The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice McMORROW
Docket Nos. 96299-Agenda 21-September 2003.
The respondent in this attorney discipline case, Mary Elizabeth Gorecki, concedes that she violated the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct when she left three messages on a telephone answering machine which falsely indicated that the president of the Kane County board could be bribed into providing a county job. At issue in this case is the appropriate sanction to impose for this misconduct. For the reasons that follow, we suspend respondent's license to practice law for a period of four months.
In February 2001, the Administrator of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) filed a complaint before the Hearing Board (see 166 Ill. 2d R. 753(b)) which alleged that respondent left three messages on a telephone answering machine stating that a county job could be obtained from the chairman of the Kane County board, Mike McCoy, if payments were made to McCoy under the guise of "campaign contributions." The complaint alleged that the three messages were false, in that respondent had no reason to believe that a job could be obtained by making payments to McCoy, and, further, that respondent knew that making payments to McCoy to secure employment with Kane County would be illegal or improper. Based on the alleged misconduct, the respondent was charged with: (1) stating or implying an ability to improperly influence a tribunal, legislative body, government agency, or official in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(6) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (155 Ill. 2d R. 8.4(a)(6)); (2) engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(4) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (155 Ill. 2d R. 8.4(a)(4)); and (3) engaging in conduct that tends to defeat the administration of justice or bring the courts or legal profession into disrepute in violation of Supreme Court Rule 771 (134 Ill. 2d R. 771).
A disciplinary hearing was held before the Hearing Board in November 2001. Evidence presented before the Hearing Board established the following facts.
Respondent has been licensed to practice law in this state since November 1991. From 1991 to 1996, she served as an assistant State's Attorney in the Kane County State's Attorney's office. In 1996, respondent entered private practice where she concentrated on commercial matters. In September 1999, respondent announced her candidacy for the office of State's Attorney of Kane County. In March 2000, respondent won the primary election and, in November 2000, she was elected Kane County State's Attorney. Respondent was serving as the State's Attorney of Kane County at the time of this appeal.
Sometime in 1998, while she was in private practice, respondent was contacted by Jane Morrison, a deputy sheriff in Kane County and the sister of a long-time friend of respondent. At the disciplinary hearing, Morrison testified that she called respondent seeking help in getting a job for her boyfriend, Eric O'Neil. O'Neil had earlier applied for a job as a highway maintainer for the Kane County department of transportation but had not received an offer.
According to Morrison, respondent stated that she would make some phone calls and get back to her. Sometime thereafter, respondent phoned Morrison and left three messages on Morrison's home answering machine. The messages were recorded on a cassette tape, which Morrison kept. The recorded messages were played for the Hearing Board and a transcript of the messages was admitted into evidence. The first message stated:
"Hey Jane, I talked to uh two people uhm, the first person I talked to uhm who, you know, allegedly works inside uh, started talking about Eric's interview, and you know said something like oh `He didn't interview well ...' And I said I heard he interviewed great and you know I ... I just said and I heard there like you it's allegedly test scores and there weren't scores and this and that and the other thing and so I just said okay thanks for the information. I talked to I went back to my primary source, he just said, `Meg, quit f-in' around, get the money together and do it if you're gonna do it, uhm just meet with your client, get the money, set up an appointment with McCoy, you know, uhm, sit down, talk to Eric about it uhm, you know.' There are no guarantees in life but he said this is the only way to get it done. If you want the job done uh, you take the bull by the horns and uh you offer him the money, you know. Of course, there are no ... you make `campaign contributions.' That's what I meant to say ... (laughs). Give me a call uh I'll be in and out this weekend. Uh (cuts off) ... ."
The first message was cut off because of a time limitation on the answering machine. The second message began immediately thereafter:
"Jane, I don't know when your birthday is or when Eric's birthday is but the two of you like need to buy each other a new answering machine, like very soon, cause like I cannot take the music. Anyway, I talked to Mike McCoy, uhh he's on board, everything's uh squared up. The only thing he's getting back to me on is whether or not there are any positions left. Just that simple. Uhm (inaudible) highway, street maintenance, snow removal, etc., and he goes you know Meg, I think we've filled the three spots and I said I heard there were six, blah, blah, blah. We went back and forth he's gonna get back to me today or Monday. I'll talk to ya. Bye."
Morrison testified that, sometime after the second message, she had an unrecorded phone conversation with respondent. During this conversation, respondent explained how the bribery scheme would work. According to Morrison, respondent told her that an attorney-client contract would be completed and that a check for 10% to 15% of O'Neil's annual salary, somewhere between $4,000 to $6,000, would be written to respondent's law firm. This sum would then be broken down into increments of less than $1,000 and would go into Mike McCoy's campaign fund in the name of various contributors. Morrison recalled that respondent expressed regret that Morrison's mother, an alderman in Aurora, did not get along with McCoy because respondent could otherwise use the mother's name as one of the contributors.
Within two weeks of the first recorded messages, Morrison received a third and final message on her answering machine:
"Uh, guy who got it is from Big Rock. I didn't get his name, but he, he was hired, but he doesn't start, he hasn't started yet, and that's why no one knows his name, apparently, 'cause he's not working day-to-day with the cronies yet. He starts mid-September, allegedly, and, as I said, it's some guy from Big Rock. Um, I was also told that they potentially have two more spots. Um, whether or not those are even gonna be posted, they don't know. Um, and this other guy I talked to said I'm wasting my time unless I go, ya know, straight to McCoy. He said if there's gonna be two more spots, it's gonna be up to McCoy to open those up, ya know, financially, through whatever budgeting process they had originally budgeted, 'cause I guess your numbers are right. Like they had six spots budgeted. Now four are ... ."
At the disciplinary hearing, Morrison testified that she was shocked by respondent's suggestions about bribing McCoy and did not follow them. Morrison stated that she kept the tape-recorded messages until February 2000 when she turned the answering machine tape over to the Kane County's sheriff's office. This led to investigations by, among others, the sheriff's office, the ARDC and a special prosecutor.
Although the primary election campaign for Kane County State's Attorney was underway in February 2000, when Morrison turned over the answering machine tape, Morrison denied that the timing of the delivery of the tape was politically motivated. Morrison testified that she waited more than a year to give the tape to her superiors at the sheriff's office because, during that time, she was experiencing a difficult pregnancy and was having marital problems. She explained that, once she returned from maternity leave, she gave the tape to the sheriff's office. According to Morrison, the fact that the primary election campaign was going on was coincidental.
On cross-examination, Morrison was asked whether she knew which candidate for State's Attorney her mother had supported in the primary election. Morrison stated that she did not know. Morrison's testimony was then impeached with an earlier deposition in which she stated that she knew her mother was supporting respondent's opponent in the election. Morrison also acknowledged on cross-examination that she was in possession of the answering machine tape well before her pregnancy began in January 1999, and that she continued to work as a deputy sheriff until the eighth month of her pregnancy, in September 1999. Morrison also conceded that when she first spoke to the Kane County sheriff's department about the answering machine tape in February 2000, and recounted the unrecorded telephone conversation she had ...