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02/22/89 In Re Fred Lane

February 22, 1989

IN RE FRED LANE, ATTORNEY, RESPONDENT


SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS

535 N.E.2d 866, 127 Ill. 2d 90, 129 Ill. Dec. 101 1989.IL.212

Disciplinary proceeding.

APPELLATE Judges:

STAMOS and CALVO, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of this case. CHIEF JUSTICE MORAN, Dissenting.

PER CURIAM DECISION

On June 10, 1986, the Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a one-count complaint charging the respondent, Fred Lane, with professional misconduct in connection with a loan involving former Judge Reginald Holzer. Following a hearing, a panel of the Hearing Board filed a report recommending that the complaint be dismissed. The Administrator then filed exceptions with the Review Board. Seven members of the Review Board disagreed with the Hearing Board's report, concluding that respondent's conduct resulted in ethical violations. The Review Board recommended respondent's suspension from the practice of law for a period of one year. Two members of the Review Board did not participate. Respondent then filed exceptions with this court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 753(e)(5) (107 Ill. 2d R. 753(e)(5)).

Respondent was licensed to practice law in Illinois in 1950, and is now approximately 63 years old. From 1965 through 1980, respondent was the sole proprietor of a Chicago law firm which concentrated in representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases. Since 1981, the firm has operated as a partnership with respondent as its senior partner. For over 20 years, respondent has also conducted a well-known trial technique course at the firm's offices where he teaches two evenings a week. Respondent has lectured on the same subject at various seminars across the country. Additionally, respondent has authored one treatise, co-authored another, and has acted as the editor of a quarterly periodical since 1968. Between 1975 and 1980, respondent worked primarily at home on his various publications and left the daily operations of the firm to his associates. Respondent has been active in numerous professional organizations, including the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, the Illinois chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, the Decalogue Society of Lawyers, and the Illinois State Bar Association, serving, at different times, as president of each of these associations.

Respondent and Reginald Holzer met in 1955 through their mutual involvement in the Decalogue Society. Because both Holzer and respondent were active in the organization in the 1960s, they often saw one another at board meetings and frequently worked on projects together. Before becoming a Judge, Holzer occasionally referred clients to respondent and, on one occasion, asked respondent to help him with a case involving Holzer's mother. Holzer and respondent frequently encountered one another at various professional meetings, although neither socialized at the other's home. After Holzer became a Judge in 1966, he and respondent saw one another less often.

From 1968 to 1978, Holzer was assigned to the law division of the circuit court of Cook County. Due to the nature of respondent's law practice, the majority of his firm's cases were filed in that division. In 1975, a block of approximately 60 cases from respondent's firm was assigned to Judge Holzer, and, over the next two years, Holzer conducted the pretrial conferences involving these cases.

In November 1976, Holzer was a candidate in the general election for a seat on the supreme court of Illinois but lost the race. In the months following his defeat, Holzer mentioned to respondent on several occasions that the campaign had been financially costly for him. In March 1977, over four months after the election, Holzer and respondent met. Again Holzer brought up the subject of the election and told respondent that he was in debt as a result of the campaign. Respondent then agreed to help Holzer by making a $2,500 loan to satisfy debts incurred during the course of the campaign.

Respondent then signed a check on the law firm's account in blank and told his secretary, Kathleen Cerulli, that Holzer would be contacting her regarding the loan and that the Judge would tell her how to make out the check. On March 21, 1977, Holzer telephoned Cerulli and asked for a cashier's check made payable to the North Community State Bank. Cerulli spoke by telephone with respondent, who was working at home, and told him of Holzer's request for a cashier's check. Respondent instructed his secretary to do whatever the Judge wanted. Cerulli then made the check that respondent had signed in blank payable to cash and with it purchased a cashier's check payable to the North Community State Bank. The teller who sold the cashier's check wrote the number of the cashier's check on the back of respondent's check. On the same day, March 21, 1977, the cashier's check was delivered to Holzer, who deposited it in his personal checking account. No promissory note was signed, no interest rate was discussed, and no repayment has been made. At the time of the transaction in question, 4 of the 60 cases previously assigned to Holzer for pretrial were still pending before the Judge. Respondent did not personally appear before Holzer in any of these cases.

