SPRINGFIELD - From the confines of prison today, Gary Evan Peel, a former Madison County class action attorney, defended himself against a misconduct complaint leveled by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC).
Peel participated in this morning's hearing by phone from a federal prison in Kentucky, where he is serving a 12-year-sentence for his 2007 convictions for bankruptcy fraud and child pornography. Peel's law license was suspended on an interim basis as a result of his convictions and today, Denise Lynn Church, counsel for the ARDC, urged the panel to help make his suspension permanent.
"Mr. Peel has no prior discipline and we so stipulate, however, given the egregious misconduct, the administrator seeks a recommendation of disbarment," Church told the three-member panel of the ARDC hearing board.
The panel will review the case and make a recommendation to the Illinois Supreme Court, which has the final say in the matter. The types of discipline that could be imposed include disbarment, suspension, probation, censure and reprimand.
Peel, however, told the panel that he believes "these proceedings are premature" because he has not yet exhausted his appeal process.
Following allegations that he blackmailed his ex-wife with nude photographs of her then-16-year-old sister, Peel was convicted of obstruction of justice, bankruptcy fraud and child pornography in 2007 at the federal court in East St. Louis.
He appealed and in 2010, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the district court, which vacated his conviction for obstructing justice and resentenced him to his original sentence. His convictions on bankruptcy fraud and child pornography charges remained intact. The federal appeals court affirmed in February.
In March, Peel filed a motion to vacate, set aside or correct a sentence by a person in federal custody. Because that motion remains pending, Peel told the panel that proceeding with the hearing before his appeal process runs out violates his procedural and substantive due process rights.
He claims no remedy exists if he is disbarred and his convictions eventually get overturned because Supreme Court Rule 767 "will preclude me from seeking reconsideration or re-admittance for a total of five years."
Peel contends that his March motion, which was filed under Section 2255 of the United States Code, is not a new proceeding and therefore, should be treated as a continuation of the original criminal action.
Peel said the Seventh Circuit in Fish v. United States (1996) acknowledged that motions filed under this section are continuations of original actions even when they are assigned different case numbers.
On behalf of the ARDC, Church said Peel's pending motion "does not change the fact that he has been convicted and this panel is in a position to rule" on the recommendation for disbarment.
"I understand Mr. Peel's argument, but I don't believe it's correct," she said.
Just because Peel's motion remains pending in the court that entered his conviction, Church said that "does not change the fact that what he is doing is a collateral attack on a conviction," or an attempt to overturn a judgment in a proceeding other than the original action or an appeal from it.
Church said Rule 761 allows the ARDC to begin proceedings once there is a conviction, but does not provide for a stay until the conclusion of collateral proceedings. She also cited a handful of disciplinary cases involving crimes of moral turpitude, including In re Kevin F. Plachta, 11PR0127, to bolster the ARDC's position.
"I think the case law is fairly clear that a conviction from the crimes of the magnitude involved here merit disbarment and we ask that this panel recommend disbarment to the Supreme Court," Church said.
The hearing lasted about 30 minutes, at the end of which Peel asked how long it would take for the panel to issue its final recommendation.
As chairman of the panel, Leo Henry Konzen, an attorney with Lueders, Robertson & Konzen LLC in Granite City, told Peel to "take a deep breath" because "it could be four months" before its recommendation makes it to the state high court. He said the person who handles writing the recommendations for the ARDC "is very much backed up."
Konzen served on the panel alongside Robert Marcus, an attorney with Kujawski & Associates P.C. in O'Fallon, and Richard Corkery, a non-lawyer who lives in Springfield.