EAST ST. LOUIS – U.S. District Judge David Herndon has dismissed a $90 million suit that disbarred lawyer Amiel Cueto of Belleville filed against three men he accused of framing him and causing him to lose his law license.
Herndon ruled on Sept. 1 that Cueto's conviction on three counts of obstructing justice precludes him from denying in a civil proceeding that he engaged in criminal conduct.
Cueto sought damages from James Grogan of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, St. Clair County State's Attorney Robert Haida, and state liquor control agent Bonds Robinson.
"The issue of guilt was fully litigated and decided at trial on the merits and upheld by the Seventh Circuit," Herndon wrote.
"The conduct for which Cueto was disbarred is the same as the conduct for which he was criminally convicted," he wrote.
He wrote that according to the U. S. Supreme Court, "a convicted criminal may not bring a civil suit questioning the validity of his conviction until he has gotten the conviction set aside."
"Cueto has not pled that he has been vindicated and he cannot plead that he has been vindicated as his criminal conviction has been upheld," he wrote.
Jurors convicted Cueto in 1997, and the Seventh Circuit appeals court in Chicago upheld his conviction in 1998.
The Illinois Supreme Court suspended his license in 1998 and disbarred him in 2004.
In 2008, Cueto sued Grogan, Haida and Robinson, claiming they conspired to frame him in violation of federal law against racketeering.
He claimed $30 million in actual damages, figuring that loss of his license cost him $1.5 million a year for 20 years.
He sought triple damages for a total of $90 million.
Grogan, Haida and Robinson moved to dismiss, arguing that he failed to state a claim on which a court could grant relief.
They also argued that a four year statute of limitations had run out.
Cueto answered that his cause of action accrued when the Supreme Court revoked his license, not when the court suspended it.
Herndon didn't see any difference.
"Cueto's alleged injury was the same in August 1998 as it is today – his inability to practice law and make an alleged $1,500,000 per year practicing law," Herndon wrote.
The injury has been the same for more than a decade, Herndon wrote.
A similar suit that Cueto filed against Illinois Supreme Court Justices remains pending.