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

In the Matter of:

JENNIFER L. TEAGUE,

Attorney-Respondent, 

No. 6255716.

 

Commission No. 2011PR00076   

FILED - February 28, 2012

AMENDED COMPLAINT

Jerome Larkin, Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, by his attorney, Denise Church, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 753(b), complains of Respondent, Jennifer L. Teague, who was licensed to practice law in the State of Illinois on November 5, 1998, 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
(Respondent's improper attempt to expedite payment of a settlement in her own workers'
compensation case
)

1. At all times described in this complaint, Respondent was employed as an arbitrator at the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission ("WCC"). Respondent's duties included conducting trials on disputed cases and issuing decisions in those cases.

2. One of the cases assigned to Respondent was Jo Anderson v. Big Muddy River Correctional Center, WCC case number 06 WC 012880. In that matter, the respondent, Big Muddy Correctional Center, was represented by Assistant Attorney General Teresa Omachi ("Omachi") and the petitioner was represented by David Nelson ("Nelson").

3. On or about June 17, 2010, Respondent submitted her own claim for relief under the Workers' Compensation Act for injuries Respondent claimed to have sustained during her employment as an arbitrator with the WCC. Teague v. Workers' Compensation Commission, WCC case number 2010 WC 23186.

4. In July 2010, the Governor of the State of Illinois issued an order requiring certain state employees, including Respondent, to use 24 non-paid furlough days over the next 12 months.

5. On August 5, 2010, Omachi learned that Respondent had cancelled an August 8, 2010 hearing date previously set in the Anderson case, because Respondent was going to use one of her mandated furlough days on the August 8 hearing date. Omachi then emailed Respondent and Nelson to suggest a hearing date in September 2010. Respondent received Omachi's email.

6. Later on August 5, 2010, Respondent called Omachi on the telephone and told Omachi that the Anderson case would "never be heard," because Respondent was choosing to take her furlough days on the days that would normally be used for the Anderson case on the Mt. Vernon docket.

7. In the August 5 telephone call, Respondent asked Omachi if Susan LeMasters ("LeMasters"), an employee at Central Management Services (CMS), could help Respondent get paid on her workers' compensation case without having to wait the requisite 180-day waiting period for payment on settled cases. Respondent also told Omachi that she was "strapped" and paying two mortgages.

8. During the phone call, Respondent asked Omachi if Omachi thought Respondent should settle, or take her case to hearing. Omachi told Respondent that she did not know what Respondent should do about her workers' compensation case.

9. Respondent then told Omachi if the 180-day waiting period in her case was reduced or waived, she would give Omachi a setting in the Anderson case.

10. Respondent also told Omachi that she (Respondent) was considering asking Tom Rich ("Rich"), an attorney who had several cases pending before Respondent, talk to LeMasters on Respondent's behalf.

11. On August 4, 2010, Respondent was conducting the docket call in Herrin, Illinois, and several lawyers were present, including Rich's associate, Kristy Cooksey ("Cooksey"), and another Assistant Attorney General, Farah Hagan ("Hagan"). Respondent asked Cooksey if Rich had called LeMasters yet on Respondent's behalf. Cooksey responded that she did not know.

12. Respondent then stated to Cooksey, in the presence of Hagan, that if the waiting period for payment was reduced on Respondent's claim, which had not yet settled, Respondent would not take furlough days on Thursdays in Mt. Vernon. Respondent then smiled at Hagan and stated "then Teresa [Omachi] could try the Anderson case."

13. Respondent was attempting to advance her own case, by offering to provide hearing dates to Omachi in the Anderson case in exchange for a prompt payment in Respondent's own workers' compensation case.

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

  1. engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(c) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Responsibility (2010);

  2. engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Responsibility (2010); and

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

COUNT II
(Respondent's improper statements regarding the Jo Anderson case)

15. The Administrator realleges paragraphs 1 - 13 of Count I, above.

16. On October 21, 2009, Nelson, the petitioner's counsel in the Anderson case, sent an email to Omachi and Respondent in which Nelson alleged that a witness and widower of the petitioner in the case, Vic Anderson, was being harassed by DOC employees. Nelson asked Omachi to do something to end the harassment. Respondent received a copy of the email.

17. On October 21, 2009, before Omachi could respond to the email, and before there was a hearing on whether any harassment by DOC employees occurred, Respondent sent an email to Nelson and Omachi in which Respondent stated:

"Let me be EXTREMELY clear: I will tear into these people like they have never seen. Penalties on death benefits would also not be a good scenario. These people are not helping anyone, and it needs to stop."

18. Respondent's statement that she would "tear into these people," prior to any hearing in the matter, demonstrated that she had prejudged the actions of the DOC employees in the Anderson case.

