An ARDC Hearing Board panel has recommended a suspension for an attorney who made false or reckless statements impugning the integrity of a judge. Here is a quote from the excellent opinion of the panel:
The Administrator proved by clear and convincing evidence that Respondent sent three emails to Magistrate Judge Finnegan’s email account containing statements about Magistrate Judge Finnegan’s integrity that were false or made with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity. By sending the inappropriate emails, particularly after being instructed not to do so, Respondent engaged in conduct that disrupted the tribunal and prejudiced the administration of justice…..
Respondent has been licensed to practice in Illinois since 2006. She is also licensed in Texas and Michigan.(Tr. 54-55).
Barry Epstein hired Respondent in 2012 to represent him in a dissolution proceeding filed by Paula Epstein.In 2014, Respondent filed a complaint on Barry’s behalf in the United States District Court for the NorthernDistrict of Illinois, alleging that Paula and her attorney, Jay Frank, violated federal law by accessing Barry’s private emails without his authorization. (Tr. 55). Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan (Judge Finnegan) superviseddiscovery in the federal proceeding. Judge Finnegan maintained an email account known as the “proposed orderaccount”. The charges before us arise from three email messages Respondent sent to the proposed order accountand others involved in the Epstein proceedings. (Tr. 56).
Respondent sent the first email at issue on April 18, 2017, after Judge Finnegan denied her emergencymotion for an extension of time to take Paula’s deposition. Respondent sent the email
to the proposed order account, opposing counsel Scott Schaefers, and Scott White, the courtroom deputy. It stated as follows in relevant part:
Today in court, no matter what I said to you, you had already made up your mind, and evenquestioned my sincerity with regard to my preparation for upcoming trial.
. . . since the beginning, you never seem to doubt anything he [Schaefers] says, as you appear todoubt me. Still, I stated to you in open court that “I don’t want to be hated” for doing my job, but it sure seems that way, as I never get a break. Scott is the lucky guy who senses same as he can just pickup the phone to call you knowing he will get his way…or for so-called the Posner Defense2.
It’s not fair that my client (and I) is [sic] being treated badly for suing his wife/ex wife, and everyoneis protecting Paula – why? Since when does “two” wrongs make a “right”? [sic] How am I to prove my case if I am not given a fair chance to do my work, properly.
(Adm. Ex. 1).
The following day, Judge Finnegan instructed Respondent that the parties were not to use the proposed order account to argue the merits of a motion, share their feelings about a ruling, or talk generally about the case with her.She told Respondent her email was improper and directed her not to send any such emails in the future. (Adm. Ex. 1). Respondent received and understood Judge Finnegan’s instructions. (Tr. 69-70).
On June 15, 2017, Respondent filed a motion to extend discovery and for leave to depose Jay Frank. JudgeFinnegan denied the motion. Allison Engel, Judge Finnegan’s law clerk, emailed a copy of Judge Finnegan’s order toRespondent and Schaefers at 6:37 p.m. on June 23, 2017. Two hours later, Respondent sent an email to Engel, Schaefers, and the proposed order account which stated as follows, in relevant part:
I’m very upset, I do not agree with Judge Finnegan’s order and I will depose the former co-defendant, Jay Frank, despite the fact this court is protecting him and his co-conspirer! ScottSchaefers had no standing to challenge my subpoena to depose
Jay Frank! I’m entitled to depose him! And I will call him to testy [sic] at trial to show the world what a corrupt lawyer he is! And the judges who protect this criminal by squeezing the discoverydeadlines!!! No no no!
This is outrageous order of Judge Finnegan and it will be addressed accordingly! Judges are helping the criminal to escape punishment by forcing to shorten all deadlines!!!
This Judge is violating my client’s rights first by the truncated discovery deadlines and now helpingPlaintiff to escape punishment for wrongs she committed!
I’m outraged by the miscarriage of justice and judges are in this to delay and deny justice for myclient!
I’m sickened by this Order!!! (Adm. Ex. 2).
On June 26, 2017, Respondent sent another email to Engel, Schaefers, and the proposed order account, which stated as follows in relevant part:
Plaintiff’s motion is not late just because this court decided not to extend discovery deadlines, to protect the Defendant! I have asked this court numerous times for an extension of all cutoff deadlines, without avail. Take this into account when drafting your flawed order.
For anyone to insult me in this degree calls questions [sic] this court’s sincerity and veracity. Howdare you accuse me of not having looked at the SC docket regularly.
How do you know I did not see the SC order???? Where do you get this information? Expartecommunications with Defendant’s attorney, Scott? – smearing dirt behind my back?
The more I read this order, again and again, I am sick to my stomach, and I get filled with angerand disgust over this ‘fraudulent’ order by this court!
You both, Allison and J. Finnegan, have done me wrong, and depicted me very poorly in yourpublic order. How dare you do that to me?!
What goes around comes around, justice will be done at the end! I wonder how you people sleep at night? Including Scott!
(Adm. Ex. 3).
On June 27, 2017, Judge Finnegan entered an order admonishing Respondent for violating her directives related to the proposed order account and making highly inappropriate statements. Judge Finnegan directed Respondent to immediately cease all email communication with her and her staff. (Adm. Ex. 4).
Comment: no matter how you feel about a ruling that went against you, do not question the integrity of the judge or the process. Instead, focus on making fact-based arguments in your client’s favor.
Ed Clinton, Jr.