MR. JUSTICE BRISTOW DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied May 22, 1956.
This disciplinary proceeding is heard upon the exceptions of respondent James P. Moore to the findings and recommendations of the Board of Governors of the Illinois State Bar Association sitting as commissioners of this court.
The sole issue is whether the commissioners' findings that respondent was guilty of the charges of solicitation and advancement of funds to a client were supported by clear and convincing proof and warranted his suspension from practice for one year.
From the record it appears that respondent was admitted to practice law in Illinois in 1934, and was employed in the legal departments of the Aetna Surety and Lumbermen's Mutual Insurance companies until September, 1949, when he entered the private practice of law in Waukegan, which practice was predominantly in the personal injury field. On December 1, 1949, respondent was appointed public administrator of Lake County and held office until his resignation in February, 1953. On March 20, 1953, the vice-president of the Lake County Bar Association received a letter sent by a Mississippi attorney to the judge of the probate court of Lake County protesting that respondent was acting as public administrator for the estate of Exer Coggins, a resident of Lake County who formerly lived in Mississippi. Thereafter the Illinois State Bar Association was asked to make an inquiry.
The original complaint was filed on October 17, 1953, by the inquiry division of the Illinois State Bar Association and contained three counts. Although two additional counts were filed, the Board of Governors on reviewing the report of the committee on grievances sustained only counts 2 and 5, hereinafter referred to as the Harbin and Williams counts, relating to the offenses of solicitation and advancement of funds, and recommended suspension from practice for one year.
With reference to the Harbin count, it appears that respondent, as public administrator, was charged with the administration of the estate of Exer Coggins, who was killed in an automobile accident in Wisconsin. Respondent assigned Don Sherman to investigate the accident and secure data relating to Coggins's heirs. Sherman interviewed Harbin, a passenger in Coggins's car and the only eyewitness to the accident, at the hospital. According to Harbin's testimony Sherman introduced himself as respondent and said that he would like to help Harbin, who replied that he wanted to turn the case over to an attorney in Mississippi. Sherman left with Harbin a portion of respondent's letter head, on which the name Don Sherman was written. After remaining at the hospital for four days, Harbin went to the home of his brother in Zion, Illinois, where, according to his testimony, Don Sherman visited him again and explained that he was told by the Mississippi attorney that it would be all right for him to have Harbin's case, and that, at the instance of Sherman, Harbin signed a written contract for respondent to handle the case. No such written contract was offered in evidence, and Harbin admitted that some 12 days after the accident he telephoned Sherman and went down to the office where he found respondent, and retained him after he found out who respondent was. Harbin testified further that respondent advanced him approximately $700 during the pendency of his case.
In rebuttal respondent testified that he had asked Sherman to investigate the accident involving Coggins and obtain information of heirship. The investigation involved two trips to Mississippi, for which Sherman was paid $250 based upon a daily rate of $35 a day and travelling expenses. Respondent testified further that he first met Harbin in his office in October, 1953; that he was asked by Harbin if he were handling the case for the Coggins family and if he would handle his case also; that there was no written contract but only an oral agreement between the parties. He explained that the advances to Harbin amounted to some $400 and were given to pay local Wisconsin counsel to get Harbin out of a Kenosha jail where he was held on a robbery charge, to help him at the time of his marriage, and when his car was taken from him for lack of payment. Respondent stated that the advances were made because Harbin was the only surviving witness to an accident in which respondent's other clients were involved, and consequently he felt that he had to treat Harbin carefully and the latter knew it.
With reference to the Williams count it appears that Matt Williams, a 50-year-old iron molder employed by the Nash-Kelvinator Company, was injured in an automobile accident on October 6, 1950, and was hospitalized at the St. Therese's Hospital in Waukegan for some three days, after which he went to a friend's home. According to Williams's testimony, respondent called him on the phone to ask for his case, and later came to the home where he was staying and asked him if he wanted a good lawyer, stating that he could get him more money than he ever had in his life.
Complainant also offered the testimony of Joseph Kaufer, a lawyer, who testified at length as to matters that took place outside the presence of respondent, involving a conversation with Kaufer's client who was injured in the same accident as Williams, from which Kaufer deduced that respondent solicited the Williams case. Kaufer also related how he took Williams to respondent's office and accused him of misconduct. Respondent not only failed to deny or explain his solicitation but promptly offered to relinquish his interest in the Williams case. This bore a strong implication of guilt.
In rebuttal respondent explained that on a Sunday afternoon, in the company of his wife, he stopped to see Williams to collect a hospital bill for the St. Therese's Hospital, which he represented. He gave Williams his card, informed Williams that he represented the hospital, and asked Williams to assign the hospitalization insurance carried by Nash-Kelvinator employees to the hospital, since in many cases such insurance, payable to the individual, was not paid over to the hospital. Williams agreed to go to the hospital to execute the assignment. In his testimony, moreover, Williams admitted that respondent stated that he represented the hospital and did ask Williams to assign his insurance. Furthermore, after respondent settled the case for $600 and paid the hospital bill, he refunded to Williams the amount of the hospitalization check which had been assigned.
Respondent's wife corroborated his testimony and stated that she went with him to North Chicago in October, 1950, to see two colored gentlemen, and that a conversation took place beside the open door of their car between her husband and Williams with reference to the payment of the hospital bill.
Respondent also offered in rebuttal a letter from the hospital authorities stating that he had been requested by the hospital to interview Williams and direct him to make an assignment of any hospitalization insurance he carried. That letter, written by one of the Sisters, further stated: "I recall this particular matter because Mr. Joseph Kaufer called and asked if Mr. Moore had a right to call on Matt Williams. This hospital has given Mr. Moore the right to call on patients, and in many instances have advised them that Mr. Moore will contact them about their delinquent bills."
On the basis of substantially the foregoing evidence the commissioners found respondent guilty of the charges of solicitation and advancement of funds, and of conduct that brings the legal profession into disrepute; and, therefore, ...