The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) saw a nearly 4-percent increase in the number of investigations it took in last year, according to the agency’s annual report.
Submitted this week to the state high court, the ARDC report shows that it docketed 6,397 investigations in 2012, which represents a slight bump from 2011’s 6,155 investigations and the highest number since 1996.
“Much of the increase can be attributed to the addition of two new categories of investigations,” the report states, referring to Rule 1.15 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct and new Illinois Supreme Court Rule 779.
Among other changes, an amendment adopted in September 2011 to Rule 1.15 requires banks to notify the ARDC of overdrafts to client trust account. Supreme Court Rule 779, which was adopted in January, gave the ARDC the authority to bring complaints for the unauthorized practice of law.
The ARDC notes that in 2012, it investigated 421 reports over the notification of client trust account overdrafts and 86 reports of unauthorized practice of law.
The report shows the remaining grievances filed with the ARDC last year “involved issues of poor attorney-client relations, typically neglect of a client matter (38 percent of all grievances) or failure to communicate with a client (20 percent of all grievances).”
It adds, “Consistent with prior years, the top practice areas likely to attract a grievance include criminal law, domestic relations, tort and real estate.”
The ARDC notes that the 6,397 investigations docketed in 2012 involved charges against 4,287 different attorneys, about 20 percent of whom were the subject of more than one investigation last year.
The report goes on to explain that in 2012, the Supreme Court entered 103 sanctions against 102 lawyers: 30 were disbarred, 38 were suspended for some period of time, 17 were put on probation, 15 were censured and three were reprimanded.
The ARDC Hearing Board reprimanded three lawyers last year, for a total of 105 attorneys disciplined in 2012.
Out of those 105 attorneys, the report shows 44 were from Cook County and 26 were from out of Illinois. One attorney from each Madison and St. Clair counties were disciplined in 2012, according to the report.
The Madison County attorney disciplined last year was Michele Lynne Berkel of the Berkel Law Firm in Wood River.
Jim Grogan, deputy administrator and chief counsel at the ARDC, said Berkel received a 30-day suspension that took effect in February 2012. Her discipline, he said, stemmed from a client neglect matter.
He said the St. Clair disciplinary case was against East St. Louis attorney Lawrence Hess, who received a six-month suspension that started in October 2012.
The ARDC accused Hess and his attorney, Bruce Carr, of bringing a lawsuit against Hess’ former clients for the purpose of harassment.
According to the ARDC, “88 percent of the 105 lawyers disciplined in 2012 were sole practitioners or practiced in a firm of two to 10 lawyers at the time of the misconduct” and about 22 percent had substance abuse or mental impairment issues.
The full report, which also includes data on pro bono hours, attorney registration and ARDC programs, can be found at www.iardc.org/AnnualReport2012.pdf.