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In Re Schelly



Disciplinary proceeding.


The Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint charging the respondent, Ralph M. Schelly, with conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice and bring the legal profession into disrepute. It alleged that respondent wilfully aided and assisted an unlicensed person in the practice of law in violation of Canon 3, DR 3-101(A) of the Illinois Code of Professional Responsibility (Illinois State Bar Association 1970). The hearing panel found respondent guilty and recommended a 90-day suspension. The Review Board adopted the findings of the hearing panel but recommended a six-month suspension.

Respondent was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1953, and his practice included extensive community service work and pro bono service in several ethnic communities.

In 1975, respondent employed Bernard Koenig, a disbarred attorney, to work in his office as a law clerk. Respondent testified that he hired Koenig because he was an old friend and because Koenig told him he was unable to find work. He limited Koenig's responsibilities to preparing case files, updating the docket book, and requesting continuances when respondent was indisposed.

In August 1976, respondent instructed Koenig to appear in court and seek continuances on two of his cases while he was on vacation. Instead, Koenig tried one case entitled Santiago v. Crosby before a jury and argued a motion in the other case, People v. Cano. When respondent learned of Koenig's actions, he immediately fired him. But Koenig prevailed upon respondent to give him another chance and respondent did so.

As a result of Koenig's activities, the Administrator initiated contempt proceedings against him in 1977 for practicing law after his disbarrment. This court ordered an evidentiary hearing. Respondent represented Koenig at these proceedings. In addition to Koenig's actions in the Santiago and Cano cases, testimony at these proceedings also showed that after his disbarrment, Koenig had represented two of his former clients in real estate transactions and had acted as administrator of the estate of a former client's brother. In Koenig's defense, respondent offered the testimony of an examining psychiatrist who said that Koenig's memory and judgment were permanently impaired by a condition known as organic brain syndrome associated with alcoholism. The psychiatrist testified that Koenig's ability to choose between right and wrong was impaired and unreliable.

While the contempt proceedings were pending, Koenig initiated a divorce action entitled Soboj v. Soboj for an old client's girlfriend. In addition, he offered to represent the defendant in a civil case captioned Vleck v. Niesler. In both cases Koenig filed appearances under the respondent's name.

Mrs. Soboj testified she paid Koenig $1,400 to represent her. She said she met with Koenig in the evening at respondent's office on three separate occasions to discuss her case. On August 16, 1978, respondent appeared in court on behalf of Mrs. Soboj and argued an injunction motion. Mrs. Soboj testified that Koenig told her respondent was working with him on the case and would argue the motion because he was a friend of the judge. After arguing the motion, respondent took no further action in the Soboj case. He admitted before the hearing panel that he did not review the case file prior to or after arguing the motion.

In September of 1978, notice of the taking of Mrs. Soboj's discovery deposition was mailed to respondent's office. On October 16, 1978, Koenig, but not respondent, appeared with Mrs. Soboj at opposing counsel's office and actively represented her at the deposition. Mrs. Soboj testified that she subsequently became dissatisfied with Koenig's representation and retained new counsel.

In the Vleck case, Koenig represented the defendant at his deposition in November of 1978. On January 8, 1979, Koenig appeared in court on the Vleck case and argued against a motion to compel the production of documents.

On January 26, 1979, the contempt proceedings against Koenig concluded. This court found Koenig in contempt of court for practicing without a license based on his actions in the Santiago and Cano cases and the other three matters. He was ordered incarcerated for 10 days.

On February 20, 1979, respondent was personally served with a motion for sanctions for failure to produce documents in the Vleck matter. The motion was scheduled for hearing on February 27, 1979. When handed the notice of motion, respondent stated: "This is Koenig's" and took the papers to Koenig. Respondent testified that he said this and gave the papers to Koenig because Koenig's job responsibilities included producing documents. But Koenig subsequently appeared in court, answered the motion and drafted the court order. William Willen, opposing counsel in Vleck, testified that Koenig discussed settling the case with him for $1,500 but withdrew the offer when Willen accepted. At this point, Willen said he became suspicious and called the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission to determine if Koenig was licensed as an attorney. He discovered he was not.

On June 4, 1979, respondent sent Koenig to court to continue a case scheduled for trial. Instead, Koenig appeared in court and tried the case to judgment.

On June 23, 1979, Willen telephoned respondent and told him Koenig had represented respondent's client, Niesler, at his deposition, in court on certain motions, and in settlement negotiations. Respondent said he had no recollection of the case and that Koenig was only authorized to seek continuances. Willen said he informed respondent that if he knew of Koenig's activities he would be guilty of aiding and assisting in the unauthorized practice of law and that he had no choice but to report ...

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