The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission has filed a complaint against attorney Mark Brian Moran of Aviston alleging he obtained funds from clients for a side business, didn’t fully inform them of their options regarding seeking independent counsel and failed to keep them informed properly about their case.
An attorney practicing since 1989, the ARDC alleges that Moran engaged in conduct which subjects him to discipline pursuant to their rules and Supreme Court Rule 770.
According to background information in the Feb. 24 complaint, Moran started a business in 2010, “a limited partnership entitled Professional Digital Advancement ("PDA") for the purpose of developing a website (SmartSharks.com) where legal consumers could compare fees and obtain an attorney for certain types of cases at a fixed fee," the complaint states. The sole owner of PDA, Moran sought investors for the venture.
In 2009, Cleveland and Sherrill Rayford, represented by attorney P.K. Johnson, filed a complaint regarding a property dispute between them and their neighbors Kevin and Debbie Hazlett. In the board complaint, it states that it was “alleged that the Hazletts, and the subdivision homeowners association, violated the declaration of covenants for the subdivision by changing the grade of the Rayfords' land parcel. The complaint sought injunctive and monetary relief. The case was docketed as Rayford et. al. v. Hazlett et. al., case number 09CH639, St. Clair County, Illinois.
On Dec. 5, 2010, Moran met with the Rayfords and took their case, informing them he would represent them instead of attorney Johnson. He also persuaded them to invest money in his company, PDA.
According to the complaint, Moran did not inform the Rayfords “that they could seek the advice of independent legal counsel with regard to the investment transactions nor did Respondent give the Rayfords reasonable time to seek independent counsel"; did not tell them “the essential terms of the investment transactions and Respondent's role in the transactions, including whether Respondent was representing the Rayfords in the transactions"; and didn’t give the Rayfords “any limited partnership agreement or other document to show that they had an interest in PDA.”
In 2014, a judgment was entered against the Rayfords and mailed to Moran. Allegedly, Moran didn’t tell them about the judgment order in case number 09CH639; he then filed an appeal, but he didn’t tell the Rayfords about it and it was denied.
The board also alleges that, “in 2014, Respondent created a new limited partnership entitled Free Market Professionals Inc. ('Free Market') and changed the name of the website to 'GoodLawyerGoodPrice.com'. Respondent registered Free Market as a limited partnership with the State of Missouri. Respondent then transferred the Rayfords' interest in PDA into the Free Market limited partnership.” Moran allegedly didn’t return any of the money the Rayfords had invested in PDA.
For allegedly failing to inform the Rayfords about the judgement against them, their options regarding counsel, (in possible violations of Rule 1.3, Rule 1.4(a)(3), and Rule 1.4(b) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct) and for “obtaining funds from the Rayfords for investment in PDA, in violation of Rule 1.8(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010),” Moran is subject to possible professional discipline, as the case has now been assigned to a panel before a hearing board.