This section provides an overview of ARDC operations. A more comprehensive description of ARDC and lawyer admission and regulatory proceedings may be found at Lawyer Admission and Regulation in Illinois.
The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC or Commission) operates under the authority of the Illinois Supreme Court, which has sole authority to regulate the admission and discipline of lawyers in Illinois. Since 1973, administrative responsibility for the registration and discipline of Illinois lawyers has been delegated by the Illinois Supreme Court to the ARDC, composed of seven members appointed by the Court. Four members of the Commission must be members of the Illinois bar, and the other three members must be nonlawyers. The Commissioners serve without compensation for three-year terms. The Commission acts as a board of directors for the disciplinary agency, setting general policy and overseeing its implementation.
With the approval of the Supreme Court, the Commission appoints an Administrator to serve as the principal executive officer of the agency. The Administrator has a staff of more than 100 employees, including 40 lawyers, who oversee registration, conduct investigations, prosecute disciplinary cases, support volunteer board members, and produce publications and programs related to ethics and discipline. The Commission's operations are funded principally by an annual fee assessed against lawyers registered to practice in Illinois.
Registration practices and disciplinary proceedings are governed by rules adopted by the Illinois Supreme Court. The Court has delegated to the Commission authority to make rules for disciplinary proceedings that are not inconsistent with the rules of the Court. Other duties of the Commission include appointment of the members of the Inquiry Board, the Hearing Board, and the Client Protection Review Panel, publication of an annual report, determination of Client Protection awards, collection and administration of the disciplinary fund, and performance of an after-the-fact review of a representative sampling of investigative matters closed by the Administrator without referral to the Inquiry Board.
Under the direction of the Commission, the Administrator and staff investigate complaints involving the conduct and fitness of Illinois lawyers. The Administrator has investigative subpoena power, and Illinois lawyers are required to cooperate in any investigation of themselves or another attorney. All investigations are confidential. Generally, an investigation closed without the filing of a complaint is expunged three years after the file was closed.
When the Administrator's investigation produces evidence of misconduct or an incapacitating condition, the matter may be referred to the Inquiry Board, composed of lawyers and nonlawyers appointed by the Commission. Inquiry Board members serve without compensation. The Inquiry Board acts in panels of three (two lawyers and one nonlawyer). The Inquiry Board also has subpoena power and may conduct or initiate its own investigation into any matter. For all matters before it, the Inquiry Board is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the filing of a formal charge before the Hearing Board, or whether the investigation should be dismissed, closed, or deferred with remedial conditions. The majority of a panel constitutes a quorum, and the concurrence of a majority is necessary to a decision.
If the Inquiry Board has voted to approve the filing of formal charges, the Administrator files a complaint or petition with the Clerk of the Commission, and the matter proceeds before the Hearing Board. The Hearing Board consists of lawyers and nonlawyers appointed by the Commission in a ratio of two lawyers to one nonlawyer. Hearing Board members serve without compensation. The Commission designates one lawyer member as Chair of the Hearing Board.
The Hearing Board sits in panels of three, with one of the lawyer members designated as Panel Chair. Proceedings before the Hearing Board, including discovery practice, are governed by the Illinois statutes and Supreme Court rules that govern civil practice, as modified by rules adopted by the Commission. Proceedings before the Hearing Board in disciplinary cases are open to the public once a complaint has been served on the respondent lawyer. In contested proceedings, the panels hear evidence, make findings of fact, and recommend appropriate discipline. When a consent disposition is proposed while a case pends before the Hearing Board, the hearing panel reviews the proposed disposition prior to submission of the agreement to the Supreme Court.
If either the Administrator or the respondent timely files exceptions to the Hearing Board Report, the case is docketed before the Review Board, which is composed of nine lawyer members appointed by the Supreme Court. Review Board members serve three-year terms, and no member shall be appointed for more than three consecutive three-year terms. Members serve without compensation. One member of the Board is designated by the Supreme Court as Chair. The Review Board sits in panels of three, with the most senior member presiding.
The parties submit briefs to the Review Board, which may hear oral argument where requested by the parties. After considering the briefs and argument, if allowed, the Review Board files a written report. The Review Board may approve, modify or reject the findings and/or recommendation of the Hearing Board. The Review Board may remand or dismiss the proceedings and may itself impose a reprimand or recommend that any other discipline be imposed by the Court.
Either party may file a petition for leave to file exceptions to the Review Board report with the Supreme Court. If the Court determines to grant the petition, it may decide to consider the case after full briefing and oral argument. Whether the Court allows or denies the petition, it may enter a final order as recommended by the Review Board or as otherwise deemed appropriate by the Court or remand the matter to the Hearing Board or Review Board.
If neither party files exceptions to a report of the Hearing Board or seeks leave to except to a report of the Review Board that recommends action by the Court, the recommendation of the Hearing Board or the Review Board is submitted to the Supreme Court as an agreed matter. The Court may enter a final order of discipline as recommended by the Hearing Board or Review Board, or as otherwise deemed appropriate by the Court; order briefs and argument; or remand the matter to the Hearing Board or Review Board with directions.
Discipline which may be imposed includes: disbarment; suspension for a specified period (where a lawyer may resume practice at the end of that period absent further order to the contrary); suspension until further order of the court (where the suspended lawyer may not resume practice until after the expiration of the suspension period, if any, and after the disciplined lawyer has established fitness during a reinstatement proceeding); probation in conjunction with either type of suspension; censure; and reprimand. A reprimand may be administered by the Hearing Board, the Review Board, or the Supreme Court. All other forms of discipline may be ordered only by the Supreme Court.
The Commission also administers the Client Protection Program, which reimburses claimants who have suffered losses caused by the dishonest conduct of a disciplined attorney. Client Protection claims are investigated by the Administrator through Client Protection counsel, who presents a proposed Administrator's Report to the Commission. The Commission determines whether the claim meets program requirements. Awards may be made in an amount up to $75,000 per claim and up to $750,000 per attorney. Either the respondent or the claimant may seek reconsideration of the Commission's decision. The Commission may refer such a request to its Client Protection Review Panel, which will review the matter and provide its own report to the Commission for final determination.
Awards are paid out of the Client Protection Program Trust Fund which is supported by registration fees paid by Illinois attorneys. Under Supreme Court rules, a disciplined attorney must reimburse the Fund prior to the termination of any suspension or disbarment.
The Commission also provides information, but not legal advice, regarding rules of professional conduct for lawyers and nonlawyers. These informational programs include the Ethics Inquiry Program, the Professionalism Seminar, and professional responsibility publications. In the Ethics Inquiry Program, the Commission provides research guidance, usually over the telephone, to lawyers and nonlawyers on an anonymous basis. The Professionalism Seminar addresses law office management issues and ethical obligations of lawyers and is available to lawyers who are required to attend as part of a disciplinary case or who attend voluntarily. ARDC publishes articles and other materials designed to assist lawyers in complying with the Rules of Professional Conduct, which may be found at Publications.
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