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In Re Harris

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 17, 1982.

IN RE REED HARRIS, ATTORNEY, RESPONDENT.


Disciplinary proceeding.

CHIEF JUSTICE RYAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This disciplinary proceeding arises out of the fraudulent procurement of a barber's license issued to Theodore Kossof, a licensed beautician. At the time of the incident, 1971-72, Kossof was unable to legally cut men's hair because he did not possess a barber's license and did not meet the licensing requirements. Kossof obtained the barber's license in exchange for a cash payment to a public official with the assistance of the respondent in this action, H. Reed Harris, and another attorney, George Skontos, who in 1977 pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in connection with the procurement of the barber's license for Kossof. Skontos was disbarred on consent. (73 Ill.2d R. 762.) Respondent was offered immunity in exchange for his testimony to a Federal grand jury, which led to Skontos' conviction.

On August 26, 1980, the Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint against respondent, charging him with conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice and bring the courts and legal profession into disrepute, in violation of Rules 1-102(a)(3) and 1-102(a)(4) of the Code of Professional Responsibility (85 Ill.2d Rules 1-102(a)(3), 1-102(a)(4)). A panel of the Hearing Board found the respondent to be guilty of misconduct and saw "no alternative but to recommend disbarrment" because "[t]here is scarcely any conduct more likely to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice than the bribery of public officials by attorneys." Respondent filed exceptions to the report and recommendation of the Hearing Board. The Review Board unanimously approved the findings of the Hearing Board, finding them to be supported by clear and convincing evidence. A majority of the Review Board concurred in the recommendation of disbarrment, with two members recommending a one-year suspension. Respondent then filed exceptions before this court.

Respondent now raises three issues: (1) whether the complaint provided adequate notice of the misconduct of which he was found guilty; (2) whether the finding of guilt was supported by clear and convincing evidence; and (3) whether the sanction of disbarrment is warranted by the misconduct.

In order to lay a background for a consideration of the issues respondent raises, it is necessary to review the facts in some detail. Respondent was licensed to practice law in Illinois on November 21, 1960. He first became acquainted with George Skontos in 1962; however, the events upon which this disciplinary proceeding is based did not occur until 1971-72. This sequence of events began in 1971 when Theodore Kossof, a beautician who cut respondent's hair, informed respondent that he could not legally cut men's hair without a barber's license. Kossof, who could not meet the licensing requirements, requested respondent's assistance in obtaining the right to legally cut men's hair. Respondent and Kossof first considered a mandamus action, but Kossof later rejected litigation as too expensive and too slow.

In 1972 respondent consulted with George Skontos, also an attorney, on Kossof's behalf. At that time, Skontos was, and had been since 1969, the Chief Technical Advisor to the Illinois Department of Registration and Education, the agency responsible for the issuance of barber's and beautician's licenses. At the disciplinary proceeding, respondent claimed not to have been aware of Skontos' position, although he admitted knowing that Skontos was a State employee.

Skontos informed respondent that a barber's license could be secured for Kossof by means of a partially completed application form, accompanied by a payment in cash, the amount of which is in dispute. Respondent admits to the cash payment and claims the amount was $1,500; Skontos maintains the amount was $1,000, with an additional $200 in cash for himself for "political obligations." Respondent also charged Kossof another $1,000 as his fee for his assistance in the procurement of the license and the performance of other unrelated legal services.

Also in dispute is the procedure by which Kossof was to receive the sought-after license. Respondent testified that he thought the license was to be acquired by legitimate means, i.e., by reciprocity, although Kossof had no barbering experience. Kossof testified, however, that when he asked respondent who else was to be involved in the procurement of his license, respondent replied: "You shouldn't know." Skontos testified that he informed respondent that the license would be issued after a cash payment, "an honorarium," to Robert Cook, the chairman of the Barbers' Committee. The disciplinary proceeding transcript reveals that Robert Cook later received criminal sanctions for his role in the issuance of barber's licenses to individuals who did not meet the licensing requirements.

It is undisputed that an affidavit was at some point attached to Kossof's barber's license application indicating that he possessed barbering experience in Mexico. To date, no one has admitted to authoring the fraudulent affidavit, however. Shortly thereafter, these suspicious circumstances came to the attention of Dominick Chirchirillo, an officer of the Master Barbers' and Beauty Culturists' Association. As a result of Chirchirillo's inquiry, on the advice of respondent and Skontos, the fraudulently issued license was returned. Kossof later requested, but did not receive, a refund of his cash payment. Several years later these events and other similar occurrences became the object of governmental investigations. The outcome of those investigations has been noted earlier.

With respect to the first issue, respondent argues that he was denied due process because the conduct charged in the complaint was "different from" the conduct of which respondent was found guilty. Specifically, respondent argues that "[t]he substance of the actual charge against Respondent was that he bribed Skontos," whereas "[t]he offense of which Respondent was found guilty by the Board was that Respondent conspired with Skontos to bribe some other public official." To this argument the Administrator replies that "[t]he instant complaint afforded notice that Respondent was being charged as a participant in a specific act of bribery with respect to this transmittal of cash from Kossof to Skontos."

At the outset we note that this court has the inherent power to discipline attorneys who have been admitted to practice before it and that the disciplining of attorneys is in the nature of an original proceeding in this court. The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and its various officers, as well as the Inquiry Board, the hearing panel and the Review Board, serve this court in administering the disciplinary functions that have been delegated to them. (In re Mitan (1979), 75 Ill.2d 118, 123-24, cert. denied (1979), 444 U.S. 916, 62 L.Ed.2d 171, 100 S.Ct. 231.) This is different from this court's function in appellate review. The findings of fact of the hearing panel and the Review Board are entitled to virtually the same weight as the findings of any trier of fact, but their recommendations are advisory only. In re Mitan (1979), 75 Ill.2d 118, 124, cert. denied (1979), 444 U.S. 916, 62 L.Ed.2d 171, 100 S.Ct. 231; In re Hallett (1974), 58 Ill.2d 239, 250.

Secondly, although both the supreme court rules and the rules of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission require that the complaint "reasonably inform" the respondent of the misconduct of which he is charged, this is clearly different from the standard in a criminal case. (73 Ill.2d R. 753(b); Dis. Com. R. 4.1.) Attorney disciplinary proceedings are not criminal in nature. (In re March (1978), 71 Ill.2d 382, 395; In re Andros (1976), 64 Ill.2d 419, 423.) The purpose of a disciplinary proceeding is to safeguard the public, to maintain the integrity of the profession, and to protect the administration of justice from reproach. (In re Saladino (1978), 71 Ill.2d 263, 275; In re Lacob (1972), 50 Ill.2d 277, 279.) While an attorney may be disciplined only for the conduct with which he is charged, a disciplinary proceeding is not to be equated with a criminal proceeding, nor is the respondent attorney entitled to the same specificity as to the offense charged, or to the full panoply of rights afforded a criminal defendant. In re Stillo (1977), 68 Ill.2d 49, 55; In re Damisch (1967), 38 Ill.2d 195, 206; In re Daley (7th Cir. 1977), 549 F.2d 469, cert. denied (1977), 434 U.S. 829, 54 L.Ed.2d 89, 98 S.Ct. 110; People v. Harfmann (Colo. 1981), 638 P.2d 745, 747.

In the instant case, the complaint filed by the Administrator follows the usual practice of amplifying the general charge that the respondent has been guilty of "conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice and bring the courts and legal profession into disrepute" with more specific factual allegations found, in the instant case, in 16 additional ...


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