Cueto suing justices over his disbarment; wants other orders overturned

Kelly Holleran Feb. 13, 2009, 1:25am

Amiel Cueto

Illinois Supreme Court justices have asked federal Judge David Herndon in East St. Louis to stay discovery in a suit brought against them by disbarred attorney Amiel Cueto.

Cueto has alleged that Justices Robert Thomas, Lloyd Karmeier, Rita Garman, Thomas Fitzgerald, Anne Burke, Charles Freeman, and Thomas Kilbride violated the Civil Rights Act and the Constitution by denying his petition to vacate an order of disbarment and by reassigning two lawsuits filed by Cueto.

Cueto was convicted on conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges in 1997 and served six years in federal prison. He was disbarred by the Illinois Supreme Court on Nov. 19, 2004.

In his suit filed Dec. 10 in U.S. District Court, Cueto also alleges James Grogan, an officer of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC), violated the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act by committing perjury during Cueto's criminal trial.

Cueto alleges that the Supreme Court relied on the jury's tainted guilty verdict when it disbarred him. His complaint charged the Court with failing to require proof of misconduct, failing to identify any acts of misconduct, and disbarring Cueto even though all evidence against him was hearsay.

In Count I of Cueto's three-count suit, he is asking the court to enter a declaratory judgment that states the practices that led to his disbarment, and that resulted in the justices' refusal to vacate his disbarment, violate the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment.

Cueto also seeks a judgment declaring and holding that the justices are to vacate his disbarment, respect the due process and equal protection rights of lawyers facing disbarment and discipline, and comply with the applicable court rule regulating ARDC proceedings "in all (lawyer disciplinary) cases, especially in any future case against Amiel Cueto.…"

Count II of Cueto's suit claims the justices violated the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment when they issued supervisory orders in two lawsuits brought by Cueto, including one involving the Madison County Record.

Cueto challenges orders issued by the justices assigning judges outside of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit to preside over cases that he filed against the Chicago Tribune, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Record, and others. Cueto claims the orders were issued on the basis of partisan politics and to favor parties that had made large contributions to certain (unnamed) justices.

According to Cueto's complaint, "The Tribune and its co-defendants knew that certain members of the Illinois Supreme Court would reward them for the huge sums and the political support those members had received."

Cueto is seeking a declaratory judgment stating that the justices' practice in issuing supervisory orders violated the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment, voiding the two supervisory orders entered in Cueto's lawsuits, and awarding Cueto attorneys' fees.

The third and final Count of Cueto's complaint alleges that Grogan violated the Civil Rights Act and the Constitution by committing "massive perjury" at Cueto's criminal trial. Cueto is seeking $30 million in compensatory damages from Grogan and up to $270 million in punitive damages, plus attorney's fees of up to $100 million.

The justices filed a motion to dismiss Cueto's complaint on Jan. 12. Grogan filed a separate motion to dismiss on Jan. 20.

The justices' and Grogan's respective motions to dismiss argue that they have immunity under the 11th Amendment from Cueto's claims and that Cueto's federal complaint improperly attacks final state court orders.

Grogan also argues that the claim against him is barred by the statute of limitations.

The motions to dismiss are currently pending. The defendants' joint motion to stay discovery, which was filed on Jan. 23, asks Judge Herndon to suspend discovery until after he rules on the motions to dismiss.

Alluding to the asserted grounds for dismissal, the defendants' motion to stay discovery states: "The defendants named in this case are all public officials, and it is requested that they be spared the time, effort, and public expense of engaging in any discovery unless and until this Court determines whether the plaintiff has properly invoked federal jurisdiction, whether all of his claims are not otherwise barred, and, additionally, whether plaintiff could maintain a civil rights claim against defendant Grogan more than four years after plaintiff's alleged cause of action accrued, even assuming that it was not otherwise barred."

The justices are represented by an attorney from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office, Karen L. McNaught of Springfield.

Grogan is represented by ARDC attorneys Rosalyn B. Kaplan of Chicago and Peter L. Rotskoff of Springfield.

Cueto is representing himself.

U.S. District Court case number: 08-868-DRH.

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