A hearing board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) has recommended a two-year suspension for a former workers’ compensation arbitrator.
In a report released Monday, the hearing board concluded “that a sanction less than a two-year suspension would denigrate the seriousness of” Jennifer Teague’s “misconduct and would erode public trust in the legal profession and administrative officials.”
The board’s recommendation, which now goes to the Illinois Supreme Court for consideration, stems from a four-count complaint the ARDC lodged against Teague in July 2011.
The hearing in Teague’s ARDC matter took place in April in Springfield. Denise Church represented the ARDC and James Williams represented Teague, who has changed her last name to her maiden name of Carril.
The ARDC accused Teague of engaging in ex-parte communications with lawyers who appeared before her, trying to use her position to benefit her own workers’ comp claim, making improper statements about her cases and attempting to conduct a public hearing away from the media.
Teague resigned from her position in July 2011 and has not practiced law since. With her law license on inactive status, Teague “has decided to pursue a different career” and “is attending school and doing an internship,” the report states.
Although Teague acknowledged her mistakes and apologized, the hearing board in its report said, “We find that she had no remorse for the adverse effect her misconduct had on the legal profession and proceedings before the Workers' Compensation Commission.”
“We find that the regret she expressed was primarily for herself, that is, for the loss of her career and her resulting financial hardship,” the report states. “Additionally, we do not believe she fully understands the seriousness of her misconduct.”
The hearing board also dubbed Teague’s effort to prevent the media from attending a hearing as “very disturbing and clearly unacceptable.”
The hearing dealt with the workers’ comp case of former State Police Trooper Matt Mitchell, who struck another vehicle while driving 126 mph in his police car as he sent an email and used his cell phone.
Two girls were killed in the 2007 crash and Mitchell was injured. He pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and then filed a workers’ comp claim for his injuries.
According to the ARDC, Teague sent emails to Mitchell’s attorney, Kerry O’Sullivan, about her desire to hold Mitchell’s workers’ comp hearing “on the sly with no press” by putting it on a special docket setting.
“There is no doubt that the Respondent intentionally took affirmative steps to prevent the news media from knowing the date, time, and location of the hearing in the Mitchell case,” the board states in its report.
It added, “By affirmatively seeking to prevent the news media from attending the hearing in the Mitchell case, the Respondent acted to destroy public confidence in Workers' Compensation Commission proceedings. Such conduct must not be tolerated.”
The hearing board also determined that Teague engaged in ex parte communications with O’Sullivan, as well as fellow St. Louis lawyers Caryn Nadenbush and Elizabeth Barringer.
The Supreme Court imposed censures on O’Sullivan and Barringer for their misconduct. Nadenbush’s case remains pending, but an ARDC hearing board in July recommended she be suspended for 90 days.
“The Respondent's misconduct in this case is far more egregious than that committed by O'Sullivan, Barringer, or Nadenbush,” the report states. “The Respondent's misconduct occurred in more cases and involved many more ex parte communications.”
In addition, the board determined that Teague “gave the appearance of having prejudged an evidentiary issue and compromised the appearance of a tribunal being fair and impartial” when she sent an email to attorneys in a case before hearing any evidence.
The ARDC board, however, said in its report that it was “unable to find by clear and convincing evidence” that Teague tried to use her position as arbitrator to speed up her workers’ comp claim.
Teague, according to the report, “suffered a repetitive trauma injury” while working as an arbitrator and had surgery on her elbow in 2010. She filed a workers’ comp claim, which appears to remain pending.
Champaign attorney Paul Hendren, Lake Bluff attorney Michael Greenfield and Ted Eilerman, a non-lawyer member of the board from Collinsville, made up the hearing board in Teague’s case.
The citation for Teague’s disciplinary case is Commission No. 2011PR76.