SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS
537 N.E.2d 326, 127 Ill. 2d 322, 130 Ill. Dec. 259 1989.IL.372
JUSTICE WARD delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE CALVO took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE WARD
The Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a 10-count complaint against Glenn Robert Behnke, who was admitted to the bar of Illinois in 1974, alleging misconduct in the course of representing three clients. Basically it was alleged that the respondent had lied to clients and to another attorney regarding the providing of legal representation. The complaint charged conduct involving dishonesty in violation of Canon 1, Rule 1 -- 102(a)(4) (107 Ill. 2d R. 1 -- 102(a)(4)), conduct prejudicial to the administration of Justice in violation of Canon 1, Rule 1 -- 102(a)(5) (107 Ill. 2d R. 1 -- 102(a)(5)), neglect of a legal matter entrusted to him in violation of Canon 6, Rule 6 -- 101(a)(3) (107 Ill. 2d R. 6 -- 101(a)(3)), failure to carry out a contract of employment entered into with a client for professional service in violation of Canon 7, Rule 7 -- 101(a)(2) (107 Ill. 2d R. 7 -- 101(a)(2)), prejudicing and damaging a client and making a false statement of fact in violation of Canon 7, Rules 7 -- 101(a)(3) and 7 -- 102 (107 Ill. 2d Rules 7 -- 101(a)(3), 7 -- 102); and conduct that tends to bring the courts and the profession into disrepute in violation of Rule 771 of the Illinois Supreme Court rules (107 Ill. 2d R. 771). The allegations of misconduct were not admitted by the respondent in his answer to the complaint but were, with only minor exceptions, admitted in the respondent's testimony before the hearing panel.
Douglas Hudson was injured in a motorcycle accident, and his wife and he engaged the respondent to represent them to recover damages sustained as the result of the accident. Hudson and his wife had believed that the respondent, from shortly after the accident in April 1980, was representing them and had been told by the respondent that he had filed suit in their behalf. In September 1983 the respondent informed them that the suit had been dismissed on the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The respondent later made the same statement to another attorney regarding the supposed lawsuit and its dismissal. In fact, no lawsuit had been filed and the statute of limitations had run on the Hudsons' claims. The Hudsons sued the respondent for malpractice and settled their claim with the respondent's malpractice carrier for $30,000.
The respondent represented a school district on a general retainer and regularly attended meetings of the school board and provided advice to the district while attending meetings or by phone or letter. In July 1981 the school board retained him specially to contest a claim for unemployment filed by a former employee. The specific direction was that the respondent was to appeal from a preliminary determination of the claim, which had been adverse to the district. In the period from September 1981 through March 24, 1982, the respondent wrote six times to the school district describing various actions he said he had taken regarding the appeal, including dates and places where hearings were allegedly scheduled or heard. The representations in these letters were false. The respondent had not filed an appeal and did nothing regarding an appeal. The dates and the places of the described hearings were fictitious. His malpractice carrier subsequently settled the school district's claim for $15,000.
During 1981 and 1982 the respondent was retained by the First National Bank of Rantoul to collect on debts owed the bank. The bank had requested regular reports of the action taken by the respondent on seven accounts, and the respondent wrote to the bank and provided the bank with a monthly "status report" of each case. These letters and monthly reports were admitted in evidence as administrator's exhibits and, to use the hearing panel's language, they contained more lies and fabrications than truths. In regard to any significant action claimed by him, the reports lied. To illustrate, with regard to three counts of the complaint, the respondent informed the bank that he had filed suits and that the defendants had been served. No suit had been filed. Referring to another count, the respondent reported that he had filed suit and that the defendant's attorney had filed a general denial and a deposition had been scheduled. This was fiction. In another matter, he informed the bank suit had been filed, judgment obtained and foreclosure proceedings instituted. He also reported that the property had been sold at the foreclosure sale. The respondent was vague as to whether he had even filed suit, but he acknowledged that there had been no foreclosure proceeding and, of course, no foreclosure sale. He wrote in another case that he had initiated a citation to discover assets proceeding and that the defendant had been served and a definite hearing date fixed. No proceeding had been initiated. In another report he informed the bank that he had filed a foreclosure suit and that hearings had been held and that there had been Discussions with the defendant's attorney. The report was false.
The hearing panel reported what was the respondent's explanation for this flagrant misconduct:
"1. He [the respondent] did not care for the relationship he had with his partners, one of whom was the director of the bank involved;
2. His clients did not have very good cases and probably would have lost them anyway;
3. He was under pressure to complete his work;
4. He was under a strain awaiting the ...