Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed September 22, 2011

In re Mark Gerard Mulroe, 2011 IL 111378

Direct review of ARDC order

 

      JUSTICE GARMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

 

      This Arlington Heights attorney has several business enterprises in addition to his law practice, on which he spends less than 20% of his time. He had set up a trust account at his office, but he used it to hold business funds.

      In connection with a 2005 divorce in which he represented the husband, he agreed to take possession, until an allocation could be made by the court, of escrow funds resulting from the sale of the marital home. These funds were placed in the trust account. The court in the divorce proceeding awarded $127,783 to be paid from the escrow to the wife, but no payout to her was made before the balance in the trust account was drawn down to $174.81. Eventually, the attorney did pay the wife all that she was owed, with interest. He claimed that he delayed doing so until all issues were resolved on appeal.

      After the filing of a disciplinary complaint against him, the Hearing Board found conversion and several rule violations, imposing a three-month suspension from the practice of law. It did not, however, find dishonesty, deceit, fraud or misrepresentation in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(4) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. The Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission objected, theorizing that failure to follow proper procedures for safeguarding the funds was inherently dishonest and reckless and created a presumption of dishonesty.

      However, the supreme court, in this decision, declined to craft such a bright-line rule. The Hearing Board had found that the attorney was unaware of his ethical responsibilities for the proper handling of the third-party funds and had not acted dishonestly because he did not intend to implement any deprivation of the funds. The supreme court held that this Hearing Board finding was not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence and agreed that the proposed three-month suspension was appropriate.