BEFORE THE HEARING BOARD
ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION
In the Matter of:
TINA MARIE JACOBS,
Commission No. 2013PR00064
FILED --- June 26, 2013
Jerome Larkin, Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, by his attorneys, James A. Doppke, Jr. and Scott Renfroe, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 753(b), complains of Respondent, Tina Marie Jacobs, who was licensed to practice law in the State of Illinois on November 7, 1985, 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, and which subjects Respondent to discipline pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 770:
(Falsifying evidence in relation to Herbert and Julie McDowell)
1. In January 2012, Respondent agreed to represent Heartland Bank in connection with two loans it had made in 2007 to Herbert O. McDowell, III and Julie McDowell. The loans were secured by two residential properties the McDowells owned that were located in Illinois and Michigan, and were guaranteed by United Financial Group, Ltd. and Creative Consultants, Ltd., both of which were Illinois business entities owned or operated by the McDowells.
2. On January 18, 2012, Respondent caused several letters to be sent to the McDowells, and to United Financial Group and Creative Consultants, concerning the debt to Heartland Bank. She caused copies of each letter to be sent by regular and certified mail. In the January 18, 2012 letters, Respondent notified the McDowells of the amounts due under their loans, and of the fact that Heartland had accelerated the debt.
3. As of January 18, 2012, as Respondent knew, the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, 735 ILCS 5/5-1502.5(c), provided, inter alia, as follows:
[I]f a mortgage secured by residential real estate becomes delinquent by more than 30 days the mortgagee shall send via U.S. mail a notice advising the mortgagor that he or she may wish to seek approved housing counseling. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Section, nothing shall preclude the mortgagor and mortgagee from communicating with each other during the initial 30 days of delinquency or reaching agreement on a sustainable loan workout plan, or both.
No foreclosure action under Part 15 of Article XV of the Code of Civil Procedure shall be instituted on a mortgage secured by residential real estate before mailing the notice described in this subsection (c).
The notice required in this subsection (c) shall state the date on which the notice was mailed, shall be headed in bold 14-point type "GRACE PERIOD NOTICE", and shall state the following in 14-point type: "YOUR LOAN IS MORE THAN 30 DAYS PAST DUE. YOU MAY BE EXPERIENCING FINANCIAL DIFFICULTY. IT MAY BE IN YOUR BEST INTEREST TO SEEK APPROVED HOUSING COUNSELING. YOU HAVE A GRACE PERIOD OF 30 DAYS FROM THE DATE OF THIS NOTICE TO OBTAIN APPROVED HOUSING COUNSELING. DURING THE GRACE PERIOD, THE LAW PROHIBITS US FROM TAKING ANY LEGAL ACTION AGAINST YOU. YOU MAY BE ENTITLED TO AN ADDITIONAL 30 DAY GRACE PERIOD IF YOU OBTAIN HOUSING COUNSELING FROM AN APPROVED HOUSING COUNSELING AGENCY. A LIST OF APPROVED COUNSELING AGENCIES MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF FINANCIAL AND PROFESSIONAL REGULATION."
4. Because Heartland Bank's loans to the McDowells were secured by residential real estate, 735 ILCS 5/5-1502.5 required Respondent to send the McDowells the "grace period notice" referred to in paragraph three, above, prior to filing any foreclosure action against the McDowells on behalf of Heartland Bank.
5. Respondent did not include the "grace period notice" in any of the letters she sent to the McDowells, or to United Financial Group or Creative Consultants, on January 18, 2012, or at any other time prior to filing a foreclosure action on behalf of Heartland Bank.
6. On February 16, 2012, Herbert O. McDowell, III wrote Respondent a letter in which he acknowledged receiving at least one copy of her January 18, 2012 letter, and he demanded that she produce to him information regarding the debt and the loan history. McDowell also notified Respondent that he had retained attorney David P. Leibowitz to represent him in connection with the matter. Respondent produced the requested information to Leibowitz shortly thereafter.
