Jail lawsuit attorney reaches deal with state

• John F. Heckinger Jr. ‘has acknowledged his misconduct and expressed remorse’

One of the jail lawsuit attorneys, John F. Heckinger Jr., has petitioned the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) hearing board to accept his plea to suspend his license to practice law for 60 days as a result of alleged misconduct.

If the deal is accepted by the hearing board and the Illinois Supreme Court, there will not be a full hearing and presentation of the evidence that is described in the complaint, which alleged Heckinger used his clients’ funds “for his own business or personal purposes.”

The hearing board is expected to meet March 18 to decide whether to accept Heckinger’s deal with ARDC administrators. If the board accepts Heckinger’s petition, the deal will be forwarded to the Illinois Supreme Court for their consideration, according to James Grogan, chief counsel for ARDC.

Heckinger was charged Aug. 28, 2003, by ARDC with five counts of alleged unauthorized use of his clients’ funds “for his own business or personal purposes” totaling at least $12,634.92 since 1996. Heckinger was also charged with one count of failure to separate his money from his clients’ or third persons’ funds, which totaled $199,044.34. The state’s complaint also alleges Heckinger “used the [$199,044.34] funds…for personal and business purposes, which were both related and unrelated to Respondent’s practice of law.”

Of the $199,044.34 identified in the complaint, $184,200 was paid to Heckinger by Blackhawk State Bank between June 1999 and September 1999.

Heckinger is one of two plaintiff lawyers involved in the federal lawsuit that was cited in 2002 by county officials as the primary reason voters had to pass the jail tax to pay for initiatives to pay to relieve jail overcrowding and reduce crime rates.

The petition also states Heckinger “has acknowledged his misconduct and expressed remorse … [and that] the conversion of funds was the result of negligent handling of his client trust account and poor bookkeeping procedures.” During the time Heckinger used his clients’ funds, Heckinger’s “net worth exceeded $2 million and he held approximately $600,000 in liquid assets,” according to the petition.

“As a result of the disciplinary proceedings, [Heckinger] has revised his bookkeeping procedures…to assure that similar mistakes do not reoccur.” The petition concludes that Heckinger “has fully cooperated, made full restitution, acknowledged his misconduct, and has not previously been disciplined.”

Efforts to reach individual clients named in the complaint: Bertha Reedy, Carol Liehr, Daniel Olson, Judith Tallman and Peggy Witherspoon, were unsuccessful. Rick Bastian, president and chief executive officer of Blackhawk Bancorp, parent company of Blackhawk State Bank, did not return a message left at his office for comment.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli said last fall unless one of the individuals named in the state’s case steps forward to complain, Logli would not charge Heckinger.

Logli and Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers repeatedly cited Timothy Chatmon Jr. and Timothy Chatmon’s (Heckinger’s clients) federal jail overcrowding lawsuit as the primary reason county voters needed to approve a tax to build a new $93-130 million, 900- to 1,500-bed jail.

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