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In Re Fisher

OPINION FILED SEPTEMBER 18, 1958.

IN RE THOMAS HART FISHER, ATTORNEY, RESPONDENT.


DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING.

MR. JUSTICE HOUSE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied November 26, 1958.

This is a disciplinary proceeding against Thomas Hart Fisher, an attorney, pursuant to the provisions of Rule 59. The Committee on Inquiry of the Chicago Bar Association filed a complaint charging him with obtaining from his client written assignments of alimony, child support and suit fees containing powers of attorney, and filing subsequent petitions for increases in alimony without disclosing the existence of the assignments. He is further charged with seeking to obtain alimony and child support payments for his own use, and obtaining such payments in August and October, 1945.

The complaint also charges that respondent repudiated an agreement made by him and his client before Judge Lewe, by filing petitions for increased payments and thereby breaching his professional duty of good faith and candid and honorable dealing toward the courts.

He is accused of launching a campaign of litigation against his client's husband for the purpose of enforcing his purported rights under these assignments by filing an action in the United States District Court reopening the husband's bankruptcy estate, and a fraud action in the circuit court of Lake County concerning title to real estate; and allegedly representing a fraudulent administrator in the probate court of Cook County. It is alleged that each of the foregoing acts violates respondent's ethical and professional duty as a member of the bar and tends to defeat the administration of justice and bring the courts and the legal profession into disrepute.

Respondent filed an answer to the complaint, and hearings were conducted before the Committee on Grievances of the Chicago Bar Association sitting as commissioners of this court. The matter is brought here on the report of the committee, together with its findings of fact and recommendations. The committee recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for one year, but the Board of Managers, as commissioners, altered the recommendation to suspension for a period of five years.

Although complex and difficult to fit into chronological sequence, the facts are not in dispute. It is the interpretation to be given such facts that raises the issues.

Respondent was admitted to the practice of law in Illinois in 1922. For a period of about ten years he practiced as a partner in a firm in which his father and brother were members. Since that time he has practiced individually and with associates, engaging in local, interstate and international practice. From January, 1938, until December, 1946, he represented Charlotte Case Joslyn in her separate maintenance and divorce actions against her husband, George R. Joslyn. It is stated that this is the only contested divorce action in which he has engaged. From May, 1944, to July, 1955, he represented the Order of Elks against the bankruptcy estate of George R. Joslyn before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. From September, 1939, to about May, 1946, he acted as attorney in a fraud action between Mr. and Mrs. Joslyn concerning the title to their real estate. A review of all this litigation finds the respondent weaving and threading his way across the pages of two reported cases in the United States District Court, five appeals to the United States Court of Appeals, at least three appeals to the Illinois Appellate Court, and two appeals to this court, all of which would furnish a contemporary counterpart to Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. (Bleak House, by Charles Dickens.)

Mr. and Mrs. Joslyn were married in 1928 and of this marriage four children were born. Encountering marital difficulties, they entered into a separation agreement providing for the support of Mrs. Joslyn and the four children and making disposition of their home in Lake Bluff. In September, 1938, respondent filed a separate maintenance action on behalf of Mrs. Joslyn in the superior court of Cook County. Apparently this suit was discontinued when he filed an action for divorce for Mrs. Joslyn in August of 1939. The complaint for divorce charged Mr. Joslyn with desertion. He answered and filed a counterclaim charging her with adultery. In September, 1939, the divorce court entered an order pendente lite requiring Mr. Joslyn to pay Mrs. Joslyn as temporary alimony and child support the sum of $750 per month until further order of the court. Trial of the divorce action was commenced before Judge John C. Lewe on June 14, 1940, and continued intermittently throughout the summer of 1940. On August 12, 1940, while the divorce action was pending, respondent obtained a written assignment from Mrs. Joslyn, providing, in part:

"I, Charlotte C. Joslyn, * * * do hereby irrevocably constitute and appoint Thomas Hart Fisher, * * * my * * * attorney coupled with an interest * * * to demand, receive, sue for, and collect all claims * * * due to me from George R. Joslyn on account of any alimony payments, * * * solicitor's fees and suit moneys pursuant to any order or orders heretofore or hereafter entered * * * including * * * all payments for $750 per month due me for the months of August, September, and October, 1940; * * *.

"Upon the non-payment of any such debt, money or demand whatsoever, I do hereby authorize and direct my said attorney to begin, conduct and prosecute any action, * * * for recovering and compelling the payment thereof. * * *

"I do hereby assign * * * all right, title, claim or interest * * * in or to any moneys now due * * * me pursuant to any order for alimony, suit money and solicitors' fees pursuant to any order heretofore and hereafter entered in said proceeding * * *."

The foregoing assignment will be considered in connection with later assignments hereinafter referred to.

On September 30, 1940, after hearing evidence in the divorce action, Judge Lewe called Mr. and Mrs. Joslyn into chambers to discuss the possibility of settlement. The litigants were in apparent agreement that a decree for divorce in favor of Mrs. Joslyn on the grounds of desertion, granting her $100 per month alimony and $400 per month for the support of the children and making provision for the custody of the ...


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