Filed May 25, 2012
In re Shaveda Monique Scott
Commission No. 09 CH 102
Synopsis of Review Board Report and Recommendation
The Hearing Board found that Scott engaged in conflicts of interest and other misconduct when she failed to disclose her financial interest as a title agent in six real estate transactions and also represented the buyer and the seller in four of those transactions. On review, the Administrator challenged the Hearing Board's recommendation that Scott's license be suspended for 60 days with the suspension stayed in full if Scott completes the ARDC Professionalism Seminar within one year of the final order of discipline.
The Administrator argued that Scott should receive an actual suspension of 30 days. Scott did not submit a brief. The Review Board took the matter under advisement without oral argument.
The Review Board recommended that the findings of misconduct be affirmed, except for the finding that Scott violated Supreme Court Rule 770. It further recommended that Scott's license be suspended for 30 days. The Review Board based its recommendation on Scott's pattern of misconduct and her lack of awareness and understanding of her professional responsibilities. Scott has completed the ARDC Professionalism Seminar, as recommended by the Hearing Board.
BEFORE THE REVIEW BOARD
ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION
|In the Matter of:
SHAVEDA MONIQUE SCOTT,
Commission No. 09 CH 102
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE REVIEW BOARD
Respondent, Shaveda Monique Scott, failed to disclose her financial interest as a title agent in six real estate transactions and also represented the buyer and the seller in four of those transactions. The Hearing Board recommended that Respondent be suspended for 60 days, with the suspension stayed in its entirety provided that Respondent complete the ARDC Professionalism Seminar within one year of the court's order of discipline.
The sanction is the only issue on review. The Administrator contends that Respondent's misconduct warrants a 30-day suspension. Respondent did not file a brief in this matter. Pursuant to the Administrator's motion, we took this matter under advisement without oral argument.
The relevant facts are not in dispute. Scott was admitted to practice law in Illinois in 2001. In 2005, she and attorney Dortricia Penn opened the Law Offices of Penn & Scott. Respondent concentrated her practice on civil matters, including residential real estate transactions. Both Respondent and Penn were title agents for Ticor Title.
Prior to April 2008, when counsel for the Administrator inquired about her compliance with the Title Insurance Act, 215 ILCS 155/18, Respondent was not aware that,
when acting as both attorney and title agent, the Title Insurance Act required her to disclose to her clients in writing that she had a financial interest in their real estate transactions and to obtain her clients' written consent. Respondent admitted that she did not provide written disclosures or obtain written consent in six transactions when she acted as attorney and title agent. Her clients in those transactions were Karen Van, Farrah Bledsoe-Whitlow, Cousandra Armstrong, Percy Wicks, Nathaniel Maxwell, and Talisa Jackson. Respondent received a total of $6,981 in title fees from the six transactions.
Respondent further admitted that in the Van-Dilworth, Wicks-Matos, Whitlow-Boyd, and Maxwell-Miller transactions she represented both the buyer and the seller. Respondent did not testify at her hearing but the Administrator offered her sworn statement and a portion of her discovery deposition testimony into evidence. In her sworn statement, Respondent said that she made sure that the buyer and seller were aware of and agreed to her representation of both parties. Sometimes she told the parties that her law firm would have to withdraw if a conflict arose.
In her discovery deposition, Respondent stated that there were no conflicts of interest in the transactions at issue. She did not believe that her conduct was unethical, but would change her practices in order to avoid any further disciplinary actions.
Penn testified that, contrary to Respondent's representations, she did not work up any of the transactions at issue, nor did she represent any of the parties at closing. Penn attended one closing to help Respondent but did not do anything while she was there. According to Penn, Respondent believed that Penn should share responsibility for the charges of misconduct because they shared the firm's revenues. Penn disagreed. The Hearing Board found that the evidence
corroborated Penn's testimony that she did not represent any of the parties in the matters at issue or perform any work on their cases.
Percy Wicks testified that, in the process of selling his house in the summer of 2006, he asked Respondent to help him obtain some documents from his homeowner's association. Respondent was already representing the buyers of Wick's property, Maggie Matos and John Holton. Respondent agreed to help Wicks for a $500 fee. She told Wicks that she represented the buyers but did not make any disclosures about possible conflicts that could arise from representing both parties. At the closing, Respondent told Wicks that she would answer any questions he had. Based on the $500 fee that he paid, Wicks believed that Respondent was representing him at the closing. Respondent did not tell Wicks that she was acting as title agent for the closing and receiving a commission from Ticor.
The Hearing Board found that Respondent failed to explain matters to the extent reasonably necessary to permit her clients to make informed decisions about the representation, in violation of Illinois Rule of Professional Conduct ("Rule") 1.4(b); engaged in conflicts of interest, in violation of Rule 1.7(a); failed to obtain her client's informed consent for her representation, in violation of Rule 1.7(b); failed to explain the implications of common representation, in violation of Rule 1.7(c); breached her fiduciary duty; and engaged in conduct that brought the legal profession into disrepute, in violation of Supreme Court Rule 770.
