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

In the Matter of:

LAURA J. MORASK,

Attorney-Respondent, 

No.  6195102.

 

Commission No.  2010PR00136

FILED -  August 31, 2010

COMPLAINT

Jerome Larkin, Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, by his attorney, Melissa A. Smart, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 753(b), complains of Respondent, Laura J. Morask, who was licensed to practice law in the State of Illinois on May 7, 1987, 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
(Making false statements regarding ARDC matters)

1. Since 1987, Respondent has been employed as an Assistant State's Attorney with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. During her career with the State's Attorney's Office, Respondent has been assigned, at various times, to the Gang Crimes Unit, as a trial specialist in the Sex Crimes Division and as a first chair prosecutor in the Felony Trial Division.

2. Between 2001 and 2003, Respondent became the subject of three separate investigations conducted by the Administrator's staff. Each of those investigations, which were private and confidential pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 766, concerned Illinois Appellate Court findings that Respondent had engaged in "pervasive misconduct" in a rebuttal argument, had made unacceptably negative references regarding defense experts and other sarcastic comments in a closing argument, and had engaged in "intentional and systematic misconduct" that was, "unprofessional and called into question the State's commitment to fair and just enforcement of the law" in the matters entitled, respectively, People of the State of Illinois v. Roy Fluker, 252 Ill.Dec. 261, 742 N.E.2d. 799 (Ill. App. 1 Dist. 2000), People of the State of Illinois v. Sanatone Moss, 275 Ill. Dec. 444, 792 N.E.2d. 1217 (Ill. App. 1 Dist. 2001), and People of the State of Illinois v. Evan Griffith, 267 Ill.Dec. 656, 777 N.E.2d. 459 (Ill. App. 1 Dist. 2002). On July 14, 2005, counsel for the Administrator referred those investigations to the members of Panel D of the Commission's Inquiry Board for their consideration.

3. Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 753(a)(3), it is the Inquiry Board's function to, "[a]fter investigation and consideration,… dispose of matters before it by voting to dismiss the charge, to close an investigation or to file a complaint with the Hearing Board." Pursuant to Commission Rule 102, the Inquiry Board "shall not determine the merits of the charge or conduct adversary hearings."

4. On February 10, 2006, after reviewing the three investigations referred to in paragraph two above, and after considering Respondent's statements in her written response to these investigations that she "means to abide by the admonitions contained" in the court opinions, the members of Panel D of the Commission's Inquiry Board voted to close the investigations rather than voting to file a complaint against Respondent with the Hearing Board. The Panel also voted to admonish Respondent that her conduct as described in the court opinions, "may have been inconsistent with the requirements of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct." Respondent's counsel received the letter of admonishment on or about February 10, 2006, and communicated its contents to Respondent shortly thereafter. The letter also stated that if the Panel received evidence of similar conduct by Respondent in the future, it may reopen the investigations for future review.

5. In 2008, Respondent became a judicial candidate. She was running to be a Circuit Court of Cook County judge in a contested race in the November 4, 2008, Cook County general election to fill a vacancy in the 12th Subcircuit. As a candidate for judicial office, Respondent was required to refrain from conduct which, had she been a judge, would have been a breach of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct requires a judge to respect and comply with the law and to conduct herself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.

6. On October 3, 2008, the Chicago Council of Lawyers ("Council") released a report evaluating the judicial candidates in the November 4, 2008, Cook County general election.

7. In its report, the Council found Respondent "Not Qualified" for the Circuit Court of Cook County, citing to numerous Appellate Court decisions that had been critical of Respondent's conduct as a prosecutor as the basis for its conclusion that Respondent was not qualified to be a judge.

8. Following the Council's report, internet blogger and attorney Jack Leyhane ("Leyhane") posted a link to the report on his blog, which was entitled, "For What It's Worth," and which was located at www.leyhane.blogspot.com.

9. On October 24, 2008, Respondent sent an e-mail to Leyhane in which she stated that the Council report as it applied to her had been "dishonest" and "misleading" to the voting public. She went on to state the following:

***

The simple fact is that had they or anyone else asked or researched the truth about these accusations at all, they could find that I had a full and complete hearing in the ARDC, the board that regulates conduct and was completely cleared.

***

I have never flouted any court ruling or admonishment. This fact was recognized by no less august a tribunal than the ARDC…

***

10. At the end of her e-mail to Leyhane, Respondent stated that she hoped Leyhane would print her e-mail in his blog. She further stated that he was free to use her comments on his blog with her name attached.

