The Illinois Supreme Court by consent disbarred Alton attorney Bradford Hunt on May 16.
He was charged last year by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) with failing to keep client property separate from his and unauthorized practice of law.
The ARDC accused him of using $60,000 in client funds for his own purposes, and later amended the complaint saying that he had been removed from the master roll of attorneys by April 2013, yet continued to represent clients by appearing before the court, filing pleadings and filing his appearance on behalf of at least one client.
According to the statement of charges, Hunt used his client’s funds to make investments and pay his own tax and mortgage obligations. The funds at issue belonged to the estate of Mitchell Harrell, who was shot by another minor child in September 1997 and was paralyzed from the waist down as a result.
The shooting took place at the residence of the shooter’s parents, Ronald and Cheryl Thorp, and that the shooter’s grandfather, Eldon Fortschneider, owned the residence.
In August 1998, Hunt entered into an agreement with Tracie Harrell to represent her minor son and then filed a civil suit in Madison County Circuit Court seeking damages on Harrell’s behalf, the charges stated.
Three months later, then Judge Randy Bono approved a $200,000 settlement that the Thorps’ liability insurance carrier offered and Hunt received $66,666 in fees from that amount.
The court then opened a probate case for further proceedings and in 1999, Hunt petitioned the court in that case to accept a $1.24 million structured settlement offered by Fortschneider’s liability carrier.
After approving that settlement, the court awarded Hunt $350,000 in attorney’s fees and ordered $60,000 of the settlement funds be placed in his client trust account to pay costs associated with anticipated litigation against the manufacturer of the firearm used in the shooting.
According to the ARDC, the court also ordered Hunt to provide annual accounting for the $60,000 that was ordered to be held in a trust and to return any portion of that amount not used in litigation against the firearm manufacturer.
The ARDC stated that Hunt never deposited the funds into his client trust account, didn’t file suit against the firearm manufacturer and failed to file any accountings of the funds in violation of the court’s 1999 order.
Instead, Hunt “used the $60,000 entrusted to him for litigation expenses for his own purposes, including paying personal tax obligations, paying down the mortgage on his home, and making various investments” even though neither Harrell nor the court authorized him to do so, the ARDC stated.
Harrell’s mother in July 2004 requested an accounting of the money from Hunt, who the ARDC claims told her “he had used the funds and asked her to ‘just keep the matter between the two of them.’”
Hunt agreed to repay $50,000 of the funds in monthly installments of $300, but never told Harrell’s mother that consulting or retaining independent counsel in relation to their repayment agreement was appropriate or necessary, the ARDC stated.
Hunt also never sought an order from the probate court to make these payments, the complaint alleged.
ARDC administrator Jerome Larkin stated that if the charges against Hunt were subject to a hearing, it would have been proven that Hunt engaged in the following misconduct:
- Conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(4) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990), by his unauthorized use of client funds for his own purposes; by his failure to place the funds in trust as ordered by the court, and by requesting that Harrell not report his improper use of the funds;
- Failing to hold property of clients or third persons that is in a lawyer's possession in connection with a representation separate from the lawyers own property, and in a separate account, in violation of Rule 1.15(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990);
- Making an agreement with a client prospectively limiting the lawyer's liability to the client unless such an agreement is permitted by law and the client is independently represented in making the agreement, in violation of Rule 1.8(f) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990);
- Settling a claim made against the lawyer with an unrepresented client or former client without first advising that person in writing that independent representation is appropriate in connection therewith, in violation of Rule 1.8(g) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990);
- Conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(a)(5) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (1990), by failing to comply with court's order of March 19, 1999, which required Respondent to maintain the funds for the benefit of his client and to file annual accountings;
- Conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010), by representing parties before the court, filing pleadings, and signing court documents after having been removed from the Roll of Attorneys; and
- Practicing law in a jurisdiction where doing so violates the regulation of the practice of law, in violation of Rule 5.5(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010).
Hunt also faces criminal charges and civil litigation in the courts of Madison County.
After previous continuations, he is set to go to trial May 22 on solicitation of sexual acts charges. Grand jurors indicted him last year on misdemeanor offenses, saying he solicited two women in exchange for legal services.
In a separate case, he faces trial June 2 on possession of marijuana charges, a felony. He is accused of growing 24 pot plants in his Alton home.
And, he is a defendant in a legal malpractice complaint filed earlier this year by a man confined to a facility that houses residents classified as sexually violent.
Larry P. Moore, who resides at Rushville Treatment and Detention facility in Rushville, claims Hunt accepted a $2,500 payment and promised he could get Moore released from under the Illinois Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act.
Moore claims Hunt “never did anything” to get him released.
He seeks repayment of the $2,500 fee paid, plus $60,000 in compensatory damage for mental and emotional injury.
Moore, acting pro se, filed a motion for default judgment saying Hunt’s wife accepted service on March 12, yet he has not filed an answer to the suit.
The motion remains pending