SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS
515 N.E.2d 52, 118 Ill. 2d 286, 113 Ill. Dec. 243 1987.IL.1385
Rehearing Denied December 1, 1987
JUSTICE MORAN delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE MORAN
The Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (Administrator) filed a two-count complaint against respondent, Howard Solomon, who was licensed to practice law on October 18, 1965. Count I charged the respondent with commingling, conversion, failure to render an accounting, and failure to deliver over promptly funds belonging to a client with respect to Annalee Grunert (Grunert), all in violation of Rule 9 -- 102 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. (107 Ill. 2d Rules 9 -- 102(a), (c)(3), (c)(4).) Count II contained the identical allegations with respect to client Maurice
Cohen (Cohen). Subsequently, the Administrator filed an amended complaint, realleging counts I and II and adding count III, which alleged conversion and failure to account with respect to client Edward Lowinsky (Lowinsky). Respondent answered, admitting commingling regarding Grunert, but denying all other allegations in the amended complaint.
The Hearing Board recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for nine months. Both parties filed exceptions with the Review Board, the Administrator seeking disbarrment and respondent seeking dismissal of the complaint. The Review Board agreed with the Hearing Board's recommendations, and this court allowed the Administrator's petition for leave to file exceptions to the report and recommendation of Review Board. (94 Ill. 2d R. 753(e)(6).) The sole issue for review is the proper sanction to be imposed upon respondent.
The facts as to clients Grunert and Cohen are not in dispute. Respondent represented Grunert, a client since 1968, in a lawsuit seeking readmission of Grunert's daughter after her expulsion, for disciplinary reasons, from Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210 (Lincoln-Way) and to expunge the expulsion from the daughter's record. Respondent and Grunert entered into a fee agreement under which respondent was to be compensated at a rate of $70 per hour for office time and $80 per hour for time spent in court. Fees were to be billed monthly. Pursuant to this agreement, Grunert advanced respondent approximately $7,000.
Respondent then engaged a second attorney, Marilyn Longwell, to assist him on the Lincoln-Way matter. Ultimately, a settlement was entered into which provided, inter alia, for payment of $12,500 "to cover such items as psychological testing costs, [c]ourt costs and attorney's fees." Lincoln-Way's check was made payable to Grunert, to respondent's law firm, Solomon and Solomon, and to Kerr and Longwell, attorney Longwell's law firm.
Respondent obtained the necessary endorsements and deposited the settlement check in Solomon and Solomon's business account. At Grunert's request, respondent paid her $3,500 from the settlement check. Respondent retained the remainder, which he testified was due him as fees and expenses for the lawsuit and as payment for an outstanding prior balance on Grunert's account of approximately $1,500. Respondent admitted in his answer that at various times the balance of the firm's account fell below $7,500. This was corroborated by copies of bank statements introduced into evidence by the Administrator.
Respondent admitted during direct and cross-examination that he made no formal accounting to Grunert. In fact, he did not have an internal accounting on this matter at the time he retained the balance of the Lincoln-Way settlement check. Respondent, however, testified that he attempted to make an informal, oral accounting as was his practice with previous matters he had handled for Grunert. He indicated that she refused his offer.
Respondent represented Cohen in several actions, all relating to property sold by Cohen and reclaimed after the buyer defaulted. A number of fires had rendered the property uninhabitable. Respondent was retained to recover the proceeds due under several insurance policies. Because the property was uninhabitable, the city of Chicago filed a complaint for a decree of demolition. The court ordered demolition but also ordered that all outstanding insurance proceeds be paid to the clerk of the circuit court of Cook County. A total of $4,440.31 in insurance proceeds was deposited with the clerk. Subsequently, the court ordered this sum remitted to Cohen. A check was issued payable to Cohen, his wife, and respondent's law firm. Respondent again obtained the necessary endorsements and either respondent or his father, a partner in the firm of Solomon and Solomon, deposited the check in the firm's business account. Respondent retained the entire $4,440.31 as compensation for fees and expenses. He admitted in his answer that at various times the balance of the firm's account fell below $4,440, and bank statements admitted into evidence before the Commission confirmed his admission.
Respondent testified that he made no accounting to Cohen. He further testified that, at the time the Cohen settlement check was deposited, he did not know exactly how much money was due the firm in fees and expenses. He testified that he relied on a statement of his now-deceased father that the firm's fees and expenses exceeded the amount of the ...