A Forest Park lawyer accused by state attorney disciplinary officials of skipping out on a client’s trial, costing his client more than $33,000 in opposing attorney fees and nearly costing his client $465,000 in default judgments, has been disbarred by the Illinois Supreme Court after failing to represent himself during hearings on his alleged actions.
On March 21, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) announced the Illinois Supreme Court had disbarred attorney Michael David Gerhardt, as well as five other Illinois lawyers, as part of the court’s latest round of disciplinary actions against attorneys accused of violating the law or court rules governing attorney conduct.
The ARDC also announced the state high court had suspended 11 lawyers, while censuring three others.
According to a Feb. 29, 2016, complaint posted by the ARDC, Gerhardt was accused of accepting $2,500 in cash to represent a commercial landlord embroiled in a contract dispute with tenants, who had sued to resolve a disagreement over the terms of the lease.
Gerhardt had been hired by the landlord in early 2015 after his original attorney had received permission from the court to withdraw from the case.
While appearing several times on behalf of his client in court from January to April 2015, the complaint said Gerhardt never complied with court-ordered discovery requests sought by the plaintiffs, and ultimately failed to represent his client at an April 2015 trial, or inform his clients of the upcoming trial.
At trial, a judge issued judgments against Gerhardt’s client totaling $465,000.
Gerhardt’s client learned of the judgments after contacting new counsel when Gerhardt had been unresponsive to his phone calls and other inquiries for weeks. His new attorney persuaded the judge to vacate the judgment, but not before the landlord was ordered to pay his opponents’ attorney fees, totaling more than $33,000.
Additionally, the complaint against Gerhardt alleged, in a different case, he had mishandled a $20,000 settlement, which should have been paid to a client he represented in an auto accident personal injury case.
In addition to Gerhardt, the Illinois Supreme Court also disbarred:
- Joel M. Bell, of Chicago. Bell was accused of misappropriating more than $364,000 in client funds;
- Jerald A. Hochsztein, of St. Louis. Hochsztein was disbarred in Illinois after he had been similarly disbarred in Missouri for allegedly mishandling several client cases and for practicing law after he had been disbarred by default;
- Robert J. Howell, of Raleigh, N.C. Howell was disbarred after he pleaded guilty to firearms-related felony and misdemeanor charges, and a misdemeanor count of possession of cocaine in South Carolina. He has been sentenced to a year in South Carolina prison, according to the ARDC;
- Robert T. McAllister, of Denver, Colo. McAllister was disbarred after he was convicted in Colorado federal court of obtaining more than $1 million from unlawful wire transfers, using embezzled funds for a real estate purchase and of making false representations in his own bankruptcy petitions;
- Teresa S. Woods, of Naperville. The ARDC accused Woods of misappropriating about $27,500 in client funds in connection with real estate matters and a personal injury case, while also allegedly misleading her clients into a repayment agreement to delay repaying earnest money she had converted. She also was accused of signing her client’s name on two settlement checks without the client’s knowledge.
The Illinois Supreme Court also suspended 11 attorneys in March, including:
- David R. Wroblewski, of Phoenix, Az., for four years. Wroblewski was suspended in Illinois as reciprocal discipline, after he was suspended by Arizona disciplinary officials for mishandling numerous bankruptcy cases and other alleged malfeasance;
- Vincent J. O’Brien, of Chicago, for two years and until further order of the court, for neglecting five different personal injury cases, and other alleged malfeasance, according to the ARDC;
- James G. Walker, of Bloomington, for two years and until further order of the court, for allegedly making “accusations about the integrity of three appellate court judges with reckless disregard as to the truth or falsity of the accusations” in court filings over the course of two years, according to the ARDC;
- Magdelene R. Wilson, of Lakemoor, for two years and until further order of the court, with the suspension stayed after 90 days and after she makes restitution payments to clients. The ARDC accused her of mishandling eight cases and commingling various funds in five of the cases;
- Alfonso Bascos, of Chicago, one year and until further order of the court;
- G. Ronald Kesinger, of Jacksonville, one year and until further order of the court;
- Helen A. Lesczynski, of Chicago, one year;
- Michael L. Cummings, of Highland Park, six months;
- David K. Cooper, of Chicago, 90 days;
- Dewey R. Haime, of Loves Park, 60 days;
- Charles A. Lukis, of Clarksburg, Md., 30 days.
The court also censured three attorneys, including Kenneth Grnacek, of Custer Park; Matthew R. Hartley, of Phoenix; and Steven M. Landis, of Tinley Park.