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02/20/87 In Re Russell Vernon Guilford

February 20, 1987

IN RE RUSSELL VERNON GUILFORD, ATTORNEY, RESPONDENT


SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS

505 N.E.2d 342, 115 Ill. 2d 495, 106 Ill. Dec. 36 1987.IL.200

Disciplinary proceeding.

APPELLATE Judges:

CHIEF JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE MILLER, specially Concurring. JUSTICE MORAN, Dissenting.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE CLARK

The respondent, Russell Vernon Guilford, was admitted to the practice of law in Illinois in 1959. In October of 1984, the Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a four-count complaint against the respondent. Counts I and II charged the respondent with the neglect of a legal matter entrusted to him by a client, Richard Brandon, with making misrepresentations to Brandon, and with making false statements to the Administrator with the intent to obstruct the disciplinary investigation. Counts III and IV charged the respondent with the neglect of a legal matter entrusted to him by another client, with making misrepresentations to that client, and with making false statements to the Administrator with the intent of obstructing the disciplinary investigation.

The Hearing Board found the respondent guilty of counts I and II, dismissed counts III and IV for insufficient evidence, and recommended that the respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a period of three years and until further order of this court. The Review Board, after affirming the findings of the Hearing Board, recommended that the respondent be suspended for two years. Both the respondent and the Administrator filed exceptions to the recommendation of the Review Board. No issue is raised in this court regarding the dismissal of counts III and IV of the complaint.

The record shows that on July 20, 1981, Richard Brandon met with the respondent regarding a back injury that he had suffered while at work on or about March 26, 1980. Brandon was referred to the respondent by another attorney, James Adducci. At their initial meeting, Brandon retained the respondent to file a workers' compensation claim against his employer and pursue any other available remedies. The attorney-client agreement provided that the respondent would be remunerated by a contingency fee and named the respondent and Adducci as the retained attorneys. During the time period with which we are concerned, the respondent was an individual practitioner who accepted similar referrals of personal injury and workers' compensation cases from other attorneys.

At the respondent's suggestion, in August 1981, Brandon was hospitalized for a myelogram and other diagnostic tests. At that time, Brandon was informed that he might have multiple sclerosis. Shortly thereafter, Brandon went to the hospital to have a CAT scan taken. The CAT scan revealed that he had three herniated discs in his lumbar area. Brandon went to the hospital a third time in December 1981, to have another myelogram taken. The record does not indicate whether Brandon's subsequent hospital visits confirmed or ruled out the possibility that Brandon suffered from multiple sclerosis.

During the late summer and the fall of 1981, Brandon had several telephone conversations with the respondent in which he inquired as to the status of his case. Brandon testified that the respondent assured him that "it was on file" and that "it would be coming up." Brandon testified that he also asked the respondent whether a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis would affect his claims, and that the respondent's answer was that it would have no bearing on his case.

In early 1982, Brandon's union informed him that it would pay the bills for his first hospital visit but would not pay the bills for his subsequent hospital visits until it received a workers' compensation case file number. Brandon telephoned the respondent numerous times during the spring and summer of 1982, asking for the case file number and inquiring as to its status. The respondent did not give the number to Brandon. On May 20, 1982, Brandon sent a letter to the respondent again requesting the number.

In late summer of 1982, after receiving no response to his letter, Brandon met with the respondent at respondent's law office. The respondent still did not give the case file number to Brandon, but he said that he would call and give the number to Brandon's union. The respondent told the union that the workers' compensation case file number for Brandon's case was "80 WC 22682." Brandon testified that at no time did the respondent ever tell him that he was not pursuing his claims. Sometime later in 1982, Brandon was advised by another attorney that the respondent had not filed a case on Brandon's behalf. Brandon contacted the Illinois Industrial Commission and was informed that file number 80 WC 22682 identified the case of Frank Guida v. Flying Tiger Airlines, which in no way involved Brandon.

On September 26, 1983, Brandon filed a charge against the respondent with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. At the outset of the investigation, a copy of Brandon's charge was sent to the respondent for his response. In a letter to the Commission dated December 5, 1983, the respondent stated that it was his opinion that Brandon's medical condition was due to multiple sclerosis and not a work-related injury. The respondent further claimed in the letter that in September 1981 he had told this to Brandon and informed Brandon that he would take no further action regarding his claims.

Contrary to the respondent's assertion in the December 5 letter to the Commission that he had told Brandon in September 1981 that he would no longer represent him, the respondent testified before the Hearing Board that he did not remember specifically when the conversation occurred, but that the conversation took place shortly after he received a doctor's report dated October 5, 1981. Although the respondent stated that he no longer considered Brandon his client, he conceded that he may have had as many as 10 telephone conversations with Brandon from the fall of 1981 through 1982. The respondent testified that the calls concerned Brandon's separation from his wife, threats that Brandon was allegedly receiving, and the payment of Brandon's medical bills. He admitted that Brandon had repeatedly asked him for the workers' compensation case file number but could not recall ever receiving a letter from Brandon requesting the number. The respondent testified that he gave Brandon the false case file number, which had been assigned to a wholly unrelated workers' compensation claim he had filed for another client. The respondent's testimony conflicted with Brandon's testimony that respondent had given the false case file number to the union rather than to Brandon personally. The respondent further testified that he gave Brandon the number "just to get rid of him."

The respondent never filed a workers' compensation claim or a personal injury action on Brandon's behalf. At the time Brandon became aware of this fact, in mid or late 1982, the two-year statute of limitations had lapsed for any personal injury action that he might have had as a result of his injury, though a workers' ...


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