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In re Richman

April 20, 2000


Agenda 22-September 1999.

JUSTICE MILLER delivered the opinion of the court:

The petitioner, Fred Allen Richman, was disbarred on consent in 1990. In 1997 he filed the present petition, seeking reinstatement to the roll of attorneys admitted to practice law in Illinois. Both the Hearing Board and the Review Board recommended that the petition be allowed. The Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission has filed exceptions to that recommendation. We now deny the petition.

The petitioner was licensed to practice law in Illinois in 1959. At the time of the misconduct relevant here, the petitioner and another lawyer operated a firm that concentrated in personal injury and worker's compensation cases. In October 1984, an elderly man, Herbert Bluhm, fell at the Tinley Park Plaza shopping center. Bluhm's family retained the petitioner and his firm to represent him in the matter. Wausau Insurance Company insured Tinley Park Plaza. In December 1985, a paralegal at the petitioner's law firm contacted Michael Wachala, a claims adjuster for Wausau. The paralegal offered to pay Wachala money in exchange for Wachala's assistance. Wachala reported this conversation to his supervisor at Wausau. In January 1986 Wachala met with the paralegal at the law firm's office. The paralegal said that Wachala could receive 5% of the amount for which the Bluhm case settled, and the paralegal reduced the demand in the case from $50,000 to $40,000 to make Wachala look good. The paralegal said that when the case was settled Wachala would receive his payment from the petitioner. The paralegal then introduced Wachala to the petitioner, who told Wachala that Wachala was going to have to use his imagination on the case and that he did not need to tell everyone what they were doing. Wachala returned to the law firm several weeks later. He gave the paralegal a check from Wausau for $40,000 in settlement of the Bluhm case, and Wachala received $2,000 in cash.

Working with federal postal inspectors, Wachala later contacted the petitioner regarding a fictitious Structural Work Act case. Wachala and the petitioner discussed the case several times between May and July 1986. Wachala told the petitioner about the case. When the petitioner expressed interest in representing the fictitious claimant, referred to as Don Williams, Wachala asked if he could receive money in advance. The petitioner replied that he could. The petitioner later met with and was retained by the person who he believed was Williams. At a later meeting at which Wachala and the petitioner discussed the case and its prospects, the petitioner said that he would give Wachala "a few grand" that day and additional money once the case was settled. After asking the firm's bookkeeper for $3,000, the petitioner gave Wachala that sum in cash. The petitioner again told Wachala not to talk about the matter. Wachala asked if he would receive additional money for his work on the case in the future, and the petitioner assured Wachala that he would, with the amount calculated as a percentage of the settlement.

The petitioner was indicted in federal court in November 1988 on eight counts of mail fraud and two counts of wire fraud, based on his dealings with Wachala in the two cases. In February 1990 he was convicted on those 10 counts after a jury trial. An additional count, charging obstruction of justice, was dismissed prior to trial. The petitioner was later sentenced to concurrent terms of five years' imprisonment on counts I through IX and to a consecutive term of five years' probation on count X. The petitioner was also ordered to pay $40,000 in restitution to Wausau. The court of appeals affirmed the petitioner's convictions. United States v. Richman, 944 F.2d 323 (7th Cir. 1991). After serving a total of 15 months in prison, the petitioner was paroled to a halfway house, where he spent another five months. The petitioner was released from the halfway house on November 24, 1991; his parole ended on November 24, 1993, and his probation ended on February 1, 1995.

Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 762 (134 Ill. 2d R. 762(a)), the petitioner moved to have his name stricken from the roll of attorneys admitted to practice law in Illinois in May 1990. In June 1993, he filed the first of what would eventually total three petitions for reinstatement. During the hearing on the initial petition, the petitioner admitted that on three or four occasions while practicing law he had paid $300 to adjusters for State Farm Insurance Company in an effort to expedite the processing of clients' claims. The Hearing Board recommended that reinstatement be denied. In support of that recommendation the Hearing Board noted that the petitioner's offenses were serious, that the petitioner had used illegal drugs, that the offenses were relatively recent, and that the petitioner had not yet completed his term of probation. The Hearing Board further recommended that the petitioner make restitution for the bribes he had paid to the State Farm adjusters. Rather than seek review of the Hearing Board's adverse decision, the petitioner withdrew his petition for reinstatement.