11. On November 2, 2008, Leyhane posted Respondent's e-mail, including the comments listed in paragraph nine, above, in their entirety on his blog.

12. The statements made by Respondent in paragraph nine above, were false and Respondent knew they were false at the time she made them, because there is no method by which one can "research" whether confidential investigations have taken place at the ARDC, at no time had Respondent's conduct been the subject of proceedings before the Hearing Board, let alone the "full and complete hearing" she claimed, nor had the Inquiry Board "recognized" that Respondent "never flouted any court ruling or admonishment," and at no time was she "cleared" of conduct by the ARDC.

13. By reason of the conduct outlined above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:

  1. making misleading communications about the lawyer or the lawyer's services in violation of Rule 7.1 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990);

  2. as a candidate for judicial office, failing to comply with Rule 62, Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, in violation of Rule 8.2(b) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990);

  3. conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(4) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990);

  4. conduct which is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990); and,

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

COUNT II
(Improper closing argument by a prosecutor in relation to the Jackson matter)

14. On April 29, 2002, Steven Jackson ("Jackson") was charged with home invasion and first degree murder of Tonette Waters. That matter was docketed as People of the State of Illinois v. Steven Jackson, case number 02 CR 10939, in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

15. Between August 24, 2005, and August 26, 2005, while Respondent knew that the Commission's Inquiry Board was considering whether to bring formal disciplinary charges against Respondent based on her conduct and statements in the criminal matters described in paragraph two, above, Respondent appeared on behalf of the State before the Honorable Joseph G. Kazmierski in case number 02 CR 10939 for the purpose of conducting a jury trial against Jackson.

16. During her closing argument in case number 02 CR 10939, Respondent made the following arguments in relation to the victim's daughter, Varielle, who had witnessed the crime:

What if Varielle had run out the door? Would they have shot her too? Yes, but they counted on the fact these little kids wouldn't be able to identify anybody, that the little girl would be small, so the one that had to be killed is Tonette Waters.

17. At all times alleged in this complaint, case law related to closing and rebuttal arguments provided that it was improper to make comments which were not based on the facts in evidence or upon reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, or which served only to arouse the passions of the jury.

18. At all times alleged in this complaint, Respondent knew or should have known that it was improper to make comments which were not based on the facts in evidence or upon reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, or which served only to arouse the passions of the jury.

19. Respondent's statements, as described in paragraph 16, above, were improper, and Respondent knew that these comments were improper at the time she made them because they were not based on the facts in evidence or upon reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, and served only to arouse the passions of the jury.

20. Following the trial and sentencing hearing, Jackson was convicted of home invasion and first degree murder of Tonette Waters. Jackson appealed his conviction, alleging in part, that Respondent's arguments were so egregious that they denied him a fair trial.

21. On December 18, 2008, the Appellate Court of Illinois issued an opinion concluding that Respondent's argument in case number 02 CR 10939 that the victim's daughter would have been shot had she tried to leave the apartment was "deeply troubling." While the Appellate Court upheld Jackson's conviction, it determined that Respondent's comments had been "inappropriate" and "troubling." People of the State of Illinois v. Steven Jackson, No. 1-05-3927 (December 18, 2008).

22. By reason of the conduct outlined above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:

  1. alluding to a matter that the lawyer did not reasonably believe was relevant, in violation of Rule 3.3(a)(10) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990);

  2. failing to conform her conduct to the duty of a public prosecutor to seek justice, not merely convict, in violation of Rule 3.8 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990);

  3. using means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, in violation of Rule 4.4 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct;

  4. conduct which is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990); and,

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

COUNT III
(Improper closing argument by a prosecutor in relation to the Burton matter)

23. On March 6, 1996, Sharon Burton ("Burton") was charged with first degree murder of her daughter, Dominique. That matter was docketed as People of the State of Illinois v. Sharon Burton, case number 96 CR 0471901, in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

24. Between July 13, 1999 and July 19, 1999, Respondent appeared on behalf of the State before the Honorable John J. Moran in case number 96 CR0471901 for the purpose of conducting a jury trial against Burton.

25. During her rebuttal closing argument in case number 96 CR 0471901, Respondent repeatedly referred to Burton as "Mother Theresa" or "June Cleaver" in a sarcastic attempt to ridicule Burton and arouse the passions of the jury.

26. At all times alleged in this complaint, case law related to closing and rebuttal arguments provided that it was improper to make comments which served only to arouse the passions of the jury.

