Attorneys May Be Disqualified When Appearing Before a Judge Who is a Former Law Partner

Our Chicago, Naperville, Wheaton and Oak Brook business trial lawyers won an important procedural victory in a business dispute involving a closely held business. In short, we were able to convince an Illinois trial court that an attorney’s appearance should be stricken after being added to a case, we argued, because it appeared the new attorney could have been added to force the recusal of the judge, the attorney’s former law partner.

The underlying case was a high-stakes financial dispute in a closely held business. It had been litigated for six years, but was delayed when the defendants added a new lawyer to their team. This lawyer was the former law partner of the judge assigned to the case, who had already put substantial time and effort into the matter. However, to avoid any appearance of impropriety, the judge immediately recused himself when the new lawyer, the former partner, was added. Our position was that it could appear that this was precisely what the defense had intended. In fact, the new lawyer was added two days after three rulings on motions that the new judge called “hotly contested,” including rulings unfavorable to the defense.

Another attorney for the defense was a recognized expert in legal ethics, we argued, so the defense clearly must have known that the judge might recuse himself. Furthermore, the defense admitted that it had discussed the possibility of recusal with the client. And finally, the new lawyer had chosen what we alleged was a non-standard way to notify the court of his addition. Rather than asking for leave of court to move for the addition, which would have allowed the parties to discuss the addition in open court, he simply sent his appearance directly to the judge. The trial court held this was contrary to both the rules of court and the usual practice. All of this showed that it appeared that the attorney might have been added to force a change of judges, we argued. For those reasons, we moved to disqualify the new attorney.

In response to our motion, the Presiding Judge of the Cook County Chancery Division struck the new attorneys appearance in a detailed decision explaining that it was important to protect the Cook County Chancery Court from the stain of even the appearance of improriety. The Judge wrote:

The fact remains that [the new lawyer’s] filing of his appearance for the defendants two days after rulings on three hotly contested motions (including significant rulings adverse to defendants), the filing of that appearance without leave of court and without prior notice to the plaintiffs, and the sending of the appearance by messenger directly to [the first judge] when the next court date was scheduled within a few weeks, with the result being the immediate recusal of the judge, just simply looks bad.

You can view the full opinion by clicking here.

As business trial attorneys in Naperville, Oak Brook, Wheaton and throughout the Chicago area, we have found that Illinois judges have a low tolerance for even the appearance of impropriety. If you are part of a business dispute where you feel “pushed around” by the other side’s discovery violations or other behavior that appears intended to slow justice, Lubin Austermuehle can help. Please contact us to learn more about your rights.

To see more about our firm and the cases we have handled click here.

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