Filed July 27, 2011
In re Lisa Theresa Thompson
Commission No. 2010PR00005
Synopsis of Review Board Report and Recommendation
This matter came before the Review Board on the Administrator's exceptions to the Hearing Board's sanction recommendation for Respondent-Appellee, Lisa Theresa Thompson.
Thompson admitted that she represented clients in nine matters after her name was removed from the roll of attorneys and that she knowingly made false statements to the Administrator and a judge. The Hearing Board found that Thompson committed all of the charged misconduct. Based on evidence that Thompson's misconduct was significantly related to her alcohol dependence, depressive disorder, and personality disorder, the Hearing Board recommended that Thompson's license be suspended for three years and until further order of the court, with the suspension stayed after nine months by two years of probation.
The Administrator argued on review that probation is not appropriate in this matter and requested that Thompson's license be suspended for one year and until further order of the court.
The Review Board concluded that probation was not appropriate because Thompson did not demonstrate her current fitness to practice law, as required by Supreme Court Rule 772. Her need for continuing abstinence and psychological treatment and her relatively modest start in that regard led the Review Board to conclude that her license to practice law should be suspended for nine months and until further order of the court.
BEFORE THE REVIEW BOARD
ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION
|In the Matter of:
LISA THERESA THOMPSON,
Commission No. 2010PR00005
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE REVIEW BOARD
Lisa Theresa Thompson, Respondent-Appellee ("Thompson"), admitted that she represented clients in nine matters after her name was removed from the roll of attorneys and that she made false statements to the Administrator and a St. Clair County judge. Based on evidence that Thompson suffers from alcohol dependence, depressive disorder and personality disorder, all of which significantly contributed to her misconduct, the Hearing Board recommended that Thompson be suspended for three years and until further order of the court, with the suspension stayed after nine months by a two-year period of probation subject to numerous conditions. On review, the Administrator contends that probation is not appropriate and asks this Board to recommend that Thompson's license be suspended for one year and until further order of the court. We conclude that probation is not appropriate in this case because, as described more fully below, Thompson failed to demonstrate her fitness to practice law as required by Supreme Court Rule 772. Accordingly, we recommend that Thompson's license be suspended for nine months and until further order of the court.
The allegations of fact and misconduct are admitted and are fully set forth in the Hearing Board's Report and Recommendation. We set forth below only those facts relevant to our determination of the sanction issue before us.
Unauthorized Practice Of Law
Thompson, who received her Illinois license in 2002, has not registered with the ARDC or paid her registration fees from 2006 until the present. Her name was removed from the Master Roll of Attorneys in February 2006. Thompson testified that she could not afford to pay her registration fees and thought her sister was going to pay them for her. Thompson admitted that she knew she was not authorized to practice law in Illinois after February 1, 2006.
Between February 1, 2006, and November 2009, Thompson represented clients in at least nine Illinois matters filed in St. Clair and Madison Counties. Thompson admits that she practiced law in a jurisdiction where doing so violates the regulation of the legal profession in that jurisdiction, in violation of Rule 5.5(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct and Supreme Court Rule 756(g); and engaged in conduct that 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.
False Statements In A Disciplinary Investigation
Following a request for investigation by one of Thompson's clients, Thompson gave a sworn statement to counsel for the Administrator on October 28, 2009. Thompson stated that she had been admitted pro hac vice in each of the Illinois matters in which she appeared following her removal from the roll of attorneys. Thompson further stated that she advised the court in each of the matters that she previously held an in Illinois license. Thompson admitted
that these statements were false and that she made a statement of material fact that she knew to be false in connection with a lawyer disciplinary matter, in violation of Rule 8.1(a)(1); engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(4); and engaged in conduct that prejudices the administration of justice and tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5) and Supreme Court Rule 770.
False Statements To A Tribunal And Opposing Counsel
Thompson appeared with her client, Cory Gallagher, on a criminal matter in the Circuit Court of St. Clair County on January 27, 2010. In the courtroom, Assistant State's Attorney Emma Curtis told Thompson that she was informed that Thompson was not licensed in Illinois and asked if Thompson had her ARDC card. Thompson told Curtis that she was registered in Illinois and had left her ARDC card in a different purse. Later, Thompson asked Judge Zina Cruse to continue Cory Gallagher's case. Judge Cruse also asked Thompson if she was licensed in Illinois. Thompson told Judge Cruse that she was licensed and knew her ARDC number. When Judge Cruse asked Thompson to produce her ARDC card, Thompson stated that she did not have it with her. Judge Cruse then left the bench to check the status of Thompson's license on her computer. Judge Cruse returned with information from the ARDC website indicating that Thompson was not licensed and ordered Thompson to leave the courtroom.
