Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent Illinois Disciplinary Review Board’s Report and Recommendation that a lawyer be suspended for 30 days for making false or misleading statements about her disciplinary record on a public blog post and engaging in misconduct in closing arguments as a prosecutor in criminal cases she was prosecuting. The case is In the Matter of: Laura J. Morask, No. 6195102 (March 8, 2013). The Report and Recommendation is at: http://www.iardc.org/HB_RB_Disp_Html.asp?id=10840.
According to the Report, the lawyer was a twenty-year Cook County, Illinois criminal prosecutor who was running for judge. She was charged with making false and misleading statements in an internet response/blog to a negative judicial evaluation which alleged that she had engaged in multiple improper closing arguments. The lawyer stated, inter alia, that she had been “completely cleared” of the claims after a “full and complete hearing.”
The Report stated that, with regard to the underlying disciplinary investigation, “(i)n February 2006, a majority of the Inquiry Panel concluded that formal disciplinary proceedings were not warranted at that time. However, because the Panel was concerned that Respondent’s conduct during the trials in question may have been inconsistent with the requirements of the Rules, the panel sent a letter in which it “admonished” Respondent to review the Rules of Professional Conduct and to take steps to ensure that her future conduct was consistent with the Rules. The letter to Respondent ended by stating, “If the Panel receives evidence of similar conduct by (the lawyer) in the future, it may reopen this investigation for future review.”
The lawyer testified at the hearing before a disciplinary board that she “sincerely believed the truth” of what she wrote and was irrational and sleep-deprived due to the rigors of the campaign. The disciplinary board found that the lawyer violated Illinois Bar Rule 7.1 by making misleading statements in a blog post; however, it also found she did not have an intent to deceive when she made the statements.
The Report further stated:
“(t)he (lawyer’s) act in drafting and sending the e-mail for publication was an intentional and deliberate act. Respondent’s e-mail was undisputedly intended to blunt the criticism of her conduct in the CCL (Chicago Council of Lawyers) evaluation. Respondent’s actions may have been ‘in haste’ but were not inadvertent: she had three days to craft her 700 plus word response to the blog post and the CCL evaluation. At the time she drafted her response, she should have known and could easily have known that she had not been exonerated by the ARDC, contrary to the impression she created in the response. While she may have been “upset” and “sleep deprived” as she has claimed, she clearly had the presence of mind to research the Code of Judicial Conduct and to describe in some detail the very cases that were the subject of the ARDC Inquiry Board proceedings, yet she did not take the obvious and simple step of looking at her own letters from the ARDC which were clear and unambiguous…(t)he effect of the e-mail was deceitful and…violated Rule 8.4(a)(4). Her beliefs, even if sincere, that she had a full hearing before the Inquiry Board, that she had been exonerated, that the public could learn the outcome of the ARDC’s investigation, and that she did not believe her statements were deceptive to readers of the blog, were ‘entirely unreasonable’. (citation omitted). Those ‘beliefs’…simply ignored unpleasant facts that were clear as day and readily available. Both Respondents chose to recklessly shut their eyes and engage in the sort of wishful thinking that would allow them to accomplish ends which would not be possible if they had verified easily verifiable facts. In so doing they violated Rule 8.4(a)(4).
The Report concluded that, “as a matter of law”, the lawyer violated the Illinois Bar Rules “by reason of her purposeful conduct in disseminating false and misleading statements and her utter disregard for the truthfulness of those statements, the effect of which was to perpetrate a fraud upon the public. Where, as here, Respondent failed to take the simple step of verifying facts which were at all times in her possession, the fact that Respondent may have convinced herself that she was correct does not alter the underlying dishonesty because her belief, even if sincere, was entirely unreasonable.”
The hearing board found that lawyer did not make improper statements in closing arguments in three felony criminal cases and recommended that those allegations be dismissed and that the lawyer be reprimanded only for the false and misleading statements on the blog post; however, the Report found that the hearing board erred in that finding and recommended that the lawyer be found guilty of violating Bar Rules for both the false and misleading blog statements and improper closing arguments and that she be suspended from practice for thirty (30) days.
Bottom line: This is yet another example of a lawyer who may ultimately be disciplined for statements made on public blog post. This time it was an alleged false response to what the lawyer apparently believed was an unfair evaluation of her qualifications while she was running for election as a judge in Cook County, Illinois.
Be careful out there!
Disclaimer: this e-mail does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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Clearwater, Florida 33759
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