Embattled work comp arbitrator outlines defense at ARDC

Steve Korris Aug. 18, 2011, 4:59am


CHICAGO – Former workers' compensation arbitrator Jennifer Teague defends her one sided electronic communications with her lawyer friends as proper procedure.

Belleville lawyer James Wilson moved to dismiss misconduct charges against her on Aug. 2, writing that "many of the e-mails were part to the normal pretrial process."

He denied she knew some e-mail exchanges related to cases pending before her.

He wrote that when the Illinois Registration and Disciplinary Commission charged her, it invaded her decision making province.

He wrote that arbitrators and judges "are required by their jobs to make tough calls, which might subject them to complaints by attorneys who are dissatisfied with the results."

He interpreted paragraph 17 of the commission's complaint as a prospective statement that if paragraph 16 was true, Teague would penalize the state as employer.

He didn't capture the color of paragraph 17, in which Teague allegedly wrote in an email that she would tear into people "like they have never seen."

Commission administrator Jerome Larkin opposed Teague's motion on Aug. 4, arguing she prejudged an issue without allowing a party to respond or prevent evidence.

Commission counsel Denise Church wrote, "Here, the administrator is not asking the hearing board to review the merits of respondent's proclamation or preliminary ruling that she would tear into a party's employees, demonstrating prejudice against the State employer."

"The administrator is asking the hearing board to determine whether the manner of making the decision to tear into a party was prejudicial to the administration of justice," Church wrote.

She wrote that Larkin would present evidence about how the attorney general planned to address Teague's conduct had she not been removed from her position.

She wrote that in one case, Teague used her position to speed up payment in her own workers' compensation case.

"She also attempted to hide a public hearing from the media in the Mitchell case, then encouraged the lawyers involved to lie about the incident," Church wrote.

According to charges filed by the ARDC, Teague allegedly tried to keep the Belleville News-Democrat from covering a hearing for former state trooper Matthew Mitchell, who caused a crash that killed two teenagers.

Mitchell sought compensation for injuries he suffered in the crash.

Three lawyers on the other end of Teague's exchanges also face misconduct charges, and one has confessed almost completely.

On Aug. 3, Kerry O'Sullivan admitted all allegations but one, generally admitted misconduct, and asked her hearing board to tell her what rules she broke.

Her lawyer, William Moran of Springfield, denied only that O'Sullivan initiated a series of communications that excluded opposing counsel Bill Schneider.

Moran wrote that O'Sullivan provided Schneider a copy of the first e-mail.

"Thereafter, arbitrator Teague initiated the ex parte communication by responding to respondent's e-mail without copying Mr. Schneider," Moran wrote.

"While Respondent was aware that Mr. Schneider was not included in the later e-mail exchanges contained in this string of communication, it was not her intention to exclude him from any discussion about the merits of the case before arbitrator Teague.

"Rather, respondent was put in an awkward position when arbitrator Teague did not copy Mr. Schneider on the later e-mails."

Another lawyer facing charges, Caryn Nadenbush, has already lost a motion to dismiss.

Leo Konzen of Granite City, chairman of her hearing panel, denied it on Aug.2.

As of Aug. 17, a similar motion remained pending from Elizabeth Barringer.

According to Alton lawyer Donald Groshong, who represents Nadenbush and Barringer, Larkin took e-mails out of context.

Groshong called on Larkin to set forth all relevant e-mails.

He called on Larkin to allege that any e-mail concerned the merits of a case.

He wrote that not all single party communications to a judicial officer are improper.

He wrote that "improper communications are those seeking a benefit for one party only on the merits of the case detrimental to the adverse party."

He described one e-mail as "harmless and innocent comments about the inconsequential matter of a lawyer's sunburn."

Barringer allegedly wrote, "I bet he looks like a lobster."

Hearing boards for Teague and Barringer plan telephone conferences on Aug. 25.

O'Sullivan's hearing board plans a phone conference on Aug. 31.

Nadenbush's hearing board plans a phone conference on Sept. 9.

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