27. At all times alleged in this complaint, Respondent knew or should have known that it was improper to make comments which served only to arouse the passions of the jury.

28. Respondent's statements, as described in paragraph 25, above, were improper, and Respondent knew that these comments were improper at the time she made them, because they served only to arouse the passions of the jury.

29. Following the trial and sentencing hearing, Burton was convicted of first degree murder. Burton appealed her conviction alleging in part, that Respondent's arguments were so egregious that they denied her a fair trial.

30. On March 31, 2003, the Appellate Court of Illinois issued an opinion which stated that the Court had found Respondent's references in case number 96 CR0471901 to Burton as "Mother Theresa" or "June Cleaver" to be an "unnecessary use of sarcasm." The Appellate Court, however, did not reverse Burton's conviction based on Respondent's comments. People of the State of Illinois v. Sharon Burton, 272 Ill.Dec. 916, 788 N.E.2d. 220 (Ill. App. 1 Dist. 2003).

31. By reason of the conduct outlined above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:

  1. alluding to a matter that the lawyer did not reasonably believe was relevant, in violation of Rule 3.3(a)(10) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990);

  2. failing to conform her conduct to the duty of a public prosecutor to seek justice, not merely convict, in violation of Rule 3.8 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990);

  3. using means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, in violation of Rule 4.4 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct;

  4. conduct which is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990); and,

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

COUNT IV
(Improper closing argument by a prosecutor in relation to the Davis matter)

32. On December 25, 1998, Willie Davis ("Davis") was charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault. That matter was docketed as People of the State of Illinois v. Willie Davis, case number 98 CR 29752, in the Circuit Court of Cook County .

33. Between February 5, 2001, and February 9, 2001, Respondent appeared on behalf of the State in case number 98 CR 29752 for the purpose of conducting the trial and a hearing on all related matters.

34. During her closing and rebuttal arguments in case number 98 CR 29752, Respondent characterized two defense witnesses as "nasty," "a jerk," "buffoons," and respectively, the worst and second-worst witnesses to cross the courtroom floor. She further made the following comments regarding the location of a purported weapon and the ability of the rape victim to properly identify the defendant, in a sarcastic attempt to arouse the passions of the jury:

***

[He] got rid of the book bag, which by the way has the knife in it.

***

[G]ive me a break, rape victim it's really tough to be a rape victim now because you don't describe the skull cap, describe it with the exact color and fiber content. Hold on a minute Mr. Rapist, I know that you're about to plunge your penis in me, but I think I need to take a picture of you so I won't get blamed later on in court for forgetting anything. Hold on Mr. Rapist, let me take a video of you so I won't call it five o'clock shadow versus a goatee.

***

35. At all times alleged in this complaint, case law related to closing and rebuttal arguments provided that it was improper to make comments which served only to arouse the passions of the jury.

36. At all times alleged in this complaint, Respondent knew or should have known that it was improper to make comments which served only to arouse the passions of the jury.

37. Respondent's statements, as described in paragraph 34, above, were improper, and Respondent knew that these comments were improper at the time she made them because they served only to arouse the passions of the jury.

38. Following the trial and sentencing hearing, Davis was convicted of kidnapping and aggravated criminal sexual assault. Davis appealed his conviction, alleging in part, that Respondent's arguments were so egregious that they denied him a fair trial.

39. On May 7, 2004, the Appellate Court of Illinois issued an opinion that stated, in part, that the Court had been "troubled" by the sarcastic tone of Respondent's comments. Although the Court did not reverse the conviction, it stated that some of Respondent's comments "clearly exceed the bounds of proper comment based on evidence." People of the State of Illinois v. Willie Davis, 331 Ill.Dec. 535, 911 N.E.2d 5 (Ill. App. 1 Dist. 2005).

40. By reason of the conduct outlined above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:

  1. alluding to a matter that the lawyer did not reasonably believe was relevant, in violation of Rule 3.3(a)(10) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990);

  2. failing to conform her conduct to the duty of a public prosecutor to seek justice, not merely convict, in violation of Rule 3.8 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990);

  3. using means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, in violation of Rule 4.4 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct;

  4. conduct which is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990); and,

  5. conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to 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.

Melissa A. Smart
Counsel for the Administrator
One Prudential Plaza
130 East Randolph Drive, Suite 1500
Chicago, Illinois 60601-6219
Telephone: (312) 565-2600
Respectfully submitted,

Jerome Larkin, Administrator
Attorney Registration and
Disciplinary Commission

By:   Melissa A. Smart