While most of the Illinois attorneys I come across are honest and do their best for their clients, the reality is that when you have over 90,000 lawyers, some will be unethical. It bothers me because it taints the whole profession and makes the public not trust attorneys. While the reality is that it’s a few bad apples, not a bad orchard, the perception is the opposite.
The good news is that unethical lawyers do get disciplined and some permanently lose their license. The ARDC just handed down some discipline and the following, via the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, lists why. I was disturbed by the end of the legal career of Bryan Flangel. I had cases with him years ago and he seemed like a decent guy. The reality though is you never know what someone is going through personally or financially and why they act the way they do. I don’t know what happened to him (or anyone on this list), but it is all unfortunate. And in some cases, I do wonder how people stay out of jail because some of these are straight up theft.
Of the six attorneys disbarred, two involved cases including out-of-state misconduct. All but two were disbarred on consent.
Barry Edward Blumenfeld of Chicago, licensed in 1967, was disbarred on consent. He converted more than $67,000 in settlement funds that belonged to a client and third parties in a workers’ compensation matter and made a false statement to the ARDC during its investigation.
Bryan S. Flangel of Chicago, licensed in 1992, was disbarred on consent. While representing clients in personal injury matters, he provided financial assistance to two clients, misrepresented the status of matters to at least two clients, and signed a client’s name on a settlement release without authority.
James Mark McTighe of Tinley Park, licensed in 1991, was disbarred on consent. He converted more than $29,000 in client funds to his own use, falsely reported the status of cases and settlements to his clients, and neglected a number of insurance subrogation matters.
Michael Bernard Potere of West Newton, Mass., was licensed in Illinois in 2012 and in California in 2015. He was disbarred by the Supreme Court of California because of his attempt to extort more than $200,000 from his employer. His actions resulted in a misdemeanor conviction and five-month prison sentence for the federal crime of unauthorized access to a computer to obtain information. The Illinois Supreme Court imposed reciprocal discipline and entered an order disbarring him in Illinois.
John George Steckel of Rock Island, licensed in 2000, was disbarred on consent. He pleaded guilty in two Rock Island County cases to charges of possession of a controlled substance and delivery of methamphetamine. The Illinois Supreme Court said his disbarment on consent was retroactive to his interim suspension from practice on Jan. 29, 2019.
Henry A. Weber of Lake Forest, licensed in 1984, was disbarred. He has felony convictions in Florida for theft of sales tax. While operating a chain of restaurants in the Tampa area, he unlawfully withheld more than $100,000 in sales tax that should have been remitted to the state of Florida. Weber did not participate in his Illinois disciplinary proceedings.
Six of the 19 suspended lawyers were licensed in both Illinois and another state. The misconduct in those cases resulted in disciplinary rulings in the respective other states.
Craig Carnell Cunningham of Naperville, licensed in 1994, was suspended for six months effective Oct. 14, 2021. A disciplinary investigation was opened against him because of fraudulent activity. Cunningham manages his own law firm and did not review his law firms accounts, nor did he know the source of funds in those accounts or how the funds were expended. His wife is a paralegal at the firm and fraudulently opened accounts in the firm’s name using names of relatives. The funds from those accounts were used to pay for law firm and personal expenses. Cunningham also made false statements to the ARDC.
Lisa Michelle Edgar of San Ramon, Calif., was licensed in Illinois in 1990 and in California in 2005. She was suspended for one year by the California Supreme Court, with a one-year period of probation subject to conditions, for employing a former California attorney who resigned from the bar with disciplinary charges pending. Edgar permitted the attorney to handle client funds over an eight-month period. She also filed a brief on appeal in a client’s immigration matter without complying with mandatory legal authority concerning claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Illinois Supreme Court imposed reciprocal discipline and suspended her for one year, with the suspension stayed in its entirety by a one-year period of probation, retroactive to Nov. 21, 2020, subject to the conditions imposed in California, and continuing until she completes her California probation.
Stephen Thomas Fieweger of Davenport, Iowa, was licensed in Illinois in 1987 and in Iowa in 1989. He was suspended for 30 days by the Supreme Court of Iowa for failing to communicate with a client, collecting an unauthorized fee in a Social Security disability benefits matter, neglecting a client’s case, and mishandling client funds. The Illinois Supreme Court imposed reciprocal discipline and suspended him for 30 days effective Oct. 14.