Judge Cruse testified that Thompson's conduct was "certainly somewhat disruptive" because her courtroom was full of people. She further testified that Cory Gallagher approached the bench after Thompson was ordered to leave to try to speak with Judge Cruse. She advised Gallagher that she could not speak with him and that he should determine what he needed to do about getting representation.
Thompson admitted that her statements to Assistant State's Attorney Curtis and Judge Cruse about the status of her license were false. She admitted that she knowingly made a false statement of law to a tribunal, in violation of Rule 3.3(a)(1); knowingly made a false statement of material fact or law to a third person, in violation of Rule 4.1(a); engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(4); and engaged in conduct that prejudices the administration of justice and tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5) and Supreme Court Rule770.
EVIDENCE IN MITIGATION
Thompson testified that there is a history of alcoholism in her family. Her brother is currently in prison as a result of multiple convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol. Her twin sister is chronically depressed and has a history of opiate and alcohol dependence.
Thompson began drinking alcohol in high school. She joined the Navy after high school to help pay for college and was honorably discharged in October 1989. She went to community college for two years then transferred to the University of Missouri and graduated in 1994. She graduated from Washington University law school in 1998. Thompson supported herself while in college and law school by working the night shift at a Chrysler plant.
Thompson was licensed in Missouri in 2001 and in Illinois in 2002. She worked for several different firms in the St. Louis area until 2006. She did not work for several months in 2005 because she was caring for her mother until her mother passed away in December 2005. Between 2005 and 2008, Thompson also cared for her father, who had a series of strokes.
During this time, Thompson lived in her father's house, along with her twin sister and her sister's three children.
Thompson moved out of her father's house in September 2010 and now lives in St. Louis with her boyfriend, Brad Bobbinhouse. Bobbinhouse has encouraged Thompson to stop drinking and fully supports her treatment efforts.
Thompson quit drinking on July 2, 2010, and went to an alcohol abuse center later that month. In August 2010, she began attending group therapy for three to four hours twice a week. She did not attend group therapy during September 2010 because she had other obligations and went out of town for a week. She has been attending group therapy consistently since October 2010. In October 2010, she started attending individual therapy with a substance abuse counselor and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She did not obtain a sponsor. She has contacted the Center Care facility to inquire about beginning psychotherapy. She believes the Center Care facility provides both psychiatric and substance abuse programs. Thompson testified that a lack of money and health insurance has impeded her ability to begin psychotherapy treatment.
Thompson realizes that she has a problem with alcohol and feels her treatment is helping her. The support she receives from her fiancé and the move from her father's home have helped her depression. Thompson is willing to follow all treatment recommendations and any conditions imposed by the court.
Dr. Lawrence L. Jeckel, a forensic psychiatrist, evaluated Thompson at the request of the Administrator. He met with Thompson on June 11, 2010.
Dr. Jeckel testified that Thompson comes from a "very dysfunctional family" with a strong history of alcoholism. Thompson began drinking heavily twice a week after her mother died in 2005. Dr. Jeckel described Thompson's reaction to her mother's death as "pathological grief." Thompson's "binge drinking" ended in October 2008. In June of 2010, when Thompson met with Dr. Jeckel, she told him that she was "only drinking casually with wine."
Dr. Jeckel diagnosed Thompson with depressive disorder, not otherwise specified; alcohol dependence in partial remission; and a personality disorder, which caused Thompson to be prone to regress to faulty thinking. Alcohol dependence is a severe form of alcohol abuse in which alcohol becomes the center of one's life. Dr. Jeckel described personality disorder as a pattern of maladaptive thinking and behavior that interferes with a person's social and work lives. The prognosis is guarded for most personality disorders because they involve patterns of evasion, dishonesty, and avoidance. However, they can be treated if the patient is invested in and committed to the treatment process.
Dr. Jeckel opined that Thompson's disorders caused her to make the misrepresentations for which she was charged, but that she was aware that she was lying.
He recommended that Thompson follow seven recommendations: (1) abstain from alcohol and an nonprescribed controlled substances; (2) participate in a substance abuse program for chemically dependent professionals; (3) participate in a 12-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous; (4) obtain a sponsor in the 12-step program; (5) report any lapse in sobriety or use of alcohol within 72 hours; (6) participate in regular weekly psychotherapy with a seasoned therapist; and (7) obtain an evaluation by a psychiatrist to consider psychotropic medication for depression. He indicated that Thompson would likely require psychotherapy for
a minimum of three years, and that "we're probably another year or two away" from clearing her mind.
