An attorney accused of failing to competently, diligently and legally represent clients in their bankruptcy matters should be suspended for one year and until further order of the Illinois Supreme Court, an attorney-discipline panel urged.
A split Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission Hearing Board suggested the sanction for 33-year-old Jarvis E. Williams, whose business address is listed in Texas despite not being admitted to practice law in any other state than Illinois.
Williams did not appear at his April 26 disciplinary hearing, and no attorney appeared on his behalf.
He did not return a request for comment by time of publication.
In December 2014, Williams filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition for client April Lewis in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan. At the time he filed the petition, Williams was not authorized to practice law in Illinois.
And since he did not report his authorization status to the Michigan court’s chief judge, the court’s rules dictate that he could not practice in Michigan either.
In addition, the petition Williams filed for Lewis was missing a necessary cover sheet and failed to include a fee-waiver application despite indicating to Lewis that he would seek the waiver.
The federal court clerk issued a deficient-filing notice to Williams the same day, indicating Lewis’ case would be dismissed if he did not supplement it with the missing cover sheet within a week.
The court also entered an order the same day requiring Williams to file the fee-waiver application within two weeks or again face case dismissal.
Williams filed the documents within the same day but continued to file documents throughout the month that did not comply with court rules.
Lewis’ case was dismissed at month’s end for Williams’ failure to file necessary documents that were required to be filed within two weeks of filing the petition.
Lewis tried to reach Williams several times between early December 2014 and mid-January 2015, but she was unsuccessful. Either Williams’ voice mail inbox was full or his phone was disconnected.
After Lewis cited her circumstance in a pro se motion to re-open her case, the court issued a notice to Williams requiring him to appear the following week.
Despite the notice, Williams failed to appear. As a result, the court issued a ruling to show cause and explain why he hadn’t filed the necessary documents or communicated with his client.
When Williams did not appear at the next hearing as ordered, the court held him in contempt and issued a warrant for his arrest. Once he was arrested, a federal judge asked him about his failure to notify the court about the change in his practice authorization.
He responded that he was authorized to practice in Illinois, presenting a Illinois State Bar Association membership card which was valid from June 2014 to June 2015.
“Respondent’s statements to the court that his Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) membership card was issued by the Illinois courts, it was the last communication he had receive from Illinois about his license and it was proof of his authorization to practice law in Illinois were false, and he knew they were false,” the panel wrote.
Williams was disbarred from practicing law in the Michigan court in October 2015 after getting his electronic filing privileges revoked earlier that year.
In another