An Illinois attorney disciplinary review board has agreed to recommend a 30-month suspension for a Chicago area lawyer accused of sexually harassing five former female employees, a neighbor and a stranger on the street.
Late last month, the Review Board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission upheld the recommendation of an Illinois ARDC hearing board, which had sought to suspend the law license of attorney Highland Park attorney Paul M. Weiss for 30 months.
The recommendation will next go to the Illinois Supreme Court, which has the final say on attorney disciplinary matters.
The Review Board’s recommendation marks the latest action in the case against Weiss, which was first filed more than six years ago.
In reviewing the matter, the ARDC Review Board rejected Weiss’ contention that the hearing board had erred in its handling of the matter, and had reached an “overly harsh” decision that was “against the manifest weight of the evidence.” Among other contentions, Weiss had argued the hearing board had erred by “’recasting’ charges of sexual harassment as violations of the Criminal Code” and by not considering the lack of criminal convictions against Weiss, and had deprived him of due process by considering “information that was subject to expungement.”
The Review Board said it found each of those contentions to be “without merit,” and said the hearing board’s “painstaking” handling of the matter had led it to a mostly proper decision. However, the Review Board said it believed a slightly harsher sanction was proper. So, the board, while not lengthening its recommended span of suspension, opted to tack on the phrase “until further order of the Court” to its recommendation, which would require the Supreme Court to specifically lift the suspension for it to end.
“We believe the respondent (Weiss) is at significant risk of reoffending given his complete and total denial of a long-standing pattern of inappropriate sexual behavior, including similar prior discipline for lewd behavior, his seeming inability to control his behavior, and penchant for vilifying his victims,” the Review Board wrote in its July 23 report.
The board’s recommendation, however, still fell short of the discipline sought by ARDC Administrator Jerome Larkin, who suggested disbarment.
Weiss and his former business partner, Eric Freed, launched their firm in 1999, and continued to practice law together until 2011. Weiss left his former firm in 2011 and now practices law at Complex Litigation Group in Highland Park.
The two lawyers have been embroiled in court proceedings over the old firm’s finances since it dissolved. In 2008, the ARDC launched disciplinary proceedings against Weiss in a complaint that eventually grew to include allegations of sexual harassment and unethical lewd conduct against seven women.
The complaint against Weiss detailed claims of assault, battery, phone harassment, public indecency and disorderly conduct stemming from Weiss’ interactions with the women from 2000 to 2010.
Weiss, for instance, is specifically accused of asking five former female employees to have sex with him, inappropriately touching them, repeatedly calling them at home and of exposing himself to them, as well as two other women.
“We believe that, in this case, ‘what it past is prologue,’” the Review Board wrote in its report. “Unless respondent (Weiss) comes to grips with his problems and takes affirmative steps to understand and resolve them he is a very bad risk.”
The board, however, stopped short of recommending disbarment, noting “the bulk” of Weiss’ alleged misconduct “occurred quite some time ago” and Weiss “had done good work in his field of class action law.”
The Review Board voted 2-1 to recommend the 30 month suspension until further order of the Supreme Court, with board members Charles E. Pinkston Jr. and Jill W. Landsberg voting in favor of the suspension.
Board member Richard A. Green opposed the suspension, but only because he backed Larkin’s recommendation to disbar Weiss.
“Nothing in the record shows that he will not continue with the misconduct,” Green wrote in his dissent. “Clearly this behavior leads the profession into disrepute.”