Dr. Jeckel testified that at the time he evaluated Thompson (June 2010) she was not fit to practice law. He was informed that following the evaluation she stopped drinking and had begun attending group therapy and individual therapy for her alcohol dependence. She had also attended six AA meetings. Another positive step was Thompson's move from her parent's home to the home she now shares with her fiancé.
Dr. Jeckel stated that he did not know whether Thompson was fit to practice law at the time of the hearing. He believes she made a good start but her treatment up to that point did not address the severity of her illness. Thompson would have to commit to regular psychotherapy from a seasoned therapist before he would consider her fit to practice.
The only issue on review is the appropriate sanction recommendation. The purpose of the disciplinary process is not to punish an attorney but to protect the public, maintain the integrity of the profession, and protect the administration of justice from reproach. In re Gorecki, 208 Ill. 2d 350, 802 N.E.2d 1194 (2003). We seek consistency in our recommendations but must consider the unique circumstances of each case. In re Timpone, 157 Ill. 2d 178, 197, 623 N.E.2d 300 (1993).
The Hearing Board, whose recommendation is advisory (In re Ingersoll, 186 Ill. 2d 163,178, 710 N.E.2d 390 (1999)), determined that a suspension until further order of the court stayed in part by probation would serve the purposes of the disciplinary process and encourage Thompson to obtain all treatment necessary for her rehabilitation. The Hearing Board made no finding on the question of Thompson's fitness to practice law. The Administrator argues that
Thompson is not a candidate for probation and should be suspended for one year and until further order of the court. Thompson asserts that a six-month suspension stayed entirely by probation is appropriate.
We disagree with the Hearing Board and recommend that Thompson's license be suspended for nine months and until further order of the court. Our recommendation is based primarily on the evidence pertaining to Thompson's alcohol dependence, mental disorders, her need for sustained treatment for those conditions, and her relatively modest start and inconsistency in obtaining the recommended treatment and support for those conditions. We consider the nature of Thompson's misconduct as well. In mitigation, we consider that Thompson's addiction and mental health issues contributed to her misconduct (see In re Ackermann, 99 Ill. 2d 56, 68, 457 N.E.2d 409, (1983)) and that she has no prior discipline. We conclude that probation is not appropriate because Thompson did not meet her burden of establishing the requirements of Supreme Court Rule 772(a).
Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 772, an attorney whose misconduct is occasioned by a disability such as substance abuse or mental illness may be placed on probation. In re Jordan, 157 Ill. 2d 266, 268, 623 N.E.2d 1372 (1993). A respondent who seeks probation bears the burden of demonstrating that he or she meets the following requirements: (see Rule 772; Sutherin, 03 CH 61, Review Board Report and Recommendation at 14):
The court may order that an attorney be placed on probation if the attorney has demonstrated that he:
can perform legal services and the continued practice of law will not cause the courts or profession to fall into disrepute;
is unlikely to harm the public during the period of rehabilitation and the necessary conditions of probation can be adequately supervised;
has a disability which is temporary or minor and does not require treatment and transfer to disability inactive status;
is not guilty of acts warranting disbarment;
In its Report and Recommendation, the Hearing Board did not address Rule 772(a) or make any findings as to whether Thompson established that she qualifies for probation. "The Review Board is empowered to reject or modify such factual findings of the Hearing Board as the Review Board determines are not supported by clear and convincing evidence, and the Review Board may make such additional findings as it determines are supported by clear and convincing evidence." In re Ring, 141 Ill. 2d 128, 139, 565 N.E.2d 983 (1990), citing Supreme Court Rule 753(e)(3). When determining whether a respondent has met her burden of proof under Rule 772(a), it is appropriate to consider expert opinion about a respondent's current psychological fitness to practice law along with other evidence in the record. In re Sutherin, 03 CH 61, (Review Board, Nov. 21, 2005) at 14, petition for leave to file exceptions denied, No. M.R. 20636 (Sept. 20, 2006).
Based on the record before us, we conclude that Thompson did not meet her burden. In particular, she did not establish that she can competently perform legal services, that her continued practice of law will not cause the courts or profession to fall into disrepute, or that she is unlikely to harm the public during the period of rehabilitation (Rule 772(a)(1) and (2)).
The factors set forth in Rule 772(a) are phrased in the present tense. Thus, we interpret the Rule to mean that a respondent must demonstrate that he or she meets its requirements at the time of the hearing, not that he or she will meet them at some future date. Here, the evidence regarding Thompson's fitness to practice at the time of her hearing was uncertain. When Dr. Jeckel was asked on November 10, 2010, whether he believed Thompson was currently fit to practice law, he answered:
"I don't know … If she is in regular therapy with a seasoned veteran of - you know who also works with substance abuse
people and takes medication as needed, if she is in really good, competent care, I would feel more confident."
