administrator charged Rantis in a four-count complaint with engaging in a conflict of interest, failing to correct his client's false statements to the court, offering false evidence to the court, and failing to advise judges of information that could impact their decisions.
Rantis has been licensed to practice law since 1966 and has been a sole practitioner for most of his career. He has known his client, Nick Kanari, since Nick was a child. Rantis assisted Nick and his parents with various legal matters over the years.
Nick married Renee Kassulat in 1998, and they had six children together. Renee filed for divorce from Nick in 2005 and also filed domestic violence charges against him. Rantis represented Nick in both matters, and Renee was represented by John Vojta. Renee and Nick later reconciled.
During their marriage, the Kanaris employed Sylwia Murawska as their nanny. Sylwia was married in 2006 to Dariusz Ziembinski. Nick and Sylwia had been engaged in an affair since 2005, unbeknownst to Renee and Dariusz. Sylwia gave birth to a son, Constantine, on January 9, 2008.
Sylwia and Nick met with Rantis in March of 2008 to inquire about Sylwia initiating a divorce from Dariusz. Rantis prepared a dissolution petition, which stated that one child, Constantine, was born of the marriage and requested child support from Dariusz. Attorney Carlos Rodriguez, who shares office space with Rantis, prepared a petition for an emergency order of protection against Dariusz on Sylwia's behalf. Rodriguez filed the emergency petition and the petition for dissolution on March 10, 2008. Rantis was counsel of record for both petitions. In an ex parte hearing before Judge Samuel Betar, III, Sylwia testified that Dariusz was Constantine's father. Judge Betar entered an interim order of protection against Dariusz on March 10, 2008.
Judge Betar entered an agreed order of protection on April 21, 2008, which ordered Dariusz to pay Sylwia $100 per week as temporary support for Constantine.
Renee filed a dissolution petition against Nick on March 31, 2008. Rantis entered his appearance as Nick's attorney on April 18, 2008. Renee was represented by John Vojta.
In May 2008, Dariusz's attorney, Walter Zarnecki, advised Rantis that Nick might be Constantine's father. Rantis called Nick and Sylwia into his office. They told Rantis that they had taken a paternity test in March 2008 but had not received the results because they did not have the funds to pay for the test. Rantis instructed them to obtain the test results. Rantis then advised attorney Zarnecki of the paternity test, and they agreed that Dariusz should stop making support payments. Dariusz's last support check was dated June 5, 2008.
On June 10, 2008, Nick and Sylwia advised Rantis that the paternity test indicated that Nick was Constantine's father. Rantis told Sylwia that she would have to reimburse any funds she had received from Dariusz on Constantine's behalf and that Sylwia would have to file a parentage action to declare Nick the father of Constantine. Rantis told Nick and Sylwia that he could not represent them in the parentage action because he already represented each of them in their divorce actions. Nick requested that Rantis represent Sylwia in the parentage action and paid Rantis a $2000 flat fee to do so.
Rantis then confirmed to attorney Zarnecki that Nick is Constantine's father and the two of them discussed reimbursement for support payments and other expenses Dariusz paid. Between June 10, 2008, and December 8, 2008, there were five status dates before Judge Betar in the Murawska/Ziembinski dissolution case. On each of these dates, Rantis and attorney Zarnecki agreed to continue the matter and to extend the order of protection that was previously entered against Dariusz. Rantis or someone acting on his behalf had the agreed orders entered.
On July 9, 2008, Rantis filed a parentage action on Sylwia's behalf. He did not serve Dariusz with notice of the action, despite the requirement that notice of a parentage action be served on the presumed father (Illinois Parentage Act of 1984, 750 ILCS 45/9.1).
Rantis, Nick, and Sylwia appeared before Judge Alfred Levinson on July 24, 2008, in the parentage action. They entered agreed orders adjudicating Nick to be Constantine's father and providing that Nick would pay for Constantine's medical insurance and $2600 per month in child support, to begin instanter. Rantis did not advise Judge Levinson that Nick and Sylwia were living together, that Nick had six other children and a pending divorce proceeding with Renee, or that a support order had previously been entered against Dariusz.
At some time in August or September 2008, Rantis advised attorney Vojta and Judge Daniel J. Sullivan, who presided over the Kanari dissolution, about the orders entered in the parentage action. Attorney Vojta advised Renee of the parentage orders.
