ARDC lodges eight-count complaint against Forest Park attorney

By Rhys Saunders | Oct 21, 2013

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission has accused a Chicago area lawyer of charging several clients fees, but not properly representing them.

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission has accused a Chicago area lawyer of charging several clients fees, but not properly representing them.

The ARDC on Oct. 4 filed an eight-count complaint against Joseph Preston Harris, of Joseph P. Harris and Associates in Forest Park.

The counts, which date back to 2007, are similar in nature in that they allege Harris of neglecting his duties to represent his clients.

This isn’t Harris’ first run-in with the ARDC.

He was suspended from the practice of law in 1999 for nine months after a panel of the ARDC Hearing Board found Harris had forged the notarization of an affidavit in 1997 and was convicted of perjury a year later.

Among the allegations most recently levied against Harris was one in which he is accused of neglect during his representation a woman in an employment discrimination suit.

Angela Williams asserts that Harris agreed in July 2007 to represent her in a discrimination case for a contingency fee of one-third of a court award and a $1,000 advance toward his costs, according to the ARDC documents.

Harris allegedly filed Williams’ discrimination suit in October 2008 in federal court, but failed to appear for several status hearings and did not meet U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall’s discovery order deadline.

Williams also claims that Harris did not return several of her calls to his office.

In April 2009, according to ARDC documents, Gottschall dismissed Williams’ suit for want of prosecution.

The ARDC accuses Harris of failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing his client; failing to keep his client reasonably informed about the status of her matter; failing to reduce a contingent fee agreement to writing; and engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Another count of the ARDC complaint against Harris accuses him of breaching his fiduciary duty by representing both the buyer and seller in a property sale without notifying the seller that he was also representing the buyer.

Harris was retained by an elderly minister, Neal Green, to sell an eight-flat building located on West Jackson Boulevard in Chicago.

According to the complaint, Harris then entered into an agreement with another minister, Harold Richmond, who was interested in buying Green’s property and offered to pay any legal fees that Green could not afford to pay Harris.

Harris helped Green sell the West Jackson Boulevard property to Richmond for $300,000, according to ARDC documents that note the property was valued at between $600,000 and $700,000 at the time of sale.

The complaint asserts that Harris did not disclose to Green that he was also representing Richmond, who Harris declined to represent in previous matters because he “suspected Mr. Richmond fabricated a deed.”

“At the time of the discussions between Mr. Green and Mr. Richmond, Mr. Green was 73 years of age, had a third-grade education and modest liquid assets,” the ARDC asserts in its complaint.

The six other counts against Harris accuse him of neglect in foreclosure and loan modification matters; neglect/failure to supervise insurance and loan modification matters; failure to supervise an employee; and breach of fiduciary.

The supervisory allegations stem from Harris’ partnership with James Lee, a non-lawyer who was a full-time employee in his law office.

Harris and Lee, according to the ARDC, identified Lee to clients as a loan officer or mortgage broker, although Lee’s broker’s license had lapsed before his employment with Harris began in 2010.

Lee allegedly maintained a bank account for business and personal purposes, in which he deposited client fee payments in several of the aforementioned cases. The ARDC accuses Harris of knowing about the payments to Lee’s account.

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