Viewpoint: Attorney misconduct reveals ARDC flaws

The stink of the Wade Morris case has risen again. Morris is a Rockford attorney accused of several offenses against some of his clients.

The story has recently been reported by the Freeport Journal Standard and the Rockford Register Star.

This situation began back in 1996 when Morris was retained by an unemployed mother of three, who was drawing disability pay for a mental disorder, to represent her in a child support case, according to findings of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC).

The ARDC report stated that when the woman told Morris she could not pay his fees, she was coerced into a sexual relationship that lasted from November 1995 to August 1996. Morris was married in the latter month. The woman told the review board investigators she had sex with the attorney between seven and nine times.

Morris is an assistant public defender in Stephenson County. He also was hired by another woman in a bankruptcy matter. The woman faced other legal problems related to a driving under the influence charge. While Morris was representing the woman, he also was hired by her husband to represent the man in a divorce proceeding against his wife, who was the one in the bankruptcy matter. When this second woman visited his office, the ARDC report states, he “told her that he would let her go to jail if she did not have sex with him.”

The woman failed to appear in court on the driving charges when scheduled, but did appear on April 4, 200l. At that time, she told the judge she did not show on Sept. 1, 2000, because she feared Morris would be present, and since she had spurned his sexual advances, she would go to jail.

The upshot of all this is that the ARDC hearing board recommended Morris be suspended from practicing law for nine months. Big deal! Morris has done this kind of thing twice that has come to light. How many other times he pulled this stunt and there was no complaint, we don’t know.

It only took the ARDC until June 27, 2002, to file a complaint against this weasel. Remember this all began in 1996. An amended complaint was filed in January 2005, and a second amended complaint in May of the same year.

The hearing board’s report said the testimony by both women victims and “vulnerable” former clients of Morris “show that (Morris) used the same modus operandi, namely, forcing clients to have sex with him when they could not afford to pay his legal fees.”

The report further said Morris “aggravated his misconduct by failing to recognize the seriousness of his misconduct or to show remorse for his alleged actions. Without acknowledgment of misconduct and an expression of remorse (Morris) is more likely to repeat the misconduct.”

Despite this reprehensible behavior, the best the ARDC could recommend was a nine-month suspension from practice. As the hearing board said, Morris is highly likely to repeat the same behavior after his suspension is up.

This limp-wristed, slap-on-the-hand approach is not correcting the problem. A sexual predator such as this guy should be booted out of the legal profession and tried on criminal charges. If not, where is the justice for the victims?

After this situation came to light—at least to the press—Morris quietly closed his Rockford office and shut down the phones. He dodged the press and slipped out of town. Now, he turns up in Stephenson County.

We have seen this charade before; protect the good ol’ boys and only impose a nominal penalty that inflicts little punishment. When the enforced vacation is over, it’s right back to business as usual. More than one Winnebago County lawyer has been “disciplined” in this manner, and there are others in Stephenson, Jo Daviess and surrounding counties.

Too many Morris types have stained the escutcheon of the bar.

Maybe we need to disband the ARDC and start over. Create an entity with some legal muscle and the ability to prosecute. Morris’ case is subject to deliberation of the state supreme court.

There also should be some compensation for victims of these Rabelaisian rogues.

The ARDC concluded Morris: represented a client when such representation may be limited by the lawyer’s own interest; representing a client when that service will be directly adverse to another client; failure to withdraw when the lawyer knows continued service will violate the supreme court rules; breaching a fiduciary duty; overstepping the attorney-client relationship; and committing a criminal act reflecting adversely on the judicial system and the legal profession.

It is ironic that Morris’ supposed “good character” was attested to by two Stephenson County judges and two attorneys.

It seems to me the disciplinary commission is in reality more of an impediment to true justice than a punishment and correction for miscreant attorneys.

From the Jan. 4-10, 2006, issue

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