Dr. Jeckel acknowledged that Thompson's background demonstrates her intellectual capacity to perform legal tasks and her ability to overcome hardships in her life. However, the combination of Thompson's chronic alcohol dependency and her personality and depressive disorders compromised her ability to think clearly. It was, after all, her substance abuse and mental condition that caused her to engage in the misconduct at issue.
We are sympathetic to the problems Thompson has faced and commend the steps she has taken thus far toward sobriety, but conclude that those steps are not sufficient to establish that she is currently able to practice without harming the public and causing the courts or the legal profession to fall into disrepute. At the time of the hearing, Thompson had been abstinent from alcohol for at most four months. She had begun group counseling in August 2010 but suspended those activities in September. She began again in October, one month before the hearing. As of the date of the hearing she had not yet started psychotherapy, had attended only 6 AA meetings, and had not obtained an AA sponsor. Dr. Jeckel emphasized the importance of maintaining consistent treatment over a long period of time in order to successfully treat her conditions. The record in this case does not reflect a sustained and successful period of treatment that is a prerequisite to a recommendation of probation in a case such as this. Moreover, we may not and will not speculate as to whether Thompson has followed all of Dr. Jeckel's recommendations since the hearing in this matter concluded.
We further note that Thompson did not present any character witnesses or evidence as to the quality of her legal work. She was represented by able counsel throughout her disciplinary proceedings and had the opportunity to present evidence as to her current fitness to practice law. Her failure to do so prevents us from making the necessary findings to support a
recommendation of probation. See In re Segovia, 06 CH 86 (Review Board, April 2, 2009), approved and confirmed, No. M.R. 23256 (Sept. 22, 2009).
We conclude that Thompson should be suspended for nine months and until further order of the court. While attorneys who have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law have received short periods of suspension, they did not have the serious and complex disorders manifested by Thompson. See In re Stephens, 08 SH 104 (Hearing Board, June 12, 2009), approved and confirmed, No. M.R. 23258 (Sept. 22, 2009)(sixty-day suspension); In re Van Hoorweghe, 03 CH 6 (Review Board, Dec. 30, 2004), petition for leave to file exceptions denied, No. M.R. 19989 (May 19, 2005)(sixty-day suspension); In re Goosby, 99 CH 62 (Hearing Board Oct. 11, 2000), approved and confirmed, No. M.R. 17201 (Jan. 22, 2001).
When considering the appropriate length of the recommended suspension we bear in mind Dr. Jeckel's testimony that Thompson needs competent ongoing treatment to address her problems. He opined that her condition will improve over time if she continues to abstain from alcohol and gets therapy for her depression and personality disorder. Dr. Jeckel estimated that if Thompson does so, "she will be thinking more clearly in a year and even a year after that. These things take a long time to clear up." If Thompson initiated psychotherapy shortly after her hearing, as she said she planned to do, a nine-month suspension will provide her the time necessary to make sufficient progress to return to practice and will also protect the public. We determine that the suspension should run until further order of the court due to the severity of Thompson's illness and the fact that she has not demonstrated a sustained, successful period of abstinence and treatment. See Sutherin, 03 CH 61 (Review Board, Nov. 21, 2005) at 12. Thus, she should be required to demonstrate her rehabilitation and fitness before she is allowed to return to practice.
The cases relied upon by the Administrator do not persuade us that a different result is warranted. The Administrator cites In re Honore, 08 CH 60, petition to impose discipline on consent allowed, No. M.R. 23222 (Sept. 22, 2009); In re Hamilton, 05 CH 119 (Hearing Board, Aug. 9, 2006),approved and confirmed, No. M.R. 21170 (Nov. 17, 2006); and In re Carney, 05 CH 16 (Hearing Board, Feb. 10, 2006), approved and confirmed, No. M.R. 20890 (May 16, 2006). Both Hamilton and Carney failed to participate in their disciplinary proceedings, which is a significant factor in aggravation (see In re Samuels, 126 Ill. 2d 509, 531, 535 N.E.2d 808 1989) that is not present here, where Thompson admitted all of her misconduct and cooperated in these proceedings. Honore involved much more egregious misconduct than Thompson's. In addition to engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, Honore was convicted of disorderly conduct after she shouted expletives outside a courtroom at the Richard J. Daley Center and threatened a judge.
For all of the foregoing reasons, we affirm the Hearing Board's findings of fact and misconduct. We recommend that the license of Lisa Theresa Thompson be suspended for nine months and until further order of the court.
Date Entered: 27 July 2011