In 1978, Holzer was reassigned to the chancery division of the circuit court of Cook County. After that time, respondent's firm had only one case pending before Holzer. The case, Steinberg v. Chicago Medical School (Cook Co. Cir. Ct.), No. 74 -- CH -- 4045 (see also Steinberg v. Chicago Medical School (1977), 69 Ill. 2d 320), involved petitions for attorney fees filed by Aaron Gryka and Larry Drury following the resolution of a class action lawsuit that they had brought. Respondent's firm represented Gryka on a contingent fee basis in his claim for $270,000 in attorney fees. In September 1979, respondent, his associate, Steve Lane, and defense counsel, Thomas Foran and Robert Wiss, met with Drury and Holzer in the Judge's chambers to discuss both the total amount of fees to be awarded in the case and the division of fees between Gryka and Drury. Before the meeting began, Holzer announced that respondent had been personally, professionally and politically helpful to him throughout his career. Further, Holzer suggested that opposing counsel might want to consider asking Holzer to recuse himself in light of respondent's involvement in the case. No one objected to Holzer's participation in the proceeding; however, neither Holzer nor respondent disclosed the existence of the $2,500 loan. On September 25, 1977, Holzer awarded Gryka $50,000 in attorney fees; of that amount respondent's firm received $12,500. Holzer testified at his own trial that he crossed respondent's name off of his list of personal creditors around this time. There was no evidence, however, that respondent was aware of Holzer's action.

The Administrator filed a complaint against respondent alleging that respondent, by lending $2,500 to Judge Holzer in March 1977, had violated DR 7 -- 110(giving or lending a thing of value to a Judge); DR 1 -- 102(2) (circumventing a disciplinary rule through the actions of another); DR 1 -- 102(5) (engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of Justice) and Canon 9 (failing to avoid the appearance of professional impropriety). (Illinois Code of Professional Responsibility (rev. 1975) (hereinafter the Code).) Respondent answered by denying that he had made a personal loan to Holzer and asserting that the loan was intended and made as a campaign loan permitted by the Code.

In support of his allegations, the Administrator offered into evidence 73 checks drawn on respondent's business account during the years 1976 and 1977. All of these checks had been made payable to the campaign funds of various candidates for public office. Among the checks were three made payable to "Holzer Campaign Fund" totaling $225. Further, the Administrator introduced into evidence respondent's check for $2,500 made payable to "Cash" and the cashier's check that had been purchased with it. Also admitted was a carbon copy of the check drawn on respondent's law firm account. The copy indicated that the $2,500 was to be charged to the firm's loans receivable account and contained the initials "RH" which Cerulli explained referred to Reginald Holzer.

The Administrator also offered into evidence, without objection, portions of Holzer's testimony from his own trial. Holzer testified that, in March 1977, he spoke with respondent although he could not remember where the conversation took place. At that time, Holzer told respondent that as a result of his recent campaign he was seriously in debt. According to Holzer, he then asked respondent whether he could "help out his campaign" with a $2,500 loan. Holzer further testified that, although he had crossed-off respondent's name from his list of creditors, the loan was still outstanding and that he personally owed respondent $2,500.

The Administrator called as a witness Kathleen Cerulli, who testified that she had worked for respondent for 23 years and was responsible for the office bookkeeping. Cerulli stated that respondent had little knowledge of or involvement in the office accounting procedures. Cerulli explained that, although respondent was not in the office frequently, when he was there he would often sign checks in blank to meet coming expenses. Regarding the loan in question here, Cerulli testified that respondent told her that he was making a $2,500 loan to Holzer and that Holzer would tell her how to make out the check. When respondent's counsel asked Cerulli on cross-examination whether her employer had told her the loan was a campaign loan, Cerulli answered that respondent may have told her it was.

Respondent testified as an adverse witness and also in his own behalf. Regarding the block of cases assigned to Holzer for pretrial, respondent stated that he had had nothing to do with the block of cases being assigned to Holzer, that block assignments had been a routine practice in Cook County, and that his firm had had blocks of cases assigned to other Judges in addition to Holzer. Respondent further testified that he appeared, at most, on three occasions in these cases when associates to whom the cases were assigned had been unable to attend.

Regarding the loan transaction involving Holzer, respondent testified that, in March 1977, Holzer mentioned to him that several of the Judge's friends were each putting up $2,500 for the purpose of retiring his campaign debt and respondent told Holzer that he would be happy to be one of them. Respondent further stated that he signed the check in blank because he was uncertain about how the campaign fund was styled. Additionally, respondent stated that Holzer's request for a cashier's check made payable to a bank only indicated to him that the bank was where the fund was being created. Respondent testified that the loan has never been forgiven or written off and that he still hopes to collect from Holzer. Respondent stated that he did not disclose the loan to opposing counsel in the Steinberg case because campaign contributions are a matter of public record, and therefore do not require disclosure.

The Administrator sought to impeach respondent's testimony, claiming it was inconsistent with portions of a prepared statement read by respondent before the grand jury investigating Holzer and with respondent's answers to questions asked by the assistant United States Attorney at the same proceeding. The allegedly inconsistent statements are as follows:

"Judge Holzer did not tell me what he was going to do with the money, and I did not ask. From what he said, I imagined that he had some pressing debts somehow related to his former campaign.

Back at my office I told Kathy [Cerulli] that I had told Judge Holzer I would loan him $2,500.

Q. [Assistant U.S. Attorney]: And one other thing is, the money that you lent Judge Holzer was not lent to ...


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