The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Harrison
Agenda 15-September 2000.
Jerome Krule petitioned this court for review of the most recent recommendation by the Committee on Character and Fitness (the Committee) that he not be certified for admission to the bar. 166 Ill. 2d R. 708(d). After the Committee filed its response, we allowed Krule's petition and permitted the parties to present oral argument. For the reasons that follow, Krule's application for admission to the bar is denied.
Jerome Krule graduated from the John Marshall Law School in 1994. In 1995, the Committee on Character and Fitness (the Committee) voted not to recommend certification of Krule for admission to the practice of law. In reaching that decision, the Committee was most concerned with Krule's participation in an insurance fraud scheme which resulted in his conviction of a felony in 1988. The Committee felt that Krule was less than candid in describing his role in the scheme and he had not adequately demonstrated that he was rehabilitated. The Committee also expressed concern over Krule's apparent lack of candor in failing to apprise his law school of three previous misdemeanor convictions.
Krule sought a new hearing in 1996. Because his request was made prior to expiration of the requisite two-year waiting period following the Committee's 1995 decision, it was denied. Bar Admission Rule 9.1. Krule then filed another petition for a new hearing in 1998. This time the Committee granted the petition, and the hearing panel convened a new hearing in the case in March of 1999.
After taking evidence, the hearing panel concluded that Krule had failed to meet his burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that he possesses the requisite moral character and general fitness to practice law. The hearing panel further concluded that Krule had once again failed to show that he had been sufficiently rehabilitated. Based on these conclusions, the Committee adhered to its original decision and voted not to recommend certification of Krule.
In undertaking our review of the Committee's decision, we begin by noting that the final judgment regarding admission of an applicant to the practice of law rests with this court. As a general rule, a determination by the Committee on Character and Fitness concerning the character and fitness of an applicant neither binds this court nor limits our authority to take action. In re Loss, 119 Ill. 2d 186, 192 (1987). We have also held, however, that where a hearing panel concludes that a petitioner does not possess the good moral character and general fitness necessary for the practice of law and recommends that certification be denied, as was the case here, this court will not reverse unless that recommendation was arbitrary. In re Glenville, 139 Ill. 2d 242, 252 (1990).
The criminal conviction which led to the original denial of Krule's certification arose from a scheme he facilitated to systematically defraud insurance companies. At the time, Krule was a licensed insurance professional. He testified that he contacted an attorney named George Anderson to "go into business with him in personal injury." The business worked this way.
Anderson owned some taxi cabs, and Krule took a job in his office. When one of the taxi drivers was involved in an accident, Krule would arrange for him to see a Dr. Starkman. With Krule's knowledge and complicity, Starkman would deliberately generate inflated bills containing charges for services that were not necessary or were not performed. Krule, in turn, would submit the fraudulent bills to insurance companies for reimbursement. Krule engaged in this activity from August of 1986 through February of 1987. During this period he submitted scores of false claims to eight different insurance companies.
Krule's insurance fraud scheme ended with an 82-count indictment issued by a Du Page County grand jury. Named as defendants were Krule, attorney Anderson, Dr. Starkman, and six other individuals. Krule pled guilty to one count of theft, a felony, in exchange for his testifying as a government witness. He was sentenced to 30 month's probation. As a condition of probation he was required to complete 950 hours of community service and pay $5,000 in restitution. Krule's probation was terminated satisfactorily on October 1, 1990.
Attorney Anderson also pled guilty to theft. He was ordered to pay a fine of $100 and $77 in court costs and was placed on conditional discharge. The condition imposed by the sentencing judge was that Anderson was required to file a motion with our court for disbarrment on consent. Anderson filed such a motion on February 16, 1990, and it was allowed by this court on March 27, 1990.
Following these developments, Krule applied to and was accepted for admission by the John Marshall Law School. As previously indicated, Krule graduated from there in 1994. The Committee on Character and Fitness subsequently refused to certify him for admission to the bar, primarily because of his felony conviction and the nature of his involvement in the insurance fraud scheme.
