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In Re Armentrout

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 16, 1983.

IN RE EUGENE LEE ARMENTROUT ET AL., ATTORNEYS, RESPONDENTS.


Disciplinary proceedings.

JUSTICE UNDERWOOD DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Pursuant to our rules establishing the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (73 Ill.2d Rules 751 through 771), its Administrator filed a complaint against Eugene Lee Armentrout, Charles E. Petersen, Jay Robert Grodner, Kim Edward Presbrey, William H. Weir, and William John Truemper, Jr. At the time of the incidents alleged in the complaint, respondent Armentrout was Kane County's State's Attorney and respondents Petersen and Grodner were his assistants. Respondents Presbrey, Weir and Truemper were in private practice. The complaint alleged that each respondent had violated DRs 1-102(A)(4), (5) and (6) of the Illinois State Bar Association's 1970 Code of Professional Responsibility and was guilty of conduct tending to defeat the administration of justice and to bring the courts> and legal profession into disrepute.

The Administrator charged Armentrout with overseeing a plan to forge signatures on petitions seeking a statewide advisory referendum on whether taxing and spending ceilings should be established for State and local governments. He was also charged with falsely notarizing the forged petitions. The Administrator charged Petersen with forging voter signatures and with actively recruiting Grodner, Presbrey, Weir, and Truemper to assist in this effort. The latter four respondents were so charged. Throughout the briefs and the record the respondents have referred to their acts of forgery as "roundtabling." They explain that this term connotes a group of people gathered at a table who circulate petitions to one another. Each person signs a name obtained from a phone book or voter registration list and then passes the petition on to the person sitting next to him, who does the same.

The hearing panel found that all respondents knowingly engaged in fraudulent activities contrary to justice, honesty and good morals and that the legal profession was disparaged as a result. The panel recommended that respondent Armentrout be suspended for 18 months, that respondent Petersen be suspended for six months, and that the remaining respondents be reprimanded. Armentrout and Petersen filed exceptions to the recommendations, as did the Administrator, who urged disbarrment for Armentrout, a two-year suspension for Petersen, and censure for the others. The Review Board concluded that the respondents' forgeries on the petitions undermined our democratic system of government and that their fraudulent activity brought the legal profession into disrepute. That board recommended disbarrment for respondent Armentrout, an 18-month suspension for respondent Petersen, six-month suspensions for respondents Grodner, Presbrey and Weir, and censure for respondent Truemper. Respondents Armentrout, Petersen, Grodner, Presbrey, and Weir filed exceptions to the Review Board recommendations. Respondent Truemper did not except to the recommendation, and on April 20, 1983, this court severed Truemper from the instant action and censured him.

The evidence established that in 1978 the Governor had proposed that Illinois voters consider the following question in an advisory referendum: "Shall legislation be enacted and the Illinois Constitution be amended to impose ceilings on taxes and spending by the State of Illinois, units of local government, and school districts?" For the referendum to appear on the ballot, the State Board of Elections ruled that written petitions signed by 589,416 registered voters were required to be submitted by August 21, 1978. The Kane County State's Attorney's staff, at the direction of respondent Armentrout, participated in a statewide effort by those supporting the Governor to obtain the necessary signatures. At first, they collected voter signatures legitimately by canvassing Kane County fairgoers. This effort produced about 10,000 signatures, but was apparently deemed an inadequate showing of support from Kane County, because shortly after the county fair ended, the Governor telephoned respondent Armentrout at his home and personally requested that respondent collect at least 10,000 more voter signatures. Armentrout testified that he subsequently received approximately 20 telephone calls from several of the Governor's election campaign staff members and others, including a mailgram bearing the Governor's name, all emphasizing the political significance of the request. Armentrout testified that one campaign staffer suggested that the additional signatures could be collected by "roundtabling."

On August 15, 1978, shortly after receiving the telephone call from the Governor, respondent Armentrout solicited Petersen's help in complying with the Governor's request for additional signatures. Armentrout had been elected State's Attorney in 1976, was 39 years old, and had been in practice for 15 years at the time of the incidents in question. As State's Attorney, he had employed respondent Petersen as an assistant State's Attorney upon the latter's graduation from law school in 1977. Petersen was 27 years old and had been an assistant prosecutor for approximately one year when he became involved in the roundtabling scheme. These two respondents discussed roundtabling as the means necessary to obtain the requested 10,000 signatures by the August 21 deadline. They acknowledged to each other that roundtabling was illegal but rationalized that it would be acceptable in this instance because they would be forging signatures only to ensure that a purely advisory referendum would appear on the ballot.

