Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent Report and Recommendation of the Hearing Board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission recommending a 90 day suspension for an Illinois Assistant Public Defender for various Bar Rule violations, including failing to communicate plea offers to clients, revealing confidential information which prejudiced her clients’ interest, offering to post bond for a client, making false statements in a court proceeding, and engaging in conduct that disrupted court proceedings. The case is: In the Matter of: Therese Cesar Garza, No. 6180720 Commission No. 2012PR00035 (July 24, 2013). The Report can be accessed online here: http://www.iardc.org/HB_RB_Disp_Html.asp?id=11014.
According to the Report, during the time that the conduct occurred, the lawyer was employed by the Cook County Public Defender’s Office as an Assistant Public Defender. The 8 count disciplinary Complaint alleged that she failed to communicate plea offers to several clients, revealed confidential information which was prejudicial to her clients’ interest, offered to post bond for a client, made false statements in a court proceeding, and engaged in conduct that disrupted court proceedings. The lawyer initially failed to participate in the disciplinary proceedings for the stated reason that she was ill and the facts and rule violations alleged in the Complaint were deemed admitted; however, she later appeared at a hearing and presented some evidence in mitigation. Some examples of the lawyer’s conduct as found in the Report are as follows:
On May 18, 2011, the lawyer was appointed to represent defendant Gabriel Franco. Before the May 18 hearing, the lawyer and the defendant had a conversation regarding the alleged offense and the surrounding circumstances. At the May 18 hearing, the judge addressed the issue of probable cause to detain Mr. Franco in order to set the bond. The prosecutor informed the judge of the defendant’s criminal history and that he had an outstanding warrant and the lawyer then stated the following:
MS. CESAR: Your Honor, he lives with his parents. And it is my understanding that there’s a warrant and it is for retail theft. (The defendant) did tell me that he is not working right now and he was stealing formula for his eight-month-old child. I know that that is not a defense, but it certainly is a mitigator. (italics added).
On May 18, 2011, the lawyer was appointed to represent defendant Monica Boyd, who was charged with misdemeanor theft. The lawyer and defendant appeared before the judge and the case was set for trial later that same day; however, when the case was called for trial, the defendant was not present. The lawyer stated that the defendant had left the courthouse to pick up her child. Since the defendant was not present for the trial, the judge issued a warrant for her arrest and the following exchange occurred between the lawyer and the judge.
MS. CESAR: Oh s–t.
THE COURT: What did you say, Ms. Cesar?
MS. CESAR: Oh shoot, I said. Oh shoot. I’m sorry I didn’t talk to her, Judge. I’m just – – it’s my fault. I’m running around, talking to people.
THE COURT: I don’t think that’s what you said.
MS. CESAR: Whatever. I know the word you think I said. My mother never let me say that, and I’ll tell you why. But I said shoot, darn it.
On June 7, 2011, the lawyer appeared before the judge on behalf of defendant Tony Rivera. She requested a reduction of Mr. Rivera’s bond arguing that a witness would appear later and present testimony in favor of a bond reduction. After hearing the lawyer’s argument, the judge denied the lawyer’s request to present the witness’ testimony and to reduce the bond. The lawyer then stated:
MS. CESAR: If I could correct the record, I told the Court at about 11:00 o’clock I had trouble getting people.
And when I finally got through, I talked to [the witness]. He said he was going to try to come.
THE COURT: Excuse me. I did not lose my hearing.
MS. CESAR: I did not say he was on the way. He indicated that he would come.
THE COURT: Let me just indicate again, you are yelling on the record. This happens all the time when you don’t get your way (italics added).
In June 2011, the lawyer was removed from her courtroom assignment with the Cook County Public Defender’s Office and placed on office duty. On July 29, 2011, the lawyer was terminated from the Public Defender’s office.
The Report states that the lawyer completed her undergraduate studies and law school while raising six young children. She was admitted to practice in both Illinois and Indiana and began working for the Lake County Indiana Prosecutor’s Office in 1981. She began working for the United States Department of Justice 3 years later doing civil rights work and subsequently worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago. She went into private practice 1995 and began working for the Cook County Public Defender’s Office in 2004. During the time of the conduct alleged in the disciplinary complaint, the lawyer stated that was also grieving the loss of her mother and was newly assigned to the courtroom and was feeling overwhelmed and she did nothing for her own personal gain.
Bottom line: This appears to be an example of an overworked assistant public defender who made some serious errors and engaged in conduct that was disrespectful and disruptive to the court and harmful to her clients. If the recommendation is upheld, the 90 day suspension seems to be a relatively minimal discipline as a sanction for this lawyer’s conduct.
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.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670