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In Re Masters

OPINION FILED JUNE 18, 1982.

IN RE FRANK H. MASTERS, JR., ATTORNEY, RESPONDENT.


Disciplinary proceeding.

JUSTICE GOLDENHERSH DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

On February 7, 1980, the Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint against respondent, Frank H. Masters, Jr., who was admitted to the practice of law on October 14, 1937. The complaint charged that respondent advised a client to comply with an extortion demand, volunteered to, and did, serve as intermediary in making the payments, and that by reason of such conduct respondent:

"(a) concealed or knowingly failed to disclose or come forward with information about the existence and commission of criminal activity in violation of Canon 7 D.R. 7-102(A)(3) of the Illinois Code of Professional Responsibility [(Illinois State Bar Association (1970))];

(b) counseled and knowingly assisted and participated in conduct which resulted in the furtherance of a crime in violation of Canon 7, D.R. 7-102(A)(7) of the Code;

(c) engaged in conduct involving fraud, deceit and moral turpitude, in violation of Canon 1, D.R. 1-102(A)(3 and 4) of the Code;

(d) engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice and that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law in violation of Canon 1, D.R. 1-102(A) (5 and 6) of the Code;

(e) engaged in conduct involving the appearance of impropriety."

A panel of the Hearing Board recommended that respondent be suspended for one year. Both the Administrator and respondent filed exceptions to the report of the hearing panel. The Review Board ordered that respondent be suspended for six months. Respondent filed exceptions to the report of the Review Board, and upon allowance of his petition filed pursuant to Rule 753(e) (73 Ill.2d R. 753(e)), the Administrator also filed exceptions to the report.

The testimony at the hearing before the panel of the Hearing Board shows that in the early fall of 1969, William Griffin, an executive officer of Hoffman-Rosner Corporation, a construction company, came to respondent's law firm for advice concerning an extortion demand made by Edward Arambasich, a business agent for the Iron Workers' Union. Several years earlier Hoffman-Rosner Corporation had expanded its operations into Will County and on the recommendation of its Chicago counsel had become a client of respondent's law firm. The partner who handled Hoffman-Rosner's legal matters asked respondent to confer with Griffin about the extortion attempt.

Respondent testified that from 1952 to 1964 he served as State's Attorney of Will County. During that period the office of State's Attorney was not a full-time job and he was permitted to engage in the private practice of law. In 1977 he was appointed Special Assistant Attorney General, a post which he held at the time of the hearing. During his term as State's Attorney respondent had become aware of Arambasich's reputation for violence. Respondent related numerous incidents in which Arambasich and those associated with him were involved in union-related violence at job sites. As State's Attorney respondent attempted to persuade several victims of Arambasich's beatings and threats to prefer charges against him, but neither the victims nor anyone else respondent contacted was willing to testify. Respondent testified that his son, a college student, worked as an ironworker during the summers of 1967 through 1971 under the jurisdiction of Arambasich's union. Respondent's son had told him of incidents when Arambasich was observed at various job sites, exhibiting a gun and threatening contractors and other labor leaders. Other witnesses also testified to Arambasich's reputation for violence.

Respondent testified that Griffin told him that Arambasich visited a Hoffman-Rosner job site at Bolingbrook and demanded an interview with the Hoffman-Rosner foreman. Arambasich had placed a gun on a desk and told the foreman that he wanted $1,000 every six months and that "he was going to shut down the job if it wasn't paid, and indicated physical harm." The foreman related the incident to Griffin. Respondent told Griffin that he was aware of Arambasich's reputation for violence. He advised Griffin that this was obviously an extortion plot and that normally he would not advise a client to comply, but under the circumstances it would be in the best interest of the personnel of Hoffman-Rosner that the payments be made. Griffin told respondent that Arambasich told the foreman that he would not deal with anyone from Hoffman-Rosner and asked respondent if he would see that the payments were delivered to Arambasich. Respondent stated that he was willing to deliver the payments. Respondent explained to Griffin that he feared for the personal safety of the Hoffman-Rosner employees, as well as his own safety and that of his son. Respondent felt that in his small community if he advised Hoffman-Rosner not to make the payments word would get to Arambasich that it was respondent who "shut him off" and since he no longer had the protection of the State's Attorney's office he would be in danger of physical harm.