At Armentrout's behest, Petersen contacted respondents Grodner, Presbrey and Weir and asked that they meet him at Patrick's Pub in Aurora. Grodner had worked for Armentrout as a student intern during his last year of law school and, after graduating, was hired as an assistant State's Attorney. He had been licensed to practice for approximately three months and was 26 years of age when the roundtabling incidents occurred. Respondents Presbrey and Weir had been in private practice for approximately 14 months; the former was 27 years old and the latter 31 when they became involved. Respondents Grodner, Weir and Petersen had attended the same law school, and Presbrey and Petersen were long-time close friends.

Before this group met at Patrick's Pub, they handed petitions to passersby outside the shopping center where the pub was located. Upon retiring to the pub, Petersen told the others that Armentrout needed to obtain thousands more voter signatures and that roundtabling would be necessary to meet his quota. The group discussed the illegality of roundtabling, but Petersen repeated the rationale that Armentrout had previously offered to denigrate the significance of the forgeries. While eating and drinking beer at the pub, Petersen, Grodner, Presbrey, and Weir signed names to a petition that were clearly not those of Illinois voters, such as cartoon character names, in a light-hearted spirit.

The following day, August 16, the roundtabling project proceeded in a more serious vein. Respondent Petersen and Jeff O'Brien, an investigator from the State's Attorney's office, were in Aurora working on a case and stopped at respondent Presbrey's home. While watching television and drinking beer, Petersen and Presbrey, as well as Mrs. Presbrey and Jeff O'Brien, roundtabled approximately 10 petitions by signing names that appeared in the telephone book.

When Petersen submitted these petitions to Armentrout at the State's Attorney's office the next day, August 17, Armentrout chastised him for using the telephone book to roundtable. Armentrout advised against this because the petitions forged at the Presbrey home contained last names that all began with the same letter, which could arouse suspicion. Armentrout then obtained lists of registered voters for subsequent roundtabling.

Petersen arranged the next roundtabling session for Friday evening, August 18, in a law office where he engaged in a part-time private practice. He again recruited the help of respondents Grodner, Presbrey and Weir, as well as that of his roommate and another friend. Petersen also had pizza and beer delivered to the premises. Several other friends and relatives of various group members happened upon the scene and, influenced by the party atmosphere that had developed, lent their assistance. The group used the voter lists obtained by Armentrout to forge names on numerous petitions and spent approximately three hours doing so. Afterward, Petersen telephoned Armentrout to arrange to deliver this latest group of forged petitions, and they agreed to meet the following Saturday morning, August 19, at the Kane County courthouse. It was also agreed that, because they had not yet met their quota of 10,000 signatures, Petersen would ask those who were still at his office to meet Saturday morning at the courthouse for one final roundtabling session. Respondents Grodner and Weir, as well as some of the other participants, agreed to do so.

At the August 19 courthouse meeting, respondents Petersen, Grodner, Weir and several others forged signatures on approximately 60 petitions. On this occasion, Armentrout added the county name to many of the petitions and "corrected" some of the addresses shown for the forged signatures so that they would be acceptable to the State Board of Elections. He also falsified the jurats on the petitions. Using his own notary stamp, but pressing very lightly so that his name would not appear on the page, he forged signatures as notaries, including that of a deceased friend. On Sunday, August 20, he submitted all of the petitions respondents had roundtabled to the Republican county chairman for eventual submission to the Board of Elections. The record does not reveal the total number of roundtabled petitions submitted.

In 1979, a special State's Attorney commenced a grand jury inquiry into the activities of the respondents. Respondent Weir was granted immunity from prosecution and testified before the grand jury. Respondent Grodner also testified under an immunity grant, but he later waived immunity when faced with possible perjury charges. Following the inquiry, the special prosecutor filed informations against Armentrout, Petersen, Grodner and Presbrey. Armentrout pleaded guilty to two violations of section 29-12 of the Election Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 46, par. 29-12) and was fined $2,000. Petersen also pleaded guilty to two violations of section 29-12 and was fined $1,500. Grodner and Presbrey each pleaded guilty to one violation of the same ...


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