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In Re Crisel



Disciplinary proceeding.


The Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint charging respondent, J. Earl Crisel, with conduct tending to bring the courts> and the legal profession into disrepute. The charge was based on respondent's involvement in a series of acts occurring between May and October of 1980. The Hearing Board found respondent guilty of intentionally engaging in conduct which involved dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation and was prejudicial to the administration of justice, as well as tending to bring the legal profession into disrepute. It also found that the actions of respondent were a result of his depressive neurosis and, as such, recommended that respondent be censured. The Administrator and the respondent filed exceptions with the Review Board. A majority of the Review Board recommended that the complaint be dismissed. Two members of the Review Board did not participate and two members filed a dissenting report, recommending a two-year suspension, to be stayed by placing respondent on two years' probation. The Administrator appeals from the report and recommendation of the Review Board.

There is but one issue raised: What, if any, sanctions should be imposed under the circumstances of this case?

Respondent was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1973 and has served as the State's Attorney of Edwards County since 1976. The conduct at issue took place in 1980 when respondent was seeking re-election to the State's Attorney position. Respondent was reelected in 1980. During oral argument, the court was informed that respondent was seeking re-election in 1984.

Late in the evening of May 24, 1980, respondent got into his car and drove to a remote spot near the Little Wabash River, intending to commit suicide. Unable to carry out this plan, he fired his shotgun twice into his automobile. Early the following morning, respondent contacted the Edwards County sheriff's department, relaying a fabricated report that he had been shot at by unknown persons. The sheriff's department, aided by special agent Michael Braun, of the criminal investigation division of the Illinois Department of Law Enforcement, began an extensive investigation of the alleged attack.

Agent Braun testified that, while respondent did not direct the investigation, he was fully aware that it was being conducted and was present during some of the investigation. A photograph entered into evidence depicts a scuba diver searching in a river for the firearm used in the "attack" while respondent stood watching on the riverbank. Braun's testimony revealed that, in addition to the underwater search, his investigation included interviews of individuals who were in the area of the claimed attack and had heard gunshots, interviews with people thought to have a strong dislike for respondent, and a simulation of the alleged attack.

It soon became clear that the evidence collected did not substantiate the report submitted by the respondent. On July 28, 1980, agent Braun confronted respondent with this information. He did not change his story, but agreed to take a polygraph examination. When Braun contacted respondent on August 27, 1980, to tell him that the polygraph examination was scheduled, respondent indicated that he had more to tell Braun about the case. The following day, they met, and respondent told Braun that he had been the victim of an extortion plot. Respondent told Braun that because of his depression over the extortion plot, he contemplated suicide but instead shot at his own car. Braun advised respondent that the FBI would probably be contacted regarding the extortion and that there would most likely be a news release regarding the incident.

Respondent left town, for approximately a week in late September, without telling anyone that he was leaving or where he could be found. Law-enforcement officials in the area initiated a search. The testimony of the respondent indicates that the disappearance was prompted when he learned that the local media were going to release a story containing the "true facts" involved in the attack on his automobile. Respondent further testified that it was during this period that he decided to seek psychiatric care. He was referred to Dr. Gordon Smith, a psychiatrist, and began seeing him every two weeks with the frequency of his visits eventually decreasing to once a month and then once every six weeks. At the time of the hearing, respondent and Dr. Smith no longer adhered to a specific schedule but would meet when respondent "felt the need."

When respondent returned to town in the beginning of October, he contacted Braun. He admitted that his August 28, 1980, confession was true except for the portion regarding the extortion. Braun stated that respondent said he used the extortion story "as a crutch to give the law enforcement officials some justification for his actions." At that time, Braun informed respondent that a special prosecutor would be appointed. Respondent was charged with official misconduct but these charges were subsequently dismissed. He was then charged with disorderly conduct for knowingly transmitting a report to a police officer that the offense of assault had been committed, knowing at the time of such transmission that there was no reasonable ground for believing that such an offense had been committed (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 26-1(a)(4)). Respondent pleaded guilty to this charge and was fined $500 and placed on court supervision for 90 days. He was subsequently discharged from supervision and the charges filed against him were dismissed.

Respondent called a psychiatrist, Dr. Glenn Pittman, to testify on his behalf. Dr. Pittman had been retained to prepare a psychiatric evaluation of respondent. He examined respondent and reviewed the notes of Dr. Smith. Dr. Pittman's diagnosis of depressive neurosis was consistent with Dr. Smith's findings. Dr. Pittman stated that respondent's depressive disorder was of the most severe type because of his suicidal tendencies. It was the doctor's opinion that, because of the depressive illness, respondent was suffering from impaired judgment at the time he fired the shots and fabricated the explanation. Dr. Pittman characterized the fabrication as "an attempt to somehow bring order out of disorder * * * trying to make a bad situation a little better for himself * * *."

On the basis of psychological testing performed to better evaluate respondent's personality profile, he classified respondent as an obsessive-compulsive personality type, "a perfectionist to defend against anxiety * * * who needs routine and order to function best." The psychological report, which was entered into evidence, also indicated that respondent "continues to struggle with significant feelings of inferiority, guilt, tends to worry and ruminate excessively * * * [and] during times of heightened depressions * * * would likely * * * [show] an increase in morbid thinking and perhaps a decrease in good judgment." The doctor noted that an obsessive-compulsive personality was common among professionals. He further testified that individuals with a depressive neurosis, especially those who are obsessive compulsive, may be able to function competently at their work. It was Dr. Pittman's opinion that, as of September 1982, respondent's condition was improved, with suicidal thoughts no longer present. When asked if respondent was able to function normally as a professional, Dr. Pittman replied affirmatively, finding nothing, on the basis of his interviews, which would interfere with respondent's functioning as a lawyer. On cross-examination, the doctor did state, however, that depression and suicidal tendencies could reoccur.

A number of character witnesses were called on respondent's behalf. These included the Edwards County sheriff, several attorneys, and a local bank official. They all attested to respondent's good standing in the community as well as his professional competence.

This court has consistently imposed discipline in cases where an attorney's conduct has involved dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. (See, e.g., In re Mehta (1980), 83 Ill.2d 18; In re Mitan (1979), 75 Ill.2d 118; In re Sherre (1977), 68 Ill.2d 56.) Moreover, the underlying conduct may arise outside the practice of law. In re Lamberis (1982), 93 ...

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