ARDC recommends denial of former Madison County judge's request for reinstatement

By Bethany Krajelis | Aug 8, 2012

A review board of the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) has recommended the denial of a former Madison County judge's request for reinstatement to the practice of law, saying he has not come to grips with the harm of his misconduct.

Thomas Hildebrand, who practiced law in Granite City after a five-year stint as associate judge in the 1980s, was suspended in 2006 after the Illinois Supreme Court determined he engaged in misconduct by representing clients with conflicting interests in a criminal matter.

The court also found he engaged in dishonesty and deceit by making false statements to court and law enforcement officials, as well as a client, and by talking to a criminal defendant without obtaining permission from that defendant's attorney.

One of the matters Hildebrand was suspended for stems from his representation of Michael Coleman, who was charged with five counts of first degree murder.

At the same time Hildebrand represented Coleman, he also represented three witnesses for the prosecution in Coleman's case on other criminal charges.

Coleman appealed his conviction and life sentence. The appellate court relied on Hildebrand's conflict of interest to reverse the conviction and remand the case back to Madison County.

Hildebrand, who was previously disciplined for similar misconduct, first sought reinstatement in 2007, but withdrew his request after an ARDC hearing board recommended his petition be denied.

The petition for reinstatement at issue before the review board was filed in 2010.

Despite expressing reservations over Hildebrand's ability to handle the business and operational aspects of his practice, a panel of the ARDC hearing board in January recommended that Hildebrand be reinstated with conditions, which included getting a mentor and completing a professionalism seminar.

Pointing to Hildebrand's prior misconduct, alleged failure to understand the nature of his actions and plans to return to a high volume practice, the administrator of the ARDC argued on review that Hildebrand's petition should be denied.

In its Aug. 6 report, the review board agreed with the administrator.

While Hildebrand accepted greater responsibility for engaging in conflicts of interest at his second reinstatement hearing, the review board said in its report that it was "troubled by his continued insistence ... that he was attempting to help his clients and that he was acting with good intentions."

"Even more disturbing are his explanations as to his understanding of the harm caused by his dishonest conduct," the report states. "With respect to his dishonest conduct, petitioner addressed his conduct by stating at his reinstatement hearing, 'I will no longer be stupid enough to tell lies to clients whether intentions are good. As a man said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.'"

The review board added that Hildebrand's insistence that he was acting with good intentions when he lied to clients, opposing counsel, court and law enforcement officials and the hearing boards in his disciplinary cases "gives us pause in recommending his reinstatement."

The review board stated in its report that while Hildebrand's conduct has been "generally positive" since his suspension, he still "fails to recognize that when he engaged in a conflict of interest and acted in one client's interests, he was causing harm to another client."

Despite Hildebrand's positive steps, which include employment in various capacities, the review board pointed to the hearing board's findings that Hildebrand made some mistakes during his suspension.

One of those mistakes, the report states, was that he and his former wife, Carol Cagle, an Alton attorney, used 289 checks from a joint bank account entitled "Hildebrand and Cagle Attorneys."

Although Hildebrand testified that he usually crossed out the word "attorneys" on the checks, the report asserts that none of the checks showed that he had done so.

The board also said that Hildebrand failed to tell his accountant that he moved out of an apartment and into his former law office when he signed his 2009 tax returns, which allocated all of the buildings' real estate taxes, mortgage interest and utilities as deductible business expenses.

After the ARDC administrator questioned Hildebrand about the use of the building in 2011, the review board's report states that Hildebrand had his accountant file an amended return and paid the IRS about $3,000 in additional taxes.

To support his contention he should be reinstated, Hildebrand cited a 2011 disciplinary decision of the ARDC that allowed reinstatement with conditions.

The review board, however, said that case was not similar to Hildebrand's as it dealt with an attorney's request to be reinstated following his rehabilitation from drug use.

Unlike the attorney in that case, the report contends that Hildebrand "has not suggested conditions or a plan to successfully avoid misconduct."

"He testified he had a conflicts system in place when he practiced law; he chose not to use it," the report states. "While he made empty promises to use it in the future, he offered few details demonstrating his understanding of conflicts of interest or how he would assure utilization of such a system."

Noting that Hildebrand previously served as a judge, the board said in its report that he "should have been a visible symbol of honesty and respect for the profession."

"Instead," the report states, "petitioner demonstrated a repeated tendency to engage in dishonesty ..., has offered no reasonable explanations for his behavior, and he has not fully come to grips with the harm his lack of candor has caused to his clients, to his colleagues, and to the legal profession.

Chicago attorney Jill W. Landsberg, Wheaton attorney Keith E. Roberts, Jr., and West Dundee attorney Benedict Schwarz, II served as members of the review board.

The citation for Hildebrand's disciplinary matter is 2010PR102.

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