The Review Board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) has recommended a three-year suspension for a Chicago lawyer who accused four Cook County judges of corruption, including allegations they fixed cases.
In its Dec. 13 report, a panel of the Review Board affirmed the ARDC Hearing Board's May recommendation that 'Lanre O. Amu should lose his law license for three years based on misconduct that represented “a risk of harm to his clients, to the profession and to the integrity of the legal system.”
Either party can file a petition for leave to submit exceptions to the Review Board report with the Illinois Supreme Court, which has the final say in the majority of attorney disciplinary matters.
In affirming the Hearing Board's recommendation, the Review Board this month rejected Amu’s argument that the statements he made against judges following their rulings against his clients were protected as constitutional free speech.
The panel's recommendation stems from a four-count complaint the ARDC administrator brought against Amu in 2011 and accused him of misconduct for making statements that challenged “the integrity and fairness” of Cook County Circuit Court judges Irwin S. Solganick, Thomas R. Chiola, Francis J. Dolan and Lynn M. Egan.
In the complaint, the ARDC asserted that Amu knew the statements to be “false,” “unfounded” and “baseless” in violation of Illinois Supreme Court rules.
The statements in question were made following adverse rulings rendered against Amu’s clients in various cases between 2004 and 2011.
In 2004, for example, Amu called Dolan “a very sophisticated scam artist judge” and “a henchman for the defendant insurance company” after Dolan barred witnesses from testifying against a business that Amu’s clients were suing, according to the ARDC.
In another instance, the report states, Amu in 2011 posted a 23-page document on his law firm’s website titled “An Open Letter to the Illinois Appellate Court,” in which he accused Egan of racial bias and corruption.
His open letter followed an appeals panel ruling that upheld Egan’s decision vacating a default judgment against his client in a personal injury case against a food store. The judge, according to the ARDC, had vacated the judgment after the store owners had argued that notice of the legal action had not been properly served.
Amu, however, asserted that Egan and lawyers for the store had “fixed the case” and that the proceedings were “a sham.” As alleged proof, Amu claimed that the judge’s brother worked at a law firm hired by the store’s insurance company to defend it against the suit.
The ARDC Hearing Board in May found these and other accusations Amu lodged against the judges to be “so reckless as to be considered a knowing misrepresentation.”
Before the Hearing Board, Amu stood by his statements and argued that they should be held to be true as none of the judges opted to testify in the matter. He said his statements were constitutionally protected speech and maintained that he, as an African immigrant, was a victim of racial discrimination.
Although the ARDC administrator urged the Hearing Board to recommend Amu be disbarred from the practice of law, the panel recommended a three-year suspension.
The Supreme Court in August suspended Amu until further order of the court pending the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings against him.
After the matter went to the Review Board, it upheld the recommendation for discipline, but determined the Hearing Board erred in finding that Amu’s conduct had “a prejudicial effect on the administration of justice,” as alleged by ARDC.
In its report, they Review Board found precedent has established that statements by lawyers against the integrity of a judge does not fall under the umbrella of protection offered by the First Amendment.
“He repeatedly characterized the judges as corrupt,” the report states. “His statements were not merely expressions of opinion or of disagreement with the court’s rulings.”
The Review Board also agreed with the Hearing Board's finding that “an attorney who repeatedly takes adverse rulings in client cases personally and who is inclined to believe he was racially discriminated against whenever he feels he was treated unfairly poses a danger to our court system.”
In recommending a suspension, the Review Board noted Amu had not been previously disciplined by the ARDC and that the misconduct alleged against him did not rise to the level of disbarment.
But it asserts that sanctions are necessary, saying it has concerns that if Amu were allowed to continue practicing, he "would continue to engage in similar misconduct if faced with an adverse ruling by a judge."
The panel of the Review Board that issued the recommendation in Amu's matter was made up of Robert M. Henderson of Peoria, Anna M. Loftus of Chicago and Keith E. Roberts Jr. of Wheaton.