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Supreme Court disbars imprisoned downstate lawyer; suspends 14, including retired judge

By Bethany Krajelis | Jan 17, 2014

The Illinois Supreme Court on Friday disbarred a Madison County attorney currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for bankruptcy fraud and child pornography possession.

In addition to disbarring Gary Peel, formerly of Glen Carbon and now behind bars in Kentucky, the high court suspended 14 others, including a former Sangamon County judge, censured one and allowed another attorney facing discipline to strike his name from the state's roster of attorneys.

Peel’s disbarment comes after years of several failed attempts to get his 2007 federal convictions overturned. He was convicted on bankruptcy fraud and child pornography possession charges after being accused of blackmailing his ex-wife with nude photographs of her then-minor sister.

He also unsuccessfully challenged the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission’s (ARDC) proceedings against him, claiming they violated his due process rights because he had not exhausted the appeals process at the time the Hearing Board handed down its recommendation.

The ARDC filed its complaint against Peel in 2007 and the Supreme Court, in 2008, suspended his law license on an interim basis as a result of his convictions. A panel of the ARDC’s Hearing Board in February recommended that Peel be disbarred for his “egregious and disgusting” misconduct.

Peel asked the Supreme Court for permission to file exceptions to the Hearing Board report and on Friday, the justices denied that request and disbarred him.

Also on Friday, the Supreme Court suspended former Sangamon County Associate Judge Robert T. Hall, who retired from the bench shortly after he was accused of fixing a traffic ticket for a colleague’s daughter.

In December 2011, the ARDC lodged a complaint against Hall that accused him of making misrepresentations in dismissing a traffic citation issued to the teenaged daughter of Sangamon County Associate Judge Christopher Perrin.

The commission asserts the prosecutor’s office never moved for the dismissal of the ticket. After that came to light, Hall vacated his order and recused himself from the case at the direction of the circuit’s chief judge.

The Hearing Board in January 2013 recommended Hall be suspended from the practice of law for six months, but the administrator of the ARDC challenged that recommendation.

Before the Review Board, the ARDC argued that a two-year suspension was warranted while Hall claimed the Hearing Board’s findings were against the manifest weight of the evidence because he lacked the intent to be dishonest, fraudulent or deceitful.

The Review Board rejected Hall’s arguments, saying the evidence showed he admitted his conduct was dishonest in his answer to the complaint, and recommended a six-month suspension to the Supreme Court, which agreed. His suspension takes effect Feb. 7.

The high court also suspended the following attorneys (listed in order based on the length of their suspensions, starting with the longest):

  • Jeremy Scott Brenman, of Merrillville, Ind., for three years and until further order of the court. The ARDC lodged an 11-count complaint against Brenman over out-of-state criminal convictions for battery and DUI, failing to notify those states’ disciplinary panels and for not cooperating with its investigation.

  • Matthew John McDonald, of Chicago, for two years effective Feb. 7 and until further order of the court, with the suspension stayed after 60 days by a two-year period of probation subject to conditions, including drug testing. The ARDC accused McDonald of lacking diligence in an acquisition, failing to abide by his client’s decisions and making misrepresentations to a colleague.

  • Mark Vince Tillman, of Chicago, for two years effective Feb. 7 and until he completes a professionalism seminar. The ARDC alleged Tillman used $37,000 from an estate matter for his own purposes and made employees sign statements saying a client signed a will in their presence even though they didn’t.

  • K.O. Johnson, of Sycamore, for 18 months effective Feb. 7 and until restitution in the amount of $1,443 is made to a former client. The disciplinary commission accused Johnson of dishonesty in a trio of matters, including one in which he allegedly embezzled $2,000 from his bankruptcy estate.

  • Robert Kenneth Lock, Jr., of Chicago, for one year and until further order of the court. The ARDC accused Lock of misconduct in his operation of a company that advertised its ability to help clients with debt; specifically that he solicited clients through non-lawyers and shared legal fees with them.

  • Ana B. Tristan, of Beecher, for one year and until further order of the court. The commission accused Tristan of neglect in a pair of dissolution of marriage proceedings, as well as conversion and failure to return unearned fees in one of those matters.

  • James Joseph Graney, of Niles, for one year and until further order of the court. The complaint against Graney stemmed from his misdemeanor convictions for domestic battery and retail theft. The ARDC also accused him of cyber stalking a woman he met through an online dating website.

  • Patrick Joseph O’Connor, of Chicago, for one year effective Feb. 7. The complaint against O’Connor stemmed from his representation of a woman being sued over building violations and accused him of fabricating a letter in that matter. He was charged with forgery and fraud, but entered in a plea agreement, in which he was convicted of misdemeanor deceptive practices.

  • Jess Evan Forrest, of Chicago, for six months effective Feb. 7. The ARDC accused Forrest of violating the state’s Notary Act by falsely notarizing a quit-claim deed and then lying about the matter to it.

  • Marvin Marshall, of Maywood, for six months effective Feb. 7 and until restitution in the amount of $18,100 is made to his wife’s aunt, who he represented in a real estate transaction.

  • Sharon E. Williams, of Chicago, for four months effective Feb. 7, followed by one-year of probation with conditions. The ARDC accused Williams of misconduct in relation to the fees she charged in an estate matter.

  • Thomas J. Fleischmann, of St. Charles, for 60 days. The commission accused him of neglect and failure to communicate with two clients, as well as making dishonest statements to the ARDC.

  • Martin J. McKenzie, of Chicago, for 30 days effective Feb. 7. The ARDC accused McKenzie, as trustee of a family trust, of using about $90,000 of the trust assets to fund personal business ventures and failing to provide an accounting to his uncle despite a court order requiring him to do so.

The high court also censured Patrick Andrew Fleming, of Chicago. The commission lodged a complaint against Fleming over allegations he made false statements to the U.S. Immigration Court in connection with his former mother-in-law’s immigration matter.

In addition, the Supreme Court granted former Coles County Public Defender Lonnie Lutz’s motion to strike his name from the state’s roll of attorneys. Lutz was facing potential discipline after the ARDC accused him of making inappropriate contact with three women he represented during his time as the public defender.

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