Local Lawyer Led Changes on State’s Attorney Rules
Originally published in the Belleville News Democrat, November 23, 2009
Metro-east attorney John Kujawski is wrapping up his tenure serving on the board that regulates Illinois attorneys. He recently sat down with business reporter Will Buss and reflected on the time he has served and the impact the board has left on the state’s legal society.
Name: John Kujawski
Job: Attorney, Kujawski & Associates LLC in O’Fallon
Outlook: “All you usually hear about lawyers is the bad stuff, but there’s a lot of good stuff going on.”
Metro-east attorney John Kujawski is wrapping up his tenure serving on the board that regulates Illinois attorneys. He recently sat down with business reporter Will Buss and reflected on the time he has served and the impact the board has left on the state’s legal society:
Q: When were you appointed to the attorney regulatory board?
A: I was appointed in the year 2000 by Moses Harrison, Supreme Court justice, to fill a vacancy as a commissioner of the ARDC.
Q: What is the ARDC?
A: Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.
Q: What does the board do?
A: The ARDC is that group that registers and disciplines lawyers in the state of Illinois. Right now, we currently have 88,000 lawyers in the state of Illinois, which is a pretty significant number. Our operating revenue per year is about $15 million. We have an office in Chicago with 35 attorneys and 100 staff. We have an office in Springfield with four attorneys and about 10 staff people. So it’s a big operation. There are about seven people on the board of directors of the ARDC.
Q: Why are you leaving?
A: The term for a commissioner is nine years. It’s a three-year term, but you’re maxed out after three terms. So this will be my ninth year, and I will be replaced. And along the way, I was reappointed by Justice Phil Rarick, and lastly, a Republican, who in a show of bipartisanship … Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who is a wonderful man. All three of those justices are all wonderful.
Q: What are your duties?
A: We receive, in the course of a year, approximately 6,000 lawyer complaints. Six thousand. Of those 6,000 complaints, people phone in and are encouraged to send in letters. So we get 6,000 written complaints a year concerning attorneys. Those are investigated, initially, and 4 percent to 5 percent of that number will convert into a formal charge of some type.
Q: For what reasons are lawyers disciplined?
A: The attorneys who are disciplined are impaired either by an addiction to drugs or alcohol or have a mental disorder, an emotional illness of some type, which I think is just a staggering figure. The area that is causing the most problem now is mortgage fraud or some type of mortgage fraud and lawyers taking fees and not working on the case.
Q: What are some of the accomplishments you’ve been part of during your tenure?
A: The public has a right to expect protection and expect that there are consequences for lawyers who violate their code of conduct. In order to protect the public even more, we thought, I thought and Justice Harrison thought, we should devote energy to making lawyers better because if a lawyer understands his role better, if he has more guidance in his practice, if he understands the rules differently, he’s going to be a better lawyer. He’s going to apply the rules of conduct differently, and he’s going to ultimately protect his client differently. So what we have is a very aggressive educational program, at my behest. A lot of these were reforms I pushed through. We conduct educational seminars for attorneys throughout the state, and they are free. You can attend our seminars, and it’s an open discussion.
Q: What else can attorneys do to get further guidance from the board?
A: We have a hotline lawyers can call if they have a question on how to proceed. And lawyers many times have issues on conflicts of interest, how to proceed on a particular case. They can call in to our Chicago or Springfield office and have an attorney give them specific guidance to help them through a matter, which ultimately protects the client and helps the lawyer do what he should do in an appropriate way. It’s just wonderful. We have a Web site (www.iardc.org) anyone can access. It is loaded with information about our rules, how they apply. You can file a complaint if you are a citizen. It shows the history of attorneys. It shows their disciplinary history.
Q: What is the board’s focus?
A: Our focus is not simply to punish someone who violates a rule, but we try to find out why that rule was violated. What didn’t we know? What could have been done differently to avoid that problem? That’s a big undertaking, but I think that’s a good undertaking.