On October 2, 2008, Renee hired attorney Linda Olsen to replace attorney Vojta. On that date, Renee advised attorney Olsen that Nick is Constantine's father and that a support order had been entered in the parentage action. Attorney Olsen filed her appearance in the Kanari dissolution case on October 8, 2008. On October 27, 2008, Renee retained attorney Olsen to intervene in the parentage action.
On November 7, 2008, attorney Olsen and Rantis appeared for a prehearing conference before Judge Sullivan. Rantis stated that a support order had been entered against Nick in the parentage action but that Nick could not make the payments. Rantis and attorney Olsen entered an agreed order in the Kanari dissolution requiring Nick to satisfy all outstanding support payments that he owed to Renee.
On November 20, 2008, attorney Olsen filed an emergency motion to intervene in the parentage action, alleging that Nick and Sylwia conspired to obtain an order of child support for Constantine that would take precedence over Nick's support obligations to Renee.
Judge Levinson held a hearing on the emergency motion to intervene on November 26, 2008. Rantis was not present because he was visiting family out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday, and attorney Olsen declined Rantis's request to continue the hearing. Attorney Rodriguez appeared in Rantis's place. Judge Levinson was concerned that a fraud had been perpetrated on the court. He stated that Rantis did not give him information regarding Nick and Sylwia's relationship or their pending divorces, and, had he known that information, he would not have entered the child support and other orders in the parentage action. Judge Levinson vacated the orders of parentage, support, and name change that were entered on July 24, 2008.
Judge Levinson testified during the disciplinary proceedings that he did not know at that time about Rantis's discussions with attorney Zarnecki or attorney Vojta about the parentage action. There was conflicting evidence as to whether attorney Olsen knew that attorney Zarnecki was aware of and had no objection to the parentage action. Attorney Olsen testified that she had never discussed the matter with attorney Zarnecki. Attorney Zarnecki testified to the contrary, that attorney Olsen called him and he advised her that he had no problem with the parentage action.
On December 8, 2008, a hearing in the Murawska/Ziembinski dissolution case took place. Judge Betar, who learned about the parentage action from Judge Levinson, asked Rantis about the parentage action. Rantis acknowledged that there were two orders of support for the same child, but stated that Dariusz's support payments would be returned. Judge Betar entered an order vacating and terminating the order of protection against Dariusz, and ordering Dariusz, Sylwia, and Constantine to undergo DNA testing through the court.
Later in December, Judges Betar, Levinson, and Sullivan reported Rantis to the ARDC. Rantis withdrew from the parentage and dissolution cases on January 22, 2009.
Rantis presented as witnesses attorney Arthur Berman, former circuit court judge and appellate justice Michael Galasso, and federal judge John Darrah. These witnesses testified that Rantis is very truthful and trustworthy. When Judge Darrah was a judge in the circuit court of DuPage County, he appointed Rantis as a guardian ad litem because he thought so highly of him.
In 1991, Rantis received a five-month suspension on consent for two instances of misconduct. Rantis was convicted of failing to pay federal income tax for two years and also personally guaranteed a criminal complainant in a traffic matter that Rantis's client would pay the complainant's $500 insurance deductible if the complainant declined to prosecute. The money was not paid within the promised time frame. In re Rantis, No. 91 CH 249, petition to impose discipline on consent allowed, M.R. 7504 (May 24, 1991).
Rantis challenges three of the Hearing Board's findings of misconduct, arguing that they are erroneous as a matter of law. The Administrator asks us to affirm the Hearing Board's findings with respect to two of the charges and agrees that dismissal of one of the charges is appropriate.
The Administrator bears the burden of proving disciplinary charges by clear and convincing evidence. In re Ingersoll, 186 Ill.2d 163, 710 N.E.2d 390 (1999). The Hearing Board is the trier of fact, and we do not disturb its factual findings unless they are against the
manifest weight of the evidence. In re Winthrop, 219 Ill.2d 526, 542, 848 N.E.2d 961 (2006). A finding is against the manifest weight of the evidence only if the opposite conclusion is clearly evident. Winthrop, 219 Ill.2d at 542, 848 N.E.2d 961. We review de novo the Hearing Board's legal conclusions, which include whether the facts found constitute the charged misconduct. In re Discipio, 163 Ill.2d 515, 527, 645 N.E.2d 906, 912 (1994).
