The ARDC Hearing Board ordered a 60-day suspension for a lawyer who did not comply with the MCLE (continuing legal education) requirements and practiced while he was removed from the Master Roll of attorneys.
The Hearing Board Opinion, dated January 2, 2020, summarizes the facts in this manner:
Respondent was employed as an Assistant McLean County State’s Attorney from July 5, 2016 through November 29, 2017. (Tr. 158). Between April 19, 2017 and November 21, 2017, Respondent routinely appeared in court on behalf of the State and was responsible for about 300 cases at a time. He practiced law during that time. (Tr. 169-71).
A lawyer shall not practice law in a jurisdiction in violation of the regulation of the legal profession in that jurisdiction. Ill. Rs. Prof’l Conduct R. 5.5(a). An attorney who practices law when he or she has been removed from the master roll for failing to comply with MCLE requirements violates Rule 5.5(a). In re James, 09 CH 40, M.R. 25222 (May 18, 2012).
Respondent’s defense involved his state of mind, i.e. that he thought he had completed the MCLE requirements and did not know he had been removed from the master roll. However, to prove a violation of Rule 5.5(a), the Administrator is not required to establish that the attorney intentionally or knowingly engaged in the unauthorized practice. Thomas, 2012 IL 113035 at par. 77. Rule 5.5(a) is a strict liability offense and makes no exception for an attorney who is uninformed or confused about the status of his or her license. Id.; see also In re Susman, 2009PR00126, M.R. 26102 (Sept. 25, 2013). Respondent was removed from the master roll on April 19, 2017. He continued to practice law thereafter. The Administrator proved Respondent violated Rule 5.5(a).
The ARDC Hearing Panel noted that there was some aggravating circumstances. Essentially the lawyer ignored the MCLE reporting system and tried to prove attempted compliance by claiming that he called the MCLE Board and spoke with them.
The Illinois Attorney CLE system is easy to use. The system requires you to log on every two years and certify, under oath, that you completed the coursework (20+ hours of coursework including some ethics coursework). You can ask for an extension to complete the courses, but you must truthfully own up to the fact that you did not complete them on time. I have had no issues with this system or the CLE requirements of Illinois.
Should you find yourself in such a sticky situation, do not hesitate to contact me. I can often resolve something like this before it gets out of hand.
Ed Clinton, Jr.
The source document is In Re William Layne Roberts, 2019 PR 21.