The findings of misconduct have not been challenged and we recommend that they be affirmed with one exception arising out of the supreme court's recent admonition that "Supreme Court Rule 770 is not itself a Rule of Professional Conduct ? [r]ather, one becomes subject to discipline pursuant to Rule 770 upon proof of certain misconduct." In re Thomas, 2012 IL 113035 (Jan. 20, 2012). In light of Thomas, the Hearing Board's finding that
Respondent violated Rule 770 cannot stand. But because Respondent is still subject to discipline under Rule 770 by virtue of the other found misconduct, our reversal of that finding does not affect our sanction recommendation.
The Hearing Board recommended that Respondent receive a 60-day suspension stayed in its entirety provided that she complete the ARDC Professionalism Seminar within one year of the court's order of discipline. Respondent has since completed the ARDC Professionalism Seminar. Consequently, the issue now before us is whether Respondent's misconduct warrants a period of actual suspension. We conclude that it does.
The Hearing Board's sanction recommendation is advisory. In re Ingersoll, 186 Ill. 2d 163,178, 710 N.E.2d 390 (1999). When considering our recommendation, we bear in mind that a sanction should not be punitive but should protect the public, maintain the integrity of the legal profession, and safeguard the administration of justice from reproach. In re Timpone, 157 Ill. 2d 178, 197, 623 N.E.2d 300 (1993). We seek to recommend a sanction that is consistent with sanctions imposed in similar cases (Timpone, 157 Ill. 2d at 197, 623 N.E.2d 300) while also considering the unique circumstances of each case, including the nature of the misconduct and any factors in aggravation and mitigation (In re Witt, 145 Ill. 2d 380, 398, 583 N.E.2d 526 (1991)).
We recommend that Respondent's license be suspended for 30 days. As the Hearing Board recognized, Respondent's misconduct was more egregious than that of an attorney who is censured for a single instance of representing parties with adverse interests. See, e.g., In re Jeffers, 08 CH 103, petition to impose discipline on consent allowed, No. M.R. 23537 (Jan. 21, 2010). Respondent represented the buyer and seller without making proper disclosures
in four transactions between June and September of 2006. She also failed to disclose her financial interests as title agent in those transactions and two others. Because Respondent's misconduct goes beyond a single lapse in judgment and indicates a pattern of failing to disclose information to her clients, we conclude that a suspension is warranted. See In re Cutright, 233 Ill. 2d 474, 491, 910 N.E.2d 581 (2009) (engaging in multiple instances of the same type of misconduct is a factor in aggravation).
We have considered in mitigation that Respondent has no prior discipline and that her misconduct did not result from an improper motive but from a lack of awareness of her professional responsibilities. That said, we consider in aggravation Respondent's failure to recognize that her conduct was improper. The Hearing Board found that Respondent did not seem to understand the rules pertaining to conflicts of interest or the reasons for those rules. She maintained that there was nothing wrong with her conduct. Respondent's failure to recognize obvious conflicts of interest is cause for concern and convinces us that a suspension is necessary to protect the public and ensure that Respondent is aware of and understands her ethical responsibilities to her clients.
We are guided in our recommendation by the following cases. The Respondent in In re Rocco, 05 CH 63 (Hearing Board, Aug. 4, 2006), approved and confirmed, No. M.R. 21159 (Nov. 17, 2006), was suspended for 30 days for representing trustees of an estate trust who had adverse interests, failing to explain to them the implication of common representation, and breaching his fiduciary duty by purchasing the decedent's car for a low price that included a credit for his attorney fees. Similar to Respondent, the Hearing Board in Rocco was troubled by Rocco's "failure to recognize an obvious breach of ethical standards." It concluded that a short suspension was warranted "to protect the integrity of the legal profession and demonstrate to
other attorneys that dual representation is not taken lightly." Rocco, 05 CH 63, Hearing Board Report and Recommendation at 36.
The respondent in In re Kaeding, 03 CH 30, petition to impose discipline on consent allowed, No. M.R. 19208 (March 12, 2004), was suspended on consent for 90 days for acting as both the real estate broker and the attorney for his clients' purchase of two condominiums, despite the fact that the Illinois Real Estate Act prohibited him from doing so. In addition, Kaeding kept almost $7000 in broker's commissions that he received from the transactions, after he had agreed to remit those funds, minus $700 for his attorney's fees, to his clients. Unlike Kaeding, Respondent was not charged with dishonest conduct nor did she retain funds that she agreed to remit to her clients. Consequently, a shorter suspension is appropriate here.
After considering the particular circumstances of this case and the applicable precedent, we conclude that a suspension of 30 days will protect the public, maintain the integrity of the legal profession, and deter Respondent and others from engaging in similar misconduct in the future.
We recommend that the Hearing Board's findings of misconduct be affirmed, with the exception of the finding that Respondent violated Supreme Court Rule 770, and that the license of Respondent, Shaveda Monique Scott, be suspended for 30 days.
Date Entered: 25 May 2012
Daniel P. Duffy