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05/24/89 In Re Peter C. Alexander

May 24, 1989



539 N.E.2d 1260, 128 Ill. 2d 524, 132 Ill. Dec. 454 1989.IL.783

Disciplinary proceeding.


JUSTICE STAMOS delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE CLARK took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.


Petitioner, Peter Charles Alexander, was disbarred on consent (107 Ill. 2d R. 762) on June 24, 1983, shortly after his conviction in Federal court of mail fraud and racketeering arising out of the payment of bribes to deputy commissioners and other employees of the board of appeals of Cook County (the Board). The United States court of appeals affirmed the conviction, but vacated and remanded the forfeiture order for further consideration. Petitioner filed a petition for reinstatement on December 29, 1986. (107 Ill. 2d R. 767.) Following an evidentiary hearing, a panel of the Hearing Board recommended that the petition be granted. The Administrator filed exceptions before the Review Board. A five-member majority of the Review Board reversed the recommendation of the Hearing Board with two members Dissenting. Petitioner has filed exceptions.

Petitioner was licensed to practice law in Illinois in 1965. Following graduation from law school, petitioner briefly worked for Commerce Clearing House and the Attorney General's office before becoming an assistant Cook County State's Attorney in 1969. By 1970, petitioner was assigned to the real estate department of the State's Attorney's office. Petitioner handled rate objections, appearing on the county's behalf on tax deed matters and contested assessed valuations. Petitioner left the State's Attorney's office in 1971 to accept an offer of employment with the law firm Welfeld & Chaimson. Petitioner's duties mainly involved filing and litigating real estate tax objections, as well as appearing before the Board, which reviews real estate assessments made by the Cook County assessor's office for purposes of determining the real estate tax owed on property. Petitioner became a partner of the firm in 1974 and worked continually and uninterruptedly for the firm until 1983. At the time petitioner ceased practicing law, he was entitled to 17% of the partnership profits. The firm had five partners, including petitioner.

Petitioner admits that between 1976 and 1979 he paid bribes to a deputy commissioner and an employee of the Board. Petitioner was specifically indicted and convicted of paying a total of $2,500 in bribes to Deputy Commissioner Donald Erskine, $1,500 in bribes to James Woodlock, a computer operator for the Board, and a $500 bribe to Deputy Commissioner Robert Husty. Petitioner admits his participation in bribing Woodlock and Erskine, but denies any knowledge of any bribery of Husty. Petitioner admitted that he personally delivered money to Woodlock in payments of a couple of hundred dollars over a period of two years. In the case of Erskine, petitioner, a friend of Erskine, would tell Erskine to come to petitioner's firm; another one of the firm's partners would make a payment to Erskine in the presence of petitioner.

Petitioner testified, before the hearing panel, that the bribes were not for any particular case. Petitioner's firm represented many clients seeking a lowering of an assessment on property before the Board. The firm's fees were based on the amount of tax saved on the property due to the lowered assessment. The indictment alleged, and petitioner does not dispute, that the firm of which petitioner was a partner filed over 260 cases for real estate assessment reductions before the Board. The indictment further charged, and petitioner does not dispute, that the firm obtained fraudulent assessment reductions in excess of $8.5 million. The total amount of fees collected by the firm based upon the reduced assessments, as charged in the indictment, was $240,000; petitioner's share of this figure, computed on the basis of his partnership interest at the time he ceased practicing law, totaled $51,874.

Petitioner testified before the Hearing Board panel that he stopped bribing people in 1979, three years before he was indicted, because he was sickened by such activity. He also testified that he stopped practicing law in 1982, shortly after he was indicted.

Petitioner was convicted of 15 counts of mail fraud and one count of racketeering based upon the payment of bribes to Erskine, Woodlock and Husty. The United States district court sentenced petitioner to a period of 30 days' imprisonment in a work release program, participation in psychiatric counseling, and five years' probation conditioned upon the performance of 500 hours of community service. Petitioner was also ordered to forfeit $51,874. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed petitioner's conviction but vacated and remanded the forfeiture order for further consideration. The United States Attorney's office did not pursue the case further. Probation was terminated in 1986 upon petitioner's motion.

Petitioner mainly fulfilled his community service obligation by working at the Center for Public Ministry (the Center) in Evanston, a shelter for the homeless. Petitioner worked the night shift, the only one of several hundred volunteers who was left in charge of the premises at night. Petitioner continues to do volunteer work for the Center although his community service obligation had been satisfied approximately a year after he started working at the Center. Petitioner started working for Phoenix Bond and Indemnity Company in May 1983, where he is presently employed. Petitioner's duties include appearing at the annual Cook County tax sale and bidding on delinquent property; making data base entries in order to maintain an inventory of those properties; dealing with the county clerk's office when it advises Phoenix Bond that redemption has been made on the properties and managing and rehabilitating company-owned properties.

Petitioner called four witnesses to testify on his behalf and testified himself before the hearing panel. Petitioner's first witness, Reverend Robert N. Lynn, an Episcopal clergyman, was the director of the Center while petitioner fulfilled his community service obligation. He testified that petitioner was the only one of several hundred volunteers who the staff felt could be trusted alone from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. when the Center was open. He stated that he remains friends with petitioner even though he is no longer the director of the Center.

Dr. David Klass, a psychiatrist, testified next on petitioner's behalf. He stated that he had known petitioner as a personal friend for about 18 or 19 years. The doctor observed that after the indictment was handed down, petitioner's life was shattered and petitioner felt terribly guilty about what he had done. After petitioner's trial, petitioner began regular consultations with the doctor. These sessions were informal and occurred every two or three weeks over a course of about four years. Dr. Klass testified that in his professional opinion, petitioner's moral position had changed since petitioner's conviction as a result of petitioner's purposeful reexamination of his moral domain. Dr. Klass further noted that in response to petitioner's marriage and ...

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