The ABA Journal is reporting that an IL lawyer who authored a blog allegedly exposing corruption in the Cook County Probate Court is facing the possibility of a three year suspension. Attorney JoAnne Marie Denison published a blog wherein she accused the Cook County Probate Courts, and many of the lawyers who practiced in that venue, of corruption. She illustrated her listing of corruption, malfeasance and “perpetration of misdemeanors and felonies” in a ten page table.
In addition to the general allegations, she cited a specific case involving a court appointed guardian who she accused of stealing assets and not protecting the interest of the elderly client. According to Denison, the woman did not need a guardian but the Court forced the issue. She claimed due to the guardian’s acts and omissions the woman had been “fleeced out of her home” and that the probate court had added additional appointed attorneys to “churn the feeding frenzy”. Denison attempted to protect herself by putting a disclaimer on the blog urging readers to do their own investigation.
The hearing board found against Denison and recommended a three year suspension. The findings indicate that there was no basis for the allegations, and that many of the attorneys involved were working pro bono. The disclaimer offered her no defense as the board determined that the blog suggested that the allegations were true.
This case presents an interesting conflict between First Amendment rights and the ability of Bar Associations and state courts to self-govern. We will continue to monitor the developments before the Illinois Supreme Court and report back accordingly.
For the ABA Journal story on this case click here.