Rule 3.3(a)(4) Reasonable Remedial Measures
Rantis argues that the Hearing Board erred as a matter of law when it found that he failed to take reasonable remedial measures to correct Sylwia's false representations to the court that Dariusz was Constantine's father. We agree with Rantis.
At the time of the alleged misconduct, Rule 3.3(a)(4) provided that a lawyer shall not "offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false. If a lawyer has offered material evidence and comes to know of its falsity, the lawyer shall take reasonable remedial measures."1 We determine that the remedial measures Rantis took were reasonable as a matter of law.
In reaching our conclusion, we are cognizant that Rule 3.3(a)(4) includes a duty of candor to the tribunal, but note that neither Rule 3.3(a)(4) nor the case law requires an attorney to make disclosures to the tribunal in every instance that a client makes a false statement. "A lawyer has discretion as to which measures to adopt, so long as they are reasonably calculated to correct the false evidence." Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers sec.120 (2000), Comment (h). The ABA Model Rules provide that the proper course of conduct is for the lawyer to confidentially advise the client of the lawyer's duty of candor toward the tribunal and seek the client's cooperation in withdrawing or correcting the false evidence. If the client refuses to cooperate, the lawyer must take further action. "If withdrawal from the representation is not permitted or will not undo the effect of the false evidence, the advocate
must make such disclosure to the tribunal as is reasonably necessary to remedy the situation, even if doing so requires the lawyer to reveal information that otherwise would be protected by Rule 1.6." ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 3.3. Thus, disclosure to the court is not required in every instance and should occur when the effect of the false evidence cannot be undone through other measures.
Here, Rantis reasonably believed that his communications with Sylwia and attorney Zarnecki were sufficient to undo the effects of Sylwia's false statements. After learning the results of the paternity test, Rantis advised Sylwia that she could no longer collect child support from Dariusz, that she would be required to reimburse him, and that it would be necessary to file a parentage action to legally establish Nick's paternity. There is no evidence in the record that Sylwia declined to cooperate with Rantis's advice. On the contrary, the evidence showed that Rantis, presumably with Sylwia's approval, told attorney Zarnecki that Dariusz should stop making support payments. Rantis then worked with attorney Zarnecki on a settlement in the dissolution matter, which was intended to resolve the reimbursement of Dariusz's prior support payments and to clarify that Dariusz was not Constantine's father. Rantis and attorney Zarnecki believed that these steps adequately addressed the issue. Attorney Zarnecki testified that he felt that Rantis was always honest and straightforward with him regarding the paternity issue.
We do not disregard Rantis's duty of candor toward the court. However, the evidence did not demonstrate that disclosure to the court was required during the stage of the proceedings at issue. Although the order of protection remained in effect, the record indicates that it was extended by agreement while the parties worked on the settlement. The order of protection was not enforced, and Rantis had no reason to believe that it would be enforced.
Between the time that Rantis disclosed Nick's paternity to attorney Zarnecki and December 8, 2008, when Judge Betar confronted Rantis about the parentage action, nothing of significance occurred in the Murawska/Ziembinski dissolution case that would have compelled the disclosure of Sylwia's false statements. Additionally, by the time Rantis appeared before Judge Betar on December 8, 2008, he and attorney Zarnecki had filed pretrial memoranda indicating that Dariusz was not Constantine's father and providing for the reimbursement of Dariusz's earlier payments to Sylwia. The record does not reveal, and the Administrator does not explain, how an earlier disclosure was necessary or would have made any difference in the Murawska/Ziembinski dissolution case. This does not mean that the case may not have reached the point where disclosure was necessary, but the case resolved itself prior to that time. For all of the foregoing reasons, we conclude that Rantis's remedial measures were reasonable and the circumstances did not require disclosure of Sylwia's false statements to Judge Betar. Consequently, we recommend that the Hearing Board's finding that Rantis violated Rule 3.3(a)(1) be reversed.
