BEFORE THE HEARING BOARD
ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION
In the Matter of:
MARK BRIAN MORAN,
Commission No. 2017PR00012
FILED --- February 24, 2017
Jerome Larkin, Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC), by his attorneys, Tammy L. Evans and Peter L. Rotskoff, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 753(b), complains of Mark Brian Moran, who has been licensed to practice law in Illinois since 1989, and alleges that Respondent has engaged in the following conduct which subjects him to discipline pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 770:
(Improper business transaction with a client)
1. In or before 2010, Respondent created a limited partnership entitled Professional Digital Advancement ("PDA") for the purpose of developing a website (SmartSharks.com) where legal consumers could compare fees and obtain an attorney for certain types of cases at a fixed fee. Respondent was the sole owner, president and general partner of PDA. In 2010 and thereafter, Respondent sought investors for PDA.
2. On July 8, 2009, Attorney P.K. Johnson V (hereinafter "Johnson"), filed a complaint on behalf of Dr. Cleveland and Mrs. Sherrill Rayford (hereinafter "Rayfords") regarding a pending property dispute between the Rayfords and Kevin and Debbie Hazlett (hereinafter "Hazletts"), the Rayfords' neighbor and subdivision developer. The complaint alleged that the Hazletts, and the subdivision homeowners association, violated the declaration of covenants for the subdivision by changing the grade of the Rayfords' land parcel. The complaint sought injunctive and monetary relief. The case was docketed as Rayford et. al. v. Hazlett et. al., case number 09CH639, St. Clair County, Illinois.
3. On December 5, 2010, Respondent met with the Rayfords and Respondent, and the Rayfords and Respondent agreed that Respondent would file a motion to substitute as counsel and represent them in case number 09CH639.
4. During the meeting with the Rayfords on December 5, 2010, Respondent informed them about PDA and informed them of an investment opportunity in the PDA limited partnership.
5. On December 10, 2010, Respondent filed his appearance and motion to substitute as counsel for the Rayfords in case number 09CH639. Respondent continued to represent the Rayfords until at least December 2014.
6. On December 19, 2010, the Rayfords invested $2,250 in PDA by tendering a check to Respondent made payable to "PDA DEV 1.0 LP".
7. On September 25, 2011, the Rayfords invested an additional $4,000 in PDA by tendering a check to Respondent made payable to "PDA DEV 1.0 LP".
8. At no time did Respondent inform the Rayfords, in writing or otherwise, that they could seek the advice of independent legal counsel with regard to the investment transactions nor did Respondent give the Rayfords reasonable time to seek independent counsel.
9. At no time during the representation did Respondent obtain the Rayfords' informed consent, in a writing signed by the Rayfords, to the essential terms of the investment transactions and Respondent's role in the transactions, including whether Respondent was representing the Rayfords in the transactions.
10. At no time did Respondent provide to the Rayfords any limited partnership agreement or other document to show that they had an interest in PDA.
11. In 2014, Respondent created a new limited partnership entitled Free Market Professionals Inc. ("Free Market") and changed the name of the website to "GoodLawyerGoodPrice.com". Respondent registered Free Market as a limited partnership with the State of Missouri. Respondent then transferred the Rayfords' interest in PDA into the Free Market limited partnership.
12. On May 5, 2016, the State of Missouri dissolved Free Market and neither the PDA or Free Market limited partnerships are currently operational.
13. At no time has Respondent returned any portion of the funds that the Rayfords invested in PDA/Free Market.
14. By reason of the conduct described above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:
- entered into a business transaction with a client that was neither fair nor reasonable, without disclosing the terms of the transaction in writing, advising the client to obtain independent advice, or obtaining the client's written consent after disclosure, by obtaining funds from the Rayfords for investment in PDA, in violation of Rule 1.8(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010).
(Lack of diligence and lack of communication in Rayford appeal)
The Administrator realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1 through 13 of Count I above.
15. On June 18, 2014, the court in case number 09CH639, entered judgment in favor of the Hazletts and against the Rayfords. The court's order on June 18, 2014, was a final judgment and a notice of appeal had to be filed within 30 days of the entry of the judgment.
16. On or about June 18, 2014, the Circuit Clerk of St. Clair County mailed a copy of the judgment order in case number 09CH639 to Respondent at his post office box, which was his address of record with the court. Respondent received the order on or about June 19, 2014.
17. At no time before September 17, 2014, did Respondent inform the Rayfords about the judgment order in case number 09CH639. On or about September 17, 2014, Respondent told the Rayfords about the judgment, and they agreed with Respondent that Respondent would attempt to appeal the judgment in case number 09CH639.
18. On October 17, 2014, Respondent filed a motion in the Appellate Court, Fifth District, requesting leave to file a late notice of appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 303. The case was docketed as Rayford et.al. v. Hazlett et.al., case number 5-14-0516
19. On November 7, 2014, the Appellate Court in case 5-14-0516 denied Respondent's motion to file a late notice of appeal and dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
20. By reason of the conduct outlined above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:
failure to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter by conduct including failing to inform the Rayfords about the judgment issued in case number 09CH639 for approximately 90 days after the judgment was entered, in violation of Rule 1.4(a)(3) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010);
failure to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation by failing to inform the Rayfords about the judgment issued in case number 09CH639 for approximately 90 days after the judgment was entered in violation of Rule 1.4(b) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010); and
failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client by conduct including failing to file the motion for leave to file a late notice of appeal until October 17, 2014, and failing to inform the Rayfords about the judgment issued in case number 09CH639 for approximately 60 days after the judgment was entered, in violation of Rule 1.3 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010).
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.
Tammy L. Evans
Jerome Larkin, Administrator