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ARDC panel urges six month suspension for lawyer accused of "gaming" the system

By Andrew Thomason | Dec 4, 2013

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) Review Board has upheld a Hearing Board's recommendation to suspend a Westchester attorney for at least six months over allegations he made false accusations of racism against several judges, filed frivolous pleadings to delay a matter and made false statements in court documents.

Review Board members Jill Landsberg, Gordon Nash Jr. and Benedict Schwarz II issued the Nov. 27. report and recommendation, which accuses attorney Ross Haith II of “gaming the (judicial) system.”

“We are troubled by the fact that the Respondent's conduct was carried out over several years," the report states. "The reckless allegations were part of a pattern of conduct … We also agree that the suspension should be until further order of the court."

The case stems from post-decree proceedings regarding the case Alfred Smith v. Geneva Smith.

According to the panel's report, Alfred Smith was ordered to make permanent maintenance payments to Geneva Smith, and to split his pension with her when he retired as part of a divorce settlement.

Geneva Smith filed a post-decree petition to show cause and to enforce the judgment, claiming Alfred Smith had not been making the maintenance payments since he retired.

Now-retired Cook County Circuit Judge Raymond Figueroa was the first judge to preside over the case. Haith filed motion to substitute Figueroa for cause, alleging Figueroa “was rude and abrupt” with him and “failed to consider his arguments.”

The motion was denied. Figueroa recused himself, and the case went before Cook County Circuit Judge Jordan Kaplan.

During this time, Haith left the employment of attorney Luther Spence, for whom he’d been working for while representing Alfred Smith in the case Haith filed a motion to substitute.

The motion was denied by Kaplan because Haith had neither the signatures of Spence nor Alfred Smith approving the substitution.

Haith then filed a motion to substitute Kaplan for cause, alleging Kaplan had intentionally deceived Haith by not allowing him to file a substitute appearance with the required signatures. He also accused Kaplan of “blatant discrimination.”

The motion was denied. Haith then motioned to substitute Kaplan as a matter of right. The law at the time the motion was filed allowed for one substitution of a judge without cause as a matter, and the case was then assigned to Cook County Associate Judge Elizabeth Rivera.

Haith went to to request an end to the original permanent maintenance order with Rivera, claiming the order was only good through December 1999.

“The statement was false … Indeed, the December 1999 date was not mentioned anywhere in the (original) order,” the Review Board wrote in its report.

Geneva Smith opposed the petition and filed her own petition seeking attorney fees. Rivera denied Haith’s petition, along with his motion to reconsider.

“The court additionally finds that Alfred’s petition was interposed for the improper purposes of causing unnecessary delay, increasing the cost of litigation, and that this pleading was signed in bad faith,” Rivera wrote in her order.

The case was then transferred to now-retired Cook County Circuit Judge Charles Winkler, who also denied Haith’s motion to vacate the original judgment.

Following his previous pattern of behavior, Haith filed a motion asking Winkler to voluntarily recuse himself from the case because Winkler “had no intention of weighing the merits of the arguments listed in” Haith’s motion to vacate the original judgment.

Winkler denied Haith’s motion and then ordered Alfred Smith to sell his home because he had not made the court-ordered payments to Geneva Smith. Alfred Smith did not follow the order, forcing Geneva Smith to file a motion for entry of a judge’s deed.

Eventually, Haith filed a motion to substitute Winkler in the case, alleging that Winkler’s actions toward him were discriminatory based on his race and Winkler was seeking to “unlawfully deny” Haith’s access to the courtroom.

The motion was denied. Winkler granted the request for a judge’s deed. The case was again transferred, this time to Cook County Associate Judge Mark Lopez, who ruled that Haith owed Geneva Smith $10,299.65 in attorneys' fees.

Haith filed a motion to reconsider the order and once again filed a motion for substitution, alleging “that Judge Lopez had made false statements in the sanctions order, and had discriminated against him,” according to the Review Board report.

The motion was denied, along with a motion to reconsider. The First District Appellate Court upheld the orders against Haith, noting that the trial court “suffered through a nightmare” because of Haith’s actions.

Haith missed his first hearing before the ARDC Hearing Board in 2010 regarding his actions in the Smith case, claiming he was ill and ordered to bed rest. In his absence, the Hearing Board found that Haith’s misconduct had been proven and recommended he be suspended from practicing law for six months and until further order of the court.

“We are troubled that Respondent may have deliberately engaged in a continuing pattern of delay," the Hearing Board wrote in its first report. "We are also concerned that his statements regarding his illness, particularly his statement about being on bed rest, was apparently false."

The panel of the Hearing Board went on to say, "In our view, a lawyer who conducts himself as he did in the underlying case and this disciplinary cases poses a risk to clients and needlessly complicates the legal process."

The disciplinary case was remanded for the purpose of hearing from several character witnesses, including U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and a trio of judges.

Haith himself did not testify. He did, however, submit evidence that he was indeed at a hospital emergency room the day of the first ARDC Hearing Board hearing.

The Hearing Board again recommended that Haith be suspended for sixth months and until further order from the court. A panel of the Review Board recently agreed.

“The remand provided Respondent the opportunity to explain his conduct and provide some assurances that he can conform his conduct to appropriate standards. This he did not do,” the Review Board states in its report.

The board's recommendation will go to the Illinois Supreme Court, which has the final say on most attorney disciplinary matters.

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