Belleville attorney Charles Stegmeyer, 72, will be suspended from the practice of law for 60 days beginning Dec. 4, by order of the Illinois Supreme Court.
The suspension stems from misconduct charges brought by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC), which accused Stegmeyer of failing to timely repay $15,000 loaned to him by a company that provides funding to lawyers anticipating fees from settlements, and for making false statements to that company's attorney.
According to ARDC's Nov. 13 petition to impose discipline, Stegmeyer agreed in February 2010 to assign his expected fees in a case against an ambulance company to Modeso, a New York-based company that buys portions of legal fees on settled cases.
Stegmeyer had further agreed that once he received settlement funds, he would deposit them into his trust account and immediately repay Modeso $15,000, plus interest. If repaid by March 25, 2010, the amount due under the assignment would have been $15,815.79, according to ARDC administrator Jerome Larkin
Larkin wrote that Stegmeyer received settlement proceeds in March 2010, but did not immediately repay Modeso. Further, the account balance in his trust account fell to $6,340.79, as Stegmeyer distributed settlement funds to his clients and made other payments from the account, Larkin stated.
When approached about the status of the agreement by legal counsel for Modeso in August 2010, Stegmeyer "falsely told her there had been no settlement of the underlying case," Larkin wrote.
In August 2010, Stegmeyer wrote to Modeso's legal counsel "and falsely stated there had been a misunderstanding, and that he had been under the impression repayment would occur after the probate estate was settled," Larkin wrote.
"Pursuant to the terms of the assignment, the repayment was actually to be made after the settlement with the ambulance company, not once all matters in the estate were settled."
Again in 2012, Modeso inquired about repayment, according to Larkin.
In August 2012, Stegmeyer "falsely stated in writing that he was holding the money to satisfy the assignment in his trust account. At the time he made that statement, the balance in Respondent's trust account was only $11,510.78, less than the amount he owed to Modeso," Larkin wrote.
In October and December 2012, Stegmeyer then paid $16,500 of the funds owed to Modeso, according to Larkin. In 2014, after the ARDC complaint was filed, he paid all remaining funds owed to Modeso.
In its recommendation for discipline, Larkin took into account Stegmeyer's discipline-free record and that he had been remorseful and cooperative in proceedings. Larkin further noted that Stegmeyer had ongoing cancer treaments in 2011 and 2012.
"In addition, Respondent would have presented testimony from a character witness to the effect that Respondent is well-respected and has a good reputation among the local judges and attorneys," Larkin wrote.
"In aggravation, Respondent was an experienced attorney at the time he engaged in the misconduct, and had financial difficulties at the time he used the funds that were to be repaid to Modeso," he wrote.
In addition to his 60 day suspension, Stegmeyer was ordered to reimburse the Client Protection Program Trust Fund for any client protection payments arising from his conduct prior to the termination of the period of suspension.