The petitioner filed a second petition for reinstatement in November 1995. The Hearing Board again recommended that the petition be denied, basing its decision on concerns similar to those that underlay its decision on the petitioner's initial request. The Hearing Board also noted that the petitioner had failed to make restitution for the State Farm bribes and that he had not performed any charitable work. The petitioner again withdrew his petition rather than seek review of the Hearing Board's unfavorable decision.

The petitioner filed the present petition for reinstatement on October 10, 1997. The Administrator filed objections to the petition. In the proceedings before the Hearing Board, the petitioner described his activities since his release from prison, in 1991. The petitioner stated that he now does collection work, collecting money owed by patients to medical providers. Some of the medical providers he works for are those to whom he referred business when he practiced law. Two of the providers have been named as defendants in a federal suit brought by State Farm over allegedly deceptive billing practices.

The petitioner also testified that in February 1998 he paid $1,200 to the Illinois Bar Foundation in compensation for his bribes to the State Farm adjusters. The petitioner stated that since December 1996 he has volunteered at a local hospital. He acknowledged that he used cocaine in the 1980s but testified that he has not done so since 1990. The petitioner also said that he spends a substantial amount of time and energy caring for his wife and for one of his sons, who are mentally ill. The petitioner expressed remorse and regret for his misconduct, and he insisted that he will not engage in similar misconduct in the future.

The Hearing Board, with one member dissenting, recommended that the petitioner be reinstated. The majority believed that the passage of time since the petitioner's misconduct and evidence of the petitioner's rehabilitation during the intervening years warranted reinstatement, even though the misconduct was serious. The majority observed that the petitioner had acknowledged the nature and seriousness of his misconduct and that he had made a contribution to the Illinois Bar Foundation in an amount equal to his admitted bribes to the State Farm adjusters. Finally, the majority believed that the petitioner had been candid in his testimony before the Board and thought that the petitioner's professional, civic, and family activities since his disbarrment constituted strong proof of his rehabilitation. The dissenting member of the Hearing Board believed that the petitioner's request for reinstatement should be denied. The dissenting member focused on the seriousness of the petitioner's misconduct, his failure to recognize the nature of his offenses, and his continuing relationships with many of the same medical providers with whom he had previously worked as a lawyer.

The Review Board unanimously affirmed the Hearing Board's recommendation that the petitioner be reinstated. The Review Board concluded that none of the Hearing Board's factual findings were against the manifest weight of the evidence. We allowed the Administrator to submit exceptions to the Review Board's report and recommendation. 166 Ill. 2d R. 753(e). The petitioner filed an answer to the Administrator's exceptions.

A lawyer who has been disbarred on consent must wait at least three years from the date of the order allowing his or disbarrment before filing a petition for reinstatement. 134 Ill. 2d R. 767(a). In addition, a lawyer who has withdrawn a previously filed petition for reinstatement must wait at least one year after the withdrawal of the previous petition before filing a new petition. 134 Ill. 2d R. 767(a). A disbarred lawyer who seeks to resume the practice of law has the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that he or she should be reinstated. In re Fleischman, 135 Ill. 2d 488, 495 (1990); In re Anglin, 122 Ill. 2d 531, 539 (1988); In re Berkley, 96 Ill. 2d 404, 410 (1983). Supreme Court Rule 767(f) sets forth the following guidelines for use in deciding whether a petition for reinstatement should be granted:

"The [hearing] panel shall consider the following factors, and such other factors as the panel deems appropriate, in determining the petitioner's rehabilitation, present ...

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