In ruling as it did, the Committee noted Krule's lack of candor about these events when he applied for law school. Krule characterized his role as that of a "clerk," even though his testimony at trial indicated that he played a far more substantial role and helped devise the scheme. A letter written by Krule to the law school's dean contained falsehoods, and the Committee found that Krule had refused to accept responsibility for his illegal and unethical conduct. Finally, the Committee expressed concern that Krule had failed to disclose three misdemeanor charges, two of which involved pleas of guilty, on his law school application. Krule admitted that the reason he was not truthful about those charges is that he feared they would jeopardize his chances for admission into law school.
Following his felony conviction, Krule obtained employment and engaged in volunteer and charitable activities beyond those necessary to comply with the terms of his probation. The Committee acknowledged these factors and took note of positive testimony from character witnesses. The Committee nevertheless concluded that "specific evidence" of rehabilitation was lacking. The Committee also cautioned Krule that
"an applicant for admission does not become entitled to certification of his character and fitness simply by fulfilling the educational requirements and by participating in civic and charitable activities."
When Krule obtained a new hearing in 1999, he testified on his own behalf. He told the Committee that he would consider his law license his most valuable possession. He has worked in the Evanston community defender office and served as a teacher of English as a second language in the Oakton Community College adult education program. He stated that he would like to practice law in the public sector and intended to continue his volunteer work regardless of the Committee's decision.
Krule admitted that because he was an insurance professional at the time, "maybe he had more of a major role" than the other participants in the insurance fraud scheme that resulted in his felony conviction. He expressed remorse for his illegal conduct and said he regretted his failure to report the misdemeanor convictions when he submitted his law school application.
In addition to testifying himself, Krule presented the testimony of seven character witnesses. One of these was Associate Circuit Judge Fe Fernandez of the circuit court of Cook County, who appeared on Krule's behalf. *fn1 Prior to taking the bench, Judge Fernandez had worked with Krule at the Evanston community defender office. According to Judge Fernandez, Krule had done volunteer work at the community defender office on an "as needed" basis since he was denied certification in 1995. Robert Roy, director of the community defender office, also testified. Roy and Judge Fernandez opined that Krule is honest, trustworthy and dedicated to his goal of becoming a lawyer.
Additional testimony was provided by Patricia McCarthy, a reading specialist at East Prairie school district in Skokie, and Marilyn Antonik, program manager for volunteer teaching in the adult education division and coordinator of the adult literacy program at Oakton Community College. McCarthy and Antonik described Krule's work with Oakton Community College and reported that he was generous in donating his time and dedicated to his students. They also attested to his trustworthiness.
Edward Michael Reilly, a Chicago police officer and lawyer who had attended law school with Krule, said that Krule would be an ethical lawyer. Ralph Ruebner, a professor at John Marshall Law School, and Elmer Gertz, a former professor at John Marshall Law School, testified that they had known Krule since he was a law student. Gertz is also a friend of Krule's family. Ruebner believed that Krule had matured, and both professors thought that he could be a competent and trustworthy lawyer.
In addition to the foregoing testimony, Krule presented affidavits from George Leighton, formerly a United States district judge; Dean Robert Johnston of the John Marshall Law School; and Professor William Carroll and Professor Seng, also of John Marshall. All of these men supported Krule's application and attested to his fitness to practice law.
Following the hearing, witness Marilyn Antonik, from Oakton Community College, reported an incident to the Committee that changed her opinion of Krule's judgment and trustworthiness. According to Antonik, Krule met with a foreign student at the college and gave her a gift and a personal note. He also offered to help her obtain a visa.
In his note to the student, which was signed "Love, Jerry," Krule offered to give the student money for a round trip plane ticket to and from her homeland. This incident frightened the student, who brought it to the attention of college officials. As a result, Antonik terminated Krule's services with the college.
The Committee received a copy of Krule's note to the student as well as a copy of a statement from the student regarding Krule's actions. One of the things the student claimed in her statement was that Krule had shown her a card indicating that he was a lawyer. She also said that Krule had ...