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The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) has recommended suspending the law license of the attorney who has filed suit against Riverside-Brookfield District 208.
On Feb. 22 the ARDC hearing board recommended that Andrew Spiegel's law license be suspended for 18 months because it alleged that Spiegel used client funds for his own personal expenses in a case unrelated to his suit against District 208.
Spiegel, representing Riverside resident Tony Peraica and the anti-tax group Taxpayers United of Illinois, filed suit in 2011 alleging that District 208 illegally used taxpayer resources to advocate for yes votes in last year's tax referendum.
Earlier this year, two of the three counts of the suit were dismissed, but one count still remains. A hearing on the school district's motion to dismiss the final count is expected to occur sometime this summer.
Spiegel's law license remains in effect for now. He has appealed the hearing board's ruling to the ARDC's review board.
"I'm guessing oral arguments will probably be set for August, September, somewhere in there," said Jim Grogan the deputy administrator and chief counsel of the ARDC.
After the review board makes its recommendation, the case will move to the Illinois Supreme Court, which is the only authority that can sanction an attorney's law license, Grogan said.
"It is possible that the Supreme Court could consider Mr. Spiegel's matter by the end of the year," Grogan said.
According the hearing board's report, in October 2009 Spiegel agreed to represent a man in a Cook County criminal case. They agreed that Spiegel would be paid $750 as advance on his fees in a four-count criminal case. Soon the defendant's father paid Spiegel $300 as a partial payment.
On Nov. 9, 2009 the defendant pleaded guilty to two criminal charges. Because of the plea, the defendant was entitled to a refund of the $7,500 bond that his father had posted for him. Spiegel allegedly told the father to that if he would have the bond refund sent to him, he would deduct his legal fees and send the balance to the father.
Spiegel had earned $2,200 in legal fees for his work on the case, so he was owed $1,900.
When he received the $7,500 bond refund, Spiegel allegedly deposited the entire amount into his business checking account and never sent the balance to the defendant's father.
On Feb. 9, 2010 Spiegel overdrew his business checking account. According to the hearing report, Spiegel testified that he was having financial troubles and paid his rent and gas bills with money from his business checking account.
Lawyers are required to segregate client funds from their personal funds and are ethically obligated not to use client funds for personal expenses.
The hearing board found that Spiegel used at least $4,850 of the bond refund for his own personal and business purposes.
Over a seven-month period, the defendant and his father phoned Spiegel at least 10 times and left voice mail messages asking about the bond refund but reportedly never heard from him. According to the hearing board report, Spiegel admitted that he had not attempted to contact his client about the bond refund and had not refunded the money by the hearing date.
The hearing board found the Spiegel violated numerous rules of professional conduct, including converting client funds for his own personal use; commingling client funds; failing to promptly deliver funds to his client that the client was entitled to receive; engaging in conduct involving deceit, dishonesty fraud or misrepresentation; and engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.
The hearing board also noted that Spiegel was late to his own disciplinary hearing.
The board found some mitigating factors for Spiegel, including that he dedicated a significant portion of his legal practice to pro bono work for indigent clients and that his career has focused on human rights and public interest law.
But they also noted that in 2005 the Illinois Supreme Court censured Spiegel for neglecting a client's civil case by failing to obtain service on the defendant.
Spiegel told the Landmark that he is appealing the hearing board's recommendation.
"The matter is being appealed and there is no final decision yet," Spiegel said in an email. "It all happened long before I became general counsel to Taxpayers United. It has nothing to do with them, and we have to see whether the matter will be resolved without any suspension."
Jim Tobin, the president of Taxpayers United, was unaware of Spiegel's disciplinary problems with the ARDC until notified of them by the Landmark. Tobin said that the group's board of directors will review Spiegel's status with the organization when it meets on Friday for its annual meeting.
"We're going to discuss this thing on Friday with the members of the board and see how they feel about the whole thing," Tobin said.
Tobin said that his organization cannot afford to employ the high-priced talent that a school district supported by taxpayer dollars can employ.
"Like everybody at Taxpayers United, we aren't paid much," Tobin said. "We don't have any $100,000 staff people. We just don't have the money to afford top-notch people."