Rule 3.3(a)(5) Preservation of False Evidence
Rule 3.3(a)(5), which was in effect at the time of the conduct at issue, prohibited a lawyer from participating "in the creation or preservation of evidence when the lawyer knows or reasonably should know the evidence is false." This provision was eliminated from the Rules of Professional Conduct adopted in 2010. For this reason, the Administrator acquiesces to the dismissal of the Rule 3.3(a)(5) charge. Accordingly, we recommend that the Hearing Board's finding that Rantis violated Rule 3.3(a)(5) be reversed.
Rule 8.4(a)(5) and Supreme Court Rule 770
We disagree with the Hearing Board's determination that the facts as found demonstrated violations of Supreme Court Rule 770 and Rule 8.4(a)(5) by clear and convincing
evidence. The Administrator contends that Rantis's failure to advise the courts of the existence of the interrelated proceedings caused confusion and disruption. Rantis asserts that he had no clear duty to make such disclosures, and that any confusion and disruption resulted from the manner in which attorney Olsen presented the emergency motion to intervene in the paternity action. We agree with Rantis.
We recognize that, generally, a lawyer has a duty to assist the courts in administering justice. See In re Smith, 168 Ill.2d 269, 287, 659 N.E.2d 896 (1995). We also acknowledge Judge Levinson's testimony that he would not have entered the orders he did had he known all of the relevant facts. That said, we are not aware of any authority that extends a lawyer's duty to assist the courts so far as to require him to volunteer information concerning other litigation in which his client is involved. Neither the Hearing Board nor the Administrator has cited a case that would support such a conclusion. Had Judge Levinson asked Rantis about Sylwia and Nick's relationship or whether Nick had any other children, there is no question that Rantis would have been required to answer truthfully as to any non-confidential matters. That did not happen, though. This is not a case in which the respondent made a misrepresentation to the court or attempted to conceal any information. We determine that the imposition of a duty under these circumstances and without any supporting authority would unreasonably expand the scope of Rule 8.4(a)(5) and Supreme Court Rule 770.
Moreover, the undisputed facts do not establish any confusion or disruption as a result of Rantis's conduct. As set forth above, the Murawska/Ziembinski dissolution proceeded in a normal fashion pursuant to the agreement between Rantis and attorney Zarnecki as to the resolution of the paternity issue. In the Kanari dissolution matter, Rantis advised attorney Vojta and Judge Sullivan in either August or September of 2008 that Nick had been ordered to support
another child. Thus, the undisputed facts did not establish any prejudice to the administration of justice in either dissolution matter.
Considering the parentage action, the confusion that surrounded and resulted from the emergency motion to intervene should not be attributed to Rantis. Rather, we agree with Rantis that the confusion resulted from the manner in which the emergency motion was presented. Attorney Olsen insisted on presenting the motion on an emergency basis when there was no discernible imminent harm to her client at a time she knew Rantis was unavailable. The motion contained allegations of fraud on the part of Rantis and his clients, which created a false sense of urgency but were ultimately not borne out. Moreover, the motion did not advise the court of the remedial measures Rantis had taken with respect to Dariusz, nor did it advise the court that Renee, her former counsel, and Judge Sullivan had been aware of the support order in the parentage case since August or September 2008. All of these circumstances, coupled with Rantis's inability to explain himself due to his absence, combined to make his conduct appear far worse than it was. It is therefore understandable why Judge Levinson reacted as he did. However, looking at all of the undisputed evidence, we cannot affirm the Hearing Board's finding that confusion and disruption resulted from Rantis's conduct. Accordingly, we recommend that the Hearing Board's findings that Rantis violated Rule 8.4(a)(5) and Supreme Court Rule 770 be reversed.
The Administrator has agreed that the Rule 3.3(a)(5) charge against Rantis should be dismissed, and we have recommended that the remaining findings of misconduct should be reversed. Consequently, there is no basis for a sanction against Rantis.
For the foregoing reasons, we recommend that the Hearing Board's findings of misconduct be reversed and that the charges against Respondent, George Charles Rantis, be dismissed in their entirety.
Dated: 14 November 2011
1 The current version, re-numbered as Rule 3.3(a)(3), states in relevant part: "A lawyer shall not knowingly offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false. If a lawyer, the lawyer's client, or a witness called by the lawyer, has offered material evidence and the lawyer comes to know of its falsity, the lawyer shall take reasonable remedial measures, including, if necessary, disclosure to the tribunal."