SPRINGFIELD – Attorney Paul Weiss of Chicago, who rode the crest of the class action wave in Madison County, has lost his law license for a long time.
On July 23, a review board of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission suspended him for 30 months and until further order.
The review board stiffened a ruling from a hearing board that would have simply suspended Weiss for 30 months on six findings of sexual misconduct.
Requiring a further order means his suspension will last at least 30 months.
Weiss could have fared worse, for commission administrator Jerome Larkin and review board member Richard Green wanted to disbar him.
Green wrote, “Nothing in the record shows that he will not continue with the misconduct. Clearly this behavior leads the profession into disrepute.”
Review board members Charles Pinkston and Jill Landsberg wrote, “Unless Respondent comes to grips with his problems and takes affirmative steps to understand and resolve them he is a very bad risk.”
Weiss showed the review board no remorse, claiming they couldn’t find that he committed crimes in the absence of any criminal conviction.
Pinkston and Landsberg quoted an Illinois Supreme Court decision that, “It is not the conviction of a crime which justifies discipline, but the commission of the act.”
They quoted from the decision that even formal acquittal of a criminal charge does not automatically bar a disciplinary proceeding.
They quoted another decision that, “The primary purpose of a disciplinary proceeding is to protect the public from unqualified or unethical practitioners.”
They also quoted from the decision that disciplinary proceedings are neither civil nor criminal, and are governed solely by Supreme Court rules and decisions.
“And finally, it is difficult to imagine that the drafters of the rules did not understand the difference between the words ‘conviction’ and ‘act’ and that they really meant ‘conviction’ when they used the word ‘act,’” they wrote.
“We decline to use our imagination in that regard.”
Though they classified Weiss as a bad risk, they softened the blow by writing that, “the bulk of his misconduct occurred quite some time ago.”
They also credited him with “good work in the field of class action law.”
“For these reasons we think disbarment is not appropriate,” they wrote.
Weiss, 48, achieved success at an early age in Cook County class actions.
He also made obscene telephone calls to two women at his firm, a high school athlete he saw at a game, and a fourth victim.
He was arrested, convicted, and disciplined.
One of the charges brought by the ARDC alleged that Weiss had asked a female associate attorney in 2010 to wear a bathing suit to work.
In 1998, Weiss and former law firm leader Tom Lakin of Wood River agreed to pursue class actions together in Madison County.
The combination of Weiss’s experience and Lakin’s prestige pushed them ahead of other local lawyers who had rushed into the class action field.
Weiss filed hundreds of class complaints with Tom Lakin’s son, Brad Lakin.
They often filed them in batches, alleging the same act of misconduct against multiple defendants.
The partnership collapsed after federal prosecutors charged Tom Lakin with drug crimes, and a dispute broke out over fees from successful suits.
Weiss sued the Lakins in Cook County, the Lakins sued Weiss in Madison County, and they eventually resolved the dispute.
The attorney commission filed charges against Weiss again in 2008, alleging six counts of criminal misconduct involving six women from 1999 to 2003.
The commission later added a seventh count involving an incident in 2010.
The hearing board found misconduct on all counts but one, concluding that his conduct resulted from a selfish motive of sexual gratification.
The board found that he “took advantage of vulnerable employees who were young, self supporting, and dependent upon him for their livelihood.”
Commission administrator Larkin asked the review board to adopt the findings of the hearing board and disbar Weiss.
Pinkston and Landsberg took middle ground, tougher than the hearing board yet not as tough as Larkin.
“We believe that Respondent is at significant risk of reoffending given his complete and total denial of a long standing pattern of inappropriate sexual behavior, including prior discipline for lewd behavior, his seeming inability to control his behavior, and his penchant for vilifying his victims,” they wrote.