7. On March 6, 2012, Respondent filed a foreclosure action against the McDowells on behalf of Heartland Bank. The matter was received and docketed by the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County as Heartland Bank & Trust Company v. McDowell, et al., no. 12 CH 8214.
8. On June 6, 2012, the McDowells, through Leibowitz, filed an answer to the complaint in case number 12 CH 8214. In their first affirmative defense to the complaint, the McDowells claimed that they had not received the "grace period notice" as required by 735 ILCS 5/5-1502.5(c).
9. Shortly thereafter, Respondent reviewed her file in connection with case number 12 CH 8214, and was unable to locate a copy of any letter she caused to be sent to the McDowells that included the "grace period notice." Respondent also reviewed documents on a computer server maintained by her firm, Jacobs & Pinta, and she was unable to locate any documents maintained on that server that contained the text of any letter she caused to be sent to the McDowells including the "grace period notice."
10. On or about August 28, 2012, Respondent caused a document to be created that purported to be a letter to the McDowells dated January 18, 2012 and containing the "grace period notice." Respondent wrote the letter in longhand, and gave it to her then-secretary, Valerie Schubert, to type and print. Respondent revised the document at least twice, until Schubert created a final version that Respondent approved.
11. Respondent knew that the document referred to in paragraph 10, above, was not a genuine copy of a letter she caused to be sent to the McDowells.
12. On September 5, 2012, Respondent filed a motion to strike the McDowells' answer and affirmative defenses in case number 12 CH 8214. Respondent attached the purported "grace period notice" letter referred to in paragraph 10, above, to the motion. Further, in an affidavit she also attached to the motion, Respondent claimed, falsely, that the purported "grace period notice" letter referred to in paragraph 10, above, was a true and correct copy of a letter that she sent to the McDowells on January 18, 2012. As Respondent knew, that statement was false.
13. Thereafter, the parties in case number 12 CH 8214 entered into a briefing schedule regarding the motion to strike. The McDowells did not file a response to the motion. The court in case number 12 CH 8214 then set Respondent's motion to strike for hearing on February 6, 2013.
14. On or about December 20, 2012, Schubert submitted to the Administrator a request to investigate Respondent in relation to the conduct described in paragraphs one through 12, above. In the request, Schubert stated that Respondent had directed her to create the purported "grace period notice" letter referred to in paragraph 10, above. The Administrator received Schubert's request on December 20, 2012, and docketed investigation number 2012IN06216 in relation to it.
15. On January 28, 2013, the Administrator sent Respondent a letter requesting her response to the matters set forth in Schubert's request for investigation. Shortly thereafter, Respondent again reviewed her file in connection with case number 12 CH 8214, and she determined to withdraw her motion to strike the McDowells' answer and affirmative defenses in light of Schubert's report to the Administrator that Respondent had instructed Schubert to create the purported "grace period notice" referred to in paragraph 10, above.
16. Respondent appeared before the Hon. Jean Prendergast Rooney at the February 6, 2013 hearing in case number 12 CH 8214, but neither Leibowitz nor the McDowells appeared. Respondent informed Judge Rooney that she was withdrawing her motion to strike the McDowells' answer and affirmative defenses. Judge Rooney then asked Respondent if she anticipated that the matter would be settled, and Respondent replied in the affirmative. Judge Rooney did not ask, and Respondent did not state, the reason why Respondent was withdrawing the motion.
17. After the February 6, 2013 hearing date, case number 12 CH 8214 remained pending, but no further hearing dates were set. Respondent and Leibowitz then participated in negotiating a settlement of the parties' claims in the case, and the parties formally agreed to settle the matter in or about April 2013.
18. By reason of the conduct described above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:
making a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal, in violation of Rule 3.3(a)(1) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010);
offering evidence that the lawyer knows to be false, in violation of Rule 3.3(a)(3) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010);
falsifying evidence, in violation of Rule 3.4(b) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010);
conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(c) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010);
engage 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
conduct which tends to bring the courts and the legal profession into disrepute.
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.
James A. Doppke, Jr.
Jerome Larkin, Administrator