It is not clear from the testimony whether respondent was aware at the time of his initial consultation with Griffin that the Hoffman-Rosner executive board had decided to refuse to comply with Arambasich's demand. Respondent testified that he was not told of the board's decision to refuse payment. Griffin testified that he could not remember whether he had told respondent at their first meeting of the board's decision, but he assumed that he had done so. Griffin testified that he informed the Hoffman-Rosner executive board of respondent's opinion and that a few days after his initial meeting with respondent the board decided to follow respondent's advice. Griffin testified that the decision to comply with the extortion demands was based primarily on respondent's advice, although "we [the board] had conversations with [the foreman] after that and he was quite concerned about the situation on the project, the danger that personnel would be subjected to, particularly himself." Griffin had personally been confronted by Arambasich on one occasion, at which time Arambasich had made threats against the company and against Griffin, demanding money. Griffin paid Arambasich $50 at that time from his pocket "to get out of there." Griffin thought he had told the board members of this incident but was not certain when he had done so.

Respondent testified that several days after the consultation with Griffin he received a package from Hoffman-Rosner. Respondent did not open the package. He called Arambasich and told him that his law firm represented Hoffman-Rosner and that they were prepared to meet his demand. Arambasich told respondent he would meet him in front of his office. Arambasich drove up to the front of respondent's office building and told respondent to get into his car. When respondent entered the automobile he saw a gun lying on the transmission hump. Arambasich drove around the block and stopped. He opened the package, which contained U.S. currency. He offered respondent $100, which he declined. Arambasich drove back to respondent's office building, and respondent left the car and returned to his office. Respondent testified that viewing the gun had greatly frightened him. On nine additional occasions, approximately six months apart, respondent received a call from Arambasich, who said, "D.A. [indicating State's Attorney], it's about that time." Respondent called Griffin and told him Arambasich had called. A day or two later a package from Hoffman-Rosner arrived at respondent's office. Respondent called Arambasich, met him at the front of his office building, and handed the package to him. At these subsequent encounters respondent was not asked to enter Arambasich's car and did not again do so.

The final payment was made in the spring of 1974. Respondent conferred with Griffin, and it was decided that the time had come to stop the payments. Respondent called Arambasich and told him that "it ought to stop." Arambasich agreed. Subsequent to the termination of payments respondent retained counsel and told them of the extortion experience. He requested that they advise the United States Attorney's office concerning the situation.

At about the time of the termination of payments the business affairs of Hoffman-Rosner were being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service in connection with an unrelated matter. Respondent testified that at the time of his decision to stop payment he was unaware of any government investigation into the affairs of Hoffman-Rosner. Griffin testified that the investigation was a part of the reason for Hoffman-Rosner's decision to stop payment, but he was not certain that he had told respondent of the investigation.

The United States Attorney's office began investigating the activities of Arambasich in late 1974 or early 1975, and a grand jury investigation was initiated. A subpoena was issued to Hoffman-Rosner, but no subpoena was issued to respondent. At the request of one of respondent's attorneys, the Department of Justice authorized an order granting immunity for respondent, and he testified at Arambasich's trial. Arambasich was found guilty of extortion and sentenced to several 10-year concurrent sentences based on his extortion of Hoffman-Rosner and other extortion cases. As the result of respondent's testimony at the trial the Executive Committee of the United States District Court for the Northern District suggested to the District Attorney that respondent's conduct should be investigated. Citing respondent's cooperation and testimony and taking the position that neither Hoffman-Rosner nor respondent was guilty of any crime, the United State's Attorney's office declined to take any steps to discipline respondent. The matter was referred to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, and this proceeding was initiated.

The hearing panel, stating that it was not persuaded that respondent's fear for his personal safety was justified, noted that his experience as State's Attorney and Special Assistant Attorney General "was more persuasive to the contrary, i.e., he should `go to the authorities and expose the corruption.'" The panel also dismissed respondent's fear for the safety of his son, stating that a more reasonable course of events would have been for the son to give up his summer employment and thereby alleviate this fear. The panel concluded that respondent's conduct could not be justified on the ground that he acted out of fear for his client, noting that Hoffman-Rosner had initially decided to refuse payments.

Without holding that respondent had violated D.R. 7-102(A)(3) or D.R. 7-102(A)(7), the panel found that, on this record, respondent's fear could not serve as a defense to a violation of these rules. It pointed out that respondent's decision to terminate payment was not based on any significant change in the situation which allegedly prompted the payments, and also pointed out his failure, even then, to notify the authorities. The panel, stating that "as an officer of the court, a lawyer has an obligation not only to his client but to the People of the State of Illinois," found that respondent had violated D.R. 1-102(A)(3) and D.R. 1-102(A)(4). ...


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