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

  1. engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Responsibility (2010); and

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

COUNT III
(Respondent's efforts to conduct a public hearing away from the media and improper ex parte
emails with petitioner's counsel - Matthew Mitchell
)

20. On November 23, 2007, Illinois State Police ("ISP") officer Matthew Mitchell ("Mitchell") was responding to a call when he lost control of his vehicle, crossed a median, and struck another vehicle head-on, instantly killing the occupants of the other vehicle, 13-year-old Jessica Uhl and 18-year-old Kelli Uhl. Mitchell was driving over 100 m.p.h. at the time of the collision. Mitchell had been sending an email to another officer and calling his girlfriend on his cell phone just before the collision. In March 2008, Mitchell was indicted on charges relating to incident, in People v. Matthew Mitchell, St. Clair County, case number 08 CF 368. On April 16, 2010, Mitchell pled guilty to two counts of reckless homicide. On April 16, 2010, the court sentenced Mitchell to 30 months of probation.

21. On September 13, 2010, Mitchell filed an application for adjustment of benefits with the WCC, seeking payment for injuries he had sustained in the collision described in paragraph 20, above. The case was docketed as Matthew Mitchell v. Illinois State Police, WCC case number 10 WC 035184. Mitchell was represented by Kerry O'Sullivan ("O'Sullivan") in his claim. The ISP was represented by Assistant Attorney General William Schneider ("Schneider").

22. Mitchell's request for workers' compensation benefits generated a substantial amount of publicity in print and electronic media.

23. In September 2008, at the Belleville docket, Respondent spoke to O'Sullivan about the amount of publicity Mitchell was generating, and told O'Sullivan that she might hold the hearing on a special setting to reduce media attention. O'Sullivan told she would be interested in such a setting.

24. On October 14, 2010, at 10:48 a.m., O'Sullivan sent an email to Respondent and Schneider stating that she would not be proceeding with her request for a hearing in the Mitchell case, because the State was disputing that Mitchell's claim was compensable.

25. On October 14, 2010, at 10:58 a.m., Respondent responded to O'Sullivan, via email, on an ex parte basis: "Seriously????????? I cannot believe they are bringing this on themselves!"

26. O'Sullivan then responded to Respondent's email, at 11:01 a.m., without copying Schneider:

"I think so too. The defense appears to be that he was acting so recklessly it takes it out of ‘arising out of'. But by that argument, any goofus who pulls a guard off of a machine and then gets his hand chomped off is out of WC too. I don't get it. I recommended a pretrial on the issue of compensability, but Bill said it would not help."

27. On the same date, Respondent responded to O'Sullivan at 11:10 a.m., without copying Schneider:

"Then it is the adjuster calling the shots. It will likely go up on appeal too. Whatever. Perhaps the State should have thought of that before they threw 2 young attorneys to be chomped up by Tom Keefe in the Court of Claims hearing. Get a copy of that transcript, and I'd say they are bound by the stipulation. Not sure whey [sic] they think they are not bound. I agree he was reckless, but stupidity is no defense, and neither is contrib."

28. On October 18, 2010, at 1:24 p.m., Respondent sent O'Sullivan an email in which Respondent stated:

"We should talk privately about the December trial of Mitchell. The News Democrat was there today asking about the trial setting." The News Democrat is a newspaper.

Respondent did not copy the other side.

29. On October 18, 2010, at 1:34 p.m., O'Sullivan sent an email to Respondent in response to Respondent's email, stating:

"I did not talk to the News Democrat or anyone else for that matter. Glad I missed it. Are they just going to start showing up every month? Ugh, I hope not. I am certainly on board with any special setting to avoid any news. I spoke briefly with Bill Schneider about a special setting or something and he seemed agreeable."

30. On October 18, 2010, at 1:36 p.m., Respondent sent another email to O'Sullivan, but not Schneider, in which Respondent stated:

"She [Belleville News Democrat reporter] came up and talked with Tricia [the court reporter]. There is nothing I can do to keep them out of a public hearing, but will be more than willing to do a special setting and an unknown place and time! We can chat in November or early December and pick a date and location. Just a heads up that they were there. They also told Tricia they were going to call the Collinsville office too trying to get a setting date and time. They are persistent!"

31. On November 8, 2010, at 2:09 p.m., Respondent sent O'Sullivan, but not Schneider, an email stating:

"Hey on a side note, my schedule is filling, and I'd like to get the Mitchell thing on the books as quietly as possible. Your thought?"

32. On November 30, 2010, O'Sullivan sent Respondent and Schneider an email about setting the Mitchell case, and stated:

"I spoke with Attorney Bill Schneider regarding scheduling and proposed that the three of us engage in a conference call sometime after 12-7-10 to discuss an off-docket trial of this matter to prevent or reduce any media attention. Attorney Schneider is on board with engaging in such a telephone scheduling conference."

