The following article was in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin the other day. Long and short of it, it’s alleged that a 95 year old man was still working as an attorney and cheated a trust out of around $45,000.
I can’t remember the comedian, but there was a joke I heard once that if you reach 100 you should be able to rob any store you want with the caveat that you only get to keep what you can carry out on your own.
This attorney certainly had nothing to lose if in fact it’s true. Well, nothing other than his reputation, pride and respect of those that know him. But at that age, even the healthiest 95 year old has less than a six month life expectancy. I personally don’t plan on practicing law that long so I know I won’t be doing this at that age. Hopefully I can just be a dirty old man like you are supposed to be.
A Glen Ellyn lawyer should be disbarred for taking $45,100 in legal fees — an “unreasonable” amount — from a trust in which he acted as the trustee, a lawyer-discipline panel majority has recommended.
Two members of an Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission Hearing Board urged the harshest possible sanction for Joseph C. Owens.
The hearing board found that Owens engaged in dishonesty and deceit when he withdrew $45,100 from the trust by writing 27 checks to himself without billing for his services or notifying the beneficiaries of the action.
Owens, 95, became a licensed Illinois lawyer on May 18, 1944.
While the hearing board noted Owens’ age and that he had not been previously disciplined, those facts ultimately didn’t lead to recommendation of a lighter punishment.
“While we are cognizant of respondent’s advanced age as well as his lack of prior discipline over his long career, we do not give these factors great weight in light of the serious nature of his misconduct, the substantial aggravation, and the lack of any evidence respondent was suffering from any impairment,” the hearing board report says.
ARDC Deputy Administrator James J. Grogan declined to comment on the hearing board report in Owens’ case, other than to also acknowledge the unusual nature of the matter.
“It is rare to find a disciplinary case involving a respondent of this maturity,” he said.
In October 2012, the ARDC administrator’s office filed a complaint against Owens for misconduct related to his representation of the Marion K. Moran trust.
The complaint asserted that Owens wrote the 27 checks from the trust account to himself totaling $45,100. He got the proceeds and used the money for his own purposes, the complaint says.
Owens filed an answer to the ARDC’s complaint, in which he admitted he did engage in most of the factual allegations, including that he collected $45,100 in fees from the trust.
Owens denied all of the misconduct charges but failed to appear at the hearing board proceeding in July.
Meanwhile, in 2010, a lawsuit was filed against Owens in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of the five beneficiaries of Moran’s trust.
The complaint alleged breach of fiduciary duty and sought an accounting from Owens. Shelia Rock v. Joseph C. Owens, No. 2010 CH 17972.
Owens represented himself in that case and continued opposing the beneficiaries’ attempts to get an accounting of his actions as trustee.
In March 2012, then-Cook County Circuit Judge Michael B. Hyman entered a judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor totaling $204,110. That amount included a previous judgment of $124,660 and another $79,450 in punitive damages.
John J. Rock — a partner at Rock, Fusco & Connelly LLC who represented his mother, Shelia, and the other beneficiaries — testified that he recovered about $63,551 resulting from a court order requiring the transfer of remaining funds from a trust bank account, the hearing board report says.
The hearing board called Owens’ conduct in the state court proceedings “extremely troubling and disturbing.”
Evidence showed that while the state court suit was pending, Owens withdrew another $21,000 from the trust by writing five additional checks to himself.
The hearing board report noted Owens’ “apparent attempt to hide trust assets, his withdrawal of additional amounts from the trust while the case was pending, and his extensive post-judgment efforts to resist payment of restitution.
“Although disbarment is a harsh sanction, we believe it is warranted based upon the serious nature of respondent’s misconduct and the extraordinary aggravation present.”
The hearing board also urged that Owens be required to pay $63,100 in restitution, consisting of $42,100 he initially withdrew from the trust and the additional $21,000 in later withdrawals, plus post-judgment interest.
Mark W. Rigazio and Mark Fitzgerald, a non-lawyer, comprised the hearing board’s majority. In the matter of Joseph C. Owens, N0. 2012 PR 00135.
The hearing board’s chairman, Patrick M. Blanchard, dissented in part.
“In light of respondent’s long history without any prior discipline, I recommend that respondent be suspended for two years and until further order of the court,” Blanchard says in his brief dissent.
Owens could not be reached for comment.
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