To the editors:
Your article "Legally Screwed" [October 1] illustrates something not explicitly mentioned: why attorney discipline and the Illinois state court system are a joke.
I have engaged in a litigation practice for twenty years in Chicago and I can totally agree with the sobriquet some lawyers have given to the Circuit Court of Cook County: "circus court." For the most part--and with few exceptions--the judges are dumb and lazy--and that is when they are not corrupt. Most are not interested in studying the law and doing what the law requires: they are interested in disposing of cases and working as little as possible. It is difficult to advise a client what a result will be, as judges are notorious for doing what they want regardless of the law. The Illinois Supreme Court is, for the most part, populated by mediocrities and has never been considered an innovative and progressive court as have those in California, New York, New Jersey and Oregon.
Attorney discipline is a joke. Lawyers with prominent names avoid discipline while unknowns get hammered. In 1988, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in In re Himmel that a lawyer who was instructed by his client not to report another lawyer's misconduct would be suspended from practice for a year even though there was no exact precedent for his wrongdoing. There was no dissent. At about the same time, the Illinois Supreme Court refused, in In re Corboy, to sanction several prominent lawyers who "loaned" money to Judge Richard LeFevour for payment of his mother's hospital bills because there was no exact precedent for their wrongdoing. As in Himmel, there was no dissent. The word on the street is the difference in results was due to the identity of the parties. In In re Loss, the Illinois Supreme Court's handling of the admission to practice of an ex-con who had served his time and had supposedly rehabilitated himself was bitterly criticized in a dissent by Justice Seymour Simon, one of the few judges with intelligence, thought and creativity to sit on that court since the death of Walter Schaefer. Justice Simon resigned from the bench shortly after his dissent was released.
Ms. Metzger should have won her case. An attorney is a fiduciary of his client. There is a line of Illinois Supreme Court decisions going back over 100 years which states that, whenever a fiduciary receives something of value from the beneficiary, there is a presumption that it was obtained by fraud, overreaching or duress. A prime example is that of a client leaving something to an attorney in his/her will. While this rule was created with physical or material things in mind, it can easily cover anything--including physical contact--which experience teaches is not, for want of better words, "given away." Looking at these allegations another way, had the women in your article given Rinella their house, the result would have been different.
In my opinion, the problem with the local courts is symptomatic of the problems this nation has faced in the past generation. To function effectively, a democracy requires an educated, concerned and involved citizenry. A democracy cannot function well when its citizens are more concerned with their favorite team or the latest television serial than with what is going on in their legislatures, governors' mansions and the White House. More money could attract better qualified judges and more space for them to work (as well as more prosecutors, defense lawyers and prisons). However, the so-called conservatives in this country have gotten the public so worked up against expenditures of tax money that an enlightened public debate on where our money should go is impossible.
For obvious reasons, I am not signing this letter or putting it on my stationery.