33. On December 1, 2010, at 10:33 a.m., Respondent sent an email to Schneider and O'Sullivan about the Mitchell hearing, and stated:

"Again I ask that neither of you discuss when the trial will be, only to avoid potential press coverage. It is a public hearing, but I do not believe we have to advertise when it is going to be tried."

34. On November 30, 2010, at 3:54 p.m., Respondent sent an email to the court reporter who would be transcribing the Mitchell workers' compensation hearing, in which Respondent stated:

"I need you to get some dates together for me when you are available in December to report the Mitchell trial in Collinsville. We are going to try and do it on the sly with no press."

35. On December 8, 2010, Respondent conducted a conference call with O'Sullivan and Schneider. Respondent scheduled the case to be tried on December 17, 2010, not a normal setting date for the Belleville docket. Respondent set the case to be heard in the Collinsville WCC office. Respondent told O'Sullivan and Schneider that the time and place of the hearing should be kept secret, and that if she learned that if the special setting "got out" and O'Sullivan's firm was responsible, Respondent would be "pissed."

36. On December 17, 2010, Respondent began the hearing in the Mitchell case in the Collinsville office, in a hearing room with the door closed. No members of the press were present at the beginning of the hearing.

37. About ten minutes after the hearing started, a reporter knocked on the door and entered the hearing room.

38. After the hearing was completed, Respondent sent O'Sullivan, who had left the building, a text asking her to return to the Collinsville office. O'Sullivan returned to the Collinsville office and she, Schneider and Respondent discussed the fact that the newspaper reporter had been present at the hearing. Respondent was upset and demanded to know how the reporter found out about the hearing. Respondent then instructed O'Sullivan and Schneider to say, if asked, that the reason for the special setting in the case was due to a scheduling conflict.

39. Respondent knew that the reason for the special setting was not due to a scheduling conflict, but due to her efforts to conduct the hearing away from the media.

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

  1. by engaging in ex parte conversations with O'Sullivan, knowingly assisting or inducing another person to violate a Rule of Professional Conduct (Rule 3.5(b)), in violation of Rule 8.4(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct;

  2. engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Responsibility (2010); and

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

COUNT IV
(Respondent's improper ex parte emails to counsel at Hennessy & Roach)

41. At all times described in this Count, Respondent was an arbitrator with the WCC whose docket assignment included cases handled by Caryn Nadenbush ("Nadenbush") and Elizabeth Barringer ("Barringer"), attorneys at the Hennessy & Roach law firm.

42. In 2009 and 2010, Respondent and Nadenbush, and Respondent and Barringer, were friends. In addition to personal emails, Respondent and Nadenbush, and Respondent and Barringer, exchanged ex parte emails about cases pending before Respondent at the WCC.

43. On May 27, 2009, Nadenbush sent Respondent an email, without copying the opposing counsel, regarding the Clarissa Blakemore v. Walgreens' Distributing case, WCC case number 04 WC 56120 stating:

"FYI, Keith Short refuses to discuss settlement with me and is pushing to finish the trial on 6/3. I don't have a problem with that, but can we get scheduled first? I have all those witnesses and I don't want to have to ask them to sit around all day again after they've already done it once. And I'm not sure what Keith is wanting at this point. I think I told you he demanded $50k, for full and final before lunch last trial day, then wouldn't accept it after lunch. Then he upped his demand to $80k, but said he hadn't talked to his client yet. WTF??"

44. On May 27, 2009, Respondent responded, on an ex parte basis, to Nadenbush's email as follows:

"Where did we leave off in the trial? Did you cross her? How much time do you think it will take to finish? I think we should just finish the trial and you say F him. He's clearly jerking you around. You can go first on Wednesday, no problem."

45. On March 31, 2010, the petitioner's counsel in Pound v. Henderson Trucking, WCC case number 09 WC 35163 sent Nadenbush, who represented Pound's employer, an email with a demand for 30% MAW ("man as whole"). On this date, the Pound case was pending before Respondent.

46. On March 31, 2010, Nadenbush sent Respondent a copy of the email without sending a copy to opposing counsel. Nadenbush and Respondent agreed in a further ex parte email exchange the settlement demand of 30% MAW was too high, and that 5% MAW was an appropriate settlement amount.

47. As of 2010, the case of Deanna Croghan v. Walgreens' Distribution Center, WCC case number 08 WC 13379 was pending on the Mount Vernon WCC docket before Respondent. Nadenbush represented the employer-respondent. At issue in the Croghan case was whether certain medical bills relating to Croghan's thoracic outlet syndrome were causally connected to a work-related injury.

48. On May 12, 2010, Deanna Croghan's ("Croghan") lawyer, Fritz Levenhagen ("Levenhagen"), was taking the evidence deposition of one of Croghan's doctors; the deposition was set for 2:00 p.m. At 1:12 p.m., Nadenbush sent Respondent an ex parte email stating: "what do you think bilateral thoracic outlet syndrome is worth?" Respondent responded, on an ex parte basis, to Nadenbush: "40 to 50 MAW??? Let me do a little checking …give me 10." Nadenbush then sent Respondent an email, without sending a copy to Levenhagen, stating: "No hurry. She had full duty release, no problems, and is actually better than before (the problem sees [sic] to have started following an auto accident)."

49. On October 28, 2010, opposing counsel sent Nadebush and Respondent an email stating that they were trying to resolve a specific case on the Mount Vernon docket by the end of the year. Nadenbush then sent an email response, only to Respondent, stating:

"That won't happen. It's already November. I have no records and no settlement demand. Not to mention, I've been waiting three months for a response to an offer I made on another case. Think early spring."

50. Respondent then sent Nadebush and email, without copying opposing counsel, and said she (Respondent) thought she would "force a trial" in the case before early spring.

51. On February 11, 2009, Barringer and Respondent exchanged emails, on an ex parte basis, regarding the case of Linda Brewer v. Walgreens, WCC case number 07 WC 03831. Respondent sent Barringer an ex parte email stating: "One case will be tried, both if you want. He [opposing counsel] needs to pick a trial day. Is this a N&E [nature and extent] case?"

52. On February 11, 2009, Barringer responded to Respondent in an ex parte email:

"No, one of the two surgeries has been disputed on the knee claims along with the corresponding medical and TTD. Another issue are [sic] the bills themselves because she treated at the same facility for the knee and ankle so the bills have been merged together. That was something we wanted to talk to you about because we were hoping to try all claims together if she ever stops treating on her ankle."

53. On February 11, 2009, Respondent replied to Barringer, without copying opposing counsel, stating:

"We can do a conference on Friday at 1030. . . [Respondent's phone number omitted]. I am not merging cases. The knee case will be tried or I will have K's in hand next week. It will be someone's job to sort the bills out. Even if we tried them together, I could say yes to knee and no to ankle and still have the same problem. The case will be tried."

54. On September 1, 2010, Barringer sent Respondent an ex parte email stating:

"Don't forget about my pro se from hell who will be dead last in the pro se line. She told me yesterday that she intends to ‘fight with everyone' at the docket. I'm seriously about to say screw her and instruct the insurance company to close their file."

55. Later on September 1, 2010, Barringer sent Respondent an ex parte email stating:

"FYI. Crazy pro se is a no go for Tuesday. She went off the hook this morning and is unwilling to be cooperative to a ‘pre-trial' so her claim has been closed upon she obtains an attorney."

56. On September 1, 2010, Respondent sent Barringer a responsive email, on an ex parte basis, stating: "all you can hope now is that she doesn't get an atty and the statute runs. Stupid people kill me."

57. At all times described in this complaint, Respondent knew that it was improper for Nadenbush and Barringer to contacted Respondent on an ex parte basis about cases pending before Respondent.

58. Respondent, Nadenbush, and Barringer also exchanged ex parte emails making disparaging remarks about Nadenbush's and Barringer's opposing counsel in case pending before Respondent, including comments such as calling the opposing counsel an "idiot" (Barringer to Respondent, August 2, 2010); stating that Nadenbush's opposing counsel was "annoying and a bad lawyer" (Respondent to Nadenbush, January 29, 2010); stating that opposing counsel's "f'n exhibits - I can't figure out where the god damn records are and I am pissed!" (Respondent to Nadenbush, March 10, 2010); calling opposing counsel a "dumb ass" (Respondent to Barringer, September 1, 2010); calling opposing counsel an "ass" (Nadebush to Respondent, May 27, 2009).

59. By reason of the conduct outlined above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct prior to January 1, 2010:

  1. inducing another to engage in conduct, or give assistance to another's conduct, when the lawyer knows that conduction will violate these Rules, specifically, Rule 3.5(i) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990);

  2. engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rue 8.4(a)(5) (1990); and

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

60. By reason of the conduct outlined above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct after January 1, 2010:

  1. by engaging in ex parte conversations with Nadenbush and Barringer, knowingly assisting or inducing another person to violate a Rule of Professional Conduct (Rule 3.5(b)), in violation of Rule 8.4(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct;

  2. engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Responsibility (2010); and

  3. engaging in conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or bring the courts or the 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.


Denise Church
Attorney Registration and
Disciplinary Commission
One North Old Capitol Plaza, Suite #333
Springfield, Illinois 62701
Telephone: (217) 522-6838
Respectfully submitted,

Jerome Larkin, Administrator
Attorney Registration and
Disciplinary Commission

By: Denise L. Church 
Counsel for the Administrator