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

In the Matter of:

ELIZABETH JANE BARRINGER,

Attorney-Respondent, 

No.  6291380.

 

Commission No.   2011PR00079

FILED -  July 5, 2011

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, Elizabeth Jane Barringer, who was licensed to practice law in the State of Illinois on May 10, 2007, 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:

(Respondent's improper ex parte emails with arbitrator Jennifer Teague)

1. At all times described in this complaint, Respondent was an associate at the law firm of Hennessy & Roach, P.C.

2. At all times described in this complaint, Jennifer Teague ("Teague") was an arbitrator with the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission ("WCC"). Respondent appeared in front of Teague while representing various respondent-employers before the WCC.

3. Teague and Respondent were social friends who frequently emailed each other about personal matters.

4. In the years 2009 and 2010, Respondent and Teague also exchanged ex parte emails about cases pending before Teague at the WCC.

5. On February 11, 2009, Respondent and Teague exchanged emails, on an ex parte basis, regarding the case of Linda Brewer v. Walgreens, WCC case number 07 WC 03831. Teague sent Respondent 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?"

6. On February 11, 2009, Respondent responded to Teague 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."

7. On February 11, 2009, Teague replied to Respondent, without copying opposing counsel, stating:

"We can do a conference on Friday at 1030. . . [arbitrator'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."

8. On September 1, 2010, Respondent sent Teague 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."

9. Later on September 1, 2010, Respondent sent Teague 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."

10. On September 1, 2010, Teague sent Respondent 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."

11. On September 1, 2010, Respondent replied to Teague in an ex parte email about the pro se litigant: "No one is going to touch her case after what we offered her because there is no way they would be able to collect a fee. Plus she's insane."

12. Still later in the exchange that day, Respondent sent Teague an ex parte email stating:

"True. I think she's bipolar because she just called back and now wants $1500 more to resolve her claim so hopefully I'll just have to get the contract approved. I should be a candidate for sainthood after dealing with her."

13. Respondent was aware of the ex parte nature of the comments described above, and did nothing to notify her opposing counsel or parties of the comments.

14. Respondent and Teague also made disparaging comments in ex parte emails about Respondent's opposing counsel in various cases.

15. On August 2, 2010, Respondent and Teague were exchanging ex parte emails regarding the petitioner's counsel in Billy White v. Xenia Mfg, WCC case number 07 WC 41010 and Teague made a comment in an email about counsel's sunburn.

16. On August 2, 2010, Respondent responded to Teague's email, on an ex parte basis, stating:

"Idiot. I bet he looks like a lobster and will be walking stiff and awkward b/c it hurts to move. I left a message saying we could wait until Belleville to discuss but no response yet. I think he's going for the sympathy factor. Hell, he even threw in a kid comment;" and, "He wants some attention from you. ; ) Don't you feel special."

17. On December 1, 2009, Fritz Levenhagen ("Levenhagen"), who represented the petitioner in Matthew Horn v. Walgreens Distributing Center, WCC case number 08 WC 30648, sent Respondent a letter via email about settlement, and copied Teague. On December 1, 2009, Teague responded, via email to Levenhagen and Respondent, complaining that she had been improperly copied on the letter.

18. On December 3, 2009, Levenhagen sent an email apologizing to Respondent and Teague for the email described in paragraph 17, above. Respondent then sent Teague an ex parte email about Levenhagen, stating: "Day late and a dollar short." Teague responded, ex parte, to Respondent: "Ya think??"

19. On December 8, 2010, Levenhagen wrote to Respondent about the Horn case, suggesting that Respondent and Teague had had an ex parte conversation about the case. Respondent forwarded part of the letter to Teague, and copied Levenhagen, and stated, in part, that she (Respondent) found "the mere suggestion of improper conduct appalling."

20. On September 1, 2010, Respondent and Teague exchanged ex parte emails about Respondent's opposing counsel in Brenda Stewart v. Addus, WCC case number 07 WC 36072. Teague sent Respondent an ex parte email about Respondent's opposing counsel, stating: "Well his letter is poorly written then. It says its set for hearing, but also that he wants a continuance. What a dumb ass. I will note it's set for trial."

21. On September 1, 2010, Respondent responded to Teague, through an ex parte email in the Stewart case: "Oh, it was embarrassingly terrible."

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

  1. in an adversary proceeding, a lawyer shall not communicate, or cause another to communicate, as to the merits of the cause with a judge or an officiate before whom the proceeding is pending, in violation of 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.

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

  1. communicating ex parte with a judge or other official during a proceeding, in violation of Rule 3.5(b) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (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 Conduct (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 Church
        Counsel for the Administrator