Stephanie Alexandra Gerstetter of Chicago, licensed in 2018, was suspended for 60 days effective Oct. 14 for misconduct while working as an associate at a law firm. During this time she submitted false billing records totaling just over 86 hours, which resulted in overbilling a client more than $40,000. The law firm refunded the client’s overpayment.
Nathaniel Gordon of Chicago, licensed in 2010 and suspended for one year or until further order of the court, stayed after six months by a six-month period of conditional probation effective Oct. 14. He failed to file a brief in his client’s criminal appeal and did not refund the fees he received for the representation. He also made misrepresentations to a client, a third party, and the ARDC, including fabricating a file-stamp to make it appear that he had filed the brief.
Donald George Groble of Chicago, licensed in 1989, was suspended for two years or until further order of the Court, which is an indefinite suspension. He is required to petition for reinstatement after the fixed period of suspension ends. His misconduct was over the course of five months in which he misappropriated more than $30,000 from a supplemental needs trust established for a disabled client.
Jessica Lynn Jones of Bloomington, licensed in 2014, was suspended for nine months, effective Oct. 14. She failed to act diligently on a client’s domestic relations matter, failed to adequately communicate with the client, and filed a pleading in the case containing false statements. She also engaged in the unauthorized practice of law for approximately two months after having been removed from the roll of attorneys for failure to register, and she made false statements to the ARDC during its investigation.
Mark Vincent Kelly of Alpha, licensed in 1987, was suspended for three months effective Oct. 14. Kelly knowingly misappropriated $2,230 over 10 weeks, funds he had agreed to hold in escrow pursuant to his work as an attorney agent for a title company. No client lost money due to his misconduct.
Carrie Kooi of Crown Point, Ind. was licensed in Indiana in 2009 and in Illinois in 2010. The Indiana Supreme Court suspended her for 90 days, beginning Nov. 23, 2020, with 30 days of that suspension to be actively served and the remainder stayed subject to completion of at least two years of conditional probation. Her discipline arose from her conviction for battery resulting in bodily injury for struggling and twice spitting on a police officer who had taken her to a hospital for a blood draw after stopping her on suspicion of impaired driving. The Illinois Supreme Court imposed reciprocal discipline and suspended her for 90 days, with the suspension stayed after 30 days by a two-year period of probation, retroactive to Nov. 23, 2020, subject to the conditions imposed in Indiana, and continuing until her probation in Indiana is terminated. The suspension is effective Oct.14.
Cynthia Jean Koroll of Rockford was licensed in 2001 and suspended for six months, with the suspension stayed after 60 days in favor of a one-year period of conditional probation, effective Oct. 14. Over a period of approximately three weeks in 2015, she sent dozens of emails, text messages, and other communications to attorneys in Florida with whom she was then engaged in a dispute. Many of those messages were vulgar, profane, abusive, included anti-Semitic remarks, and served no purpose other than to harass or burden their recipients. Also, in 2013, she was disqualified from representing a party in a post decree domestic relations case because her former law partner had been representing the man’s spouse while they were members of the same firm.
Peter J. Kovac of Milwaukee, Wis., was licensed in both Illinois and Wisconsin in 1973. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin, in two disciplinary proceedings, imposed concurrent five-month suspensions for neglecting a client’s matter, failing to return or forward client files in four matters, and failing to respond to demands for information from the Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation in five investigations. The Illinois Supreme Court imposed reciprocal discipline and suspended Kovac for five months, effective Oct. 14.
John Paul Paleczny of Chicago, licensed in 2018, was suspended for one year and until he completes the ARDC’s professionalism seminar, effective Oct. 14. As an associate at a Chicago law firm, he falsely billed more than 2,000 hours of time to a pro bono matter that had ended, which resulted in his being terminated. When seeking other employment, he falsely told at least four prospective employers that he had been laid off from his prior firm.
Matthew Clay Piatt of Galveston, Ind., was licensed in Illinois in 2011 and in Indiana in 2015. The Indiana Supreme Court suspended him for 180 days, with the suspension stayed after 90 days by a term of conditional probation of at least two years. His misconduct includes multiple acts of public intoxication and operating a vehicle while intoxicated, and his failure to notify the Indiana disciplinary authority of one of his arrests for that conduct. The Illinois Supreme Court imposed reciprocal discipline and suspended him for 180 days, with the suspension stayed after 90 days by a two-year period of probation, retroactive to Jan. 14, 2021, subject to the conditions imposed in Indiana, and continuing until his probation in Indiana is terminated, effective on Oct. 14.
Brian Davis Pondenis of Charleston, S.C., was licensed in 2006 and suspended for one year and until further order of the Court. His suspension is an indefinite suspension which requires him to petition for reinstatement after the fixed period of suspension ends. In electronic messages with a former client’s girlfriend, he revealed information pertaining to his representation of that former client and made improper and abusive statements to the girlfriend. He also made improper and abusive statements to his landlord and the landlord’s wife in electronic messages while representing himself in an eviction matter pertaining to his law office.
Veronica Reyes of Aurora, Colo., was licensed in Illinois in 2009 and in Colorado in 2010. The Presiding Disciplinary Judge of the Supreme Court of Colorado suspended her for one year and one day, with the suspension stayed after six months by two years of probation, subject to certain conditions. She mishandled client funds, failed to communicate with clients, and failed to supervise a person working in her law firm. The Illinois Supreme Court imposed reciprocal discipline and suspended her for one year and until further order of the Court, with the suspension stayed after six months by two years of probation, retroactive to March 19, 2019, subject to the conditions imposed in Colorado and continuing until her Colorado probation has ended, effective Oct. 14.
Edward Sergio Rueda of Chicago was licensed in 2011 and suspended from the practice of law for one year, with suspension stayed after 30 days in favor of a two-year period of probation, effective Oct.14. Between March and May 2018, he converted more than $15,000 in four client matters due in part to his failure to keep appropriate trust account records.
Efrain L. Sanchez of Naperville was licensed in Illinois in 2003 and in Missouri in 2010. The Supreme Court of Missouri suspended him indefinitely with no petition for reinstatement to be considered for six months for mishandling client funds and engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. The Illinois Supreme Court imposed reciprocal discipline and suspended him for six months and until he is reinstated to the practice of law in Missouri, effective Oct. 14.
Brian Keith Sides of Champaign was licensed in 2002 and suspended on an interim basis and until further order of the Court. He was found by the ARDC’s Hearing Board to have made false or reckless statements about the integrity and qualifications of a federal bankruptcy judge in nine motions and to have engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
Andrew Martin Stroth of Chicago was licensed in 2001 and suspended for 30 days, effective Oct. 14. He was also ordered to take the ARDC’s professionalism seminar. He failed to pursue a client’s personal injury case, allowing the statute of limitations to expire. He also provided money to the client as a loan against an anticipated settlement and then as a purported settlement. He falsely told his client that he had communicated with an insurance claims adjuster, and he made false statements to the ARDC.
Barbara Julia Luther of Scottsdale, Ariz., was licensed in Illinois in 1989 and in Arizona in 2004. The Chair of the Attorney Discipline Probable Cause Committee of the Supreme Court of Arizona admonished her and placed her on a two-year period of conditional probation because she did not provide legal services to a client after being paid to conduct a trademark search and review. She also did not communicate with clients about the status of their matters, inform her clients that she was closing her law practice, timely refund advanced fees that she had not earned, or safe keep client funds. The Illinois Supreme Court imposed reciprocal discipline and reprimanded her and placed her on probation for two years, retroactive to Jan. 23, 2020, subject to the conditions imposed by Arizona, and until she successfully completes her Arizona probation.
John Anthony Ward of Kenosha, Wis., was licensed in Illinois in 1986 and in Wisconsin in 1985. The Wisconsin Supreme Court publicly reprimanded him for failing to file a written motion seeking a change of venue as directed by his client in a visitation rights case, charging an unreasonable fee, and failing to refund the unearned portion of that fee after his client had terminated his services. In a separate disciplinary matter, a referee appointed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a public reprimand against him for failing to promptly refund unearned fees to clients in two separate matters and mishandling client funds. The Supreme Court of Illinois imposed reciprocal discipline and censured him.
Alan Kent Wittig of Queen Creek, Ariz., was licensed in Illinois in 1992 and in Arizona in 1997. In two separate matters, Arizona disciplinary authorities disciplined him. In a 2018 matter, he was admonished and placed on probation for two years for failing to notify a third party of his receipt of funds in which the third party had an interest and failing to distribute funds. In a 2019 matter, he was admonished for failing to distribute funds to a person owed the funds and not reasonably communicating with his client. The Supreme Court of Illinois imposed reciprocal discipline and censured him, as his Arizona probation had ended.
If you were working with any of these lawyers, especially the ones that are disbarred or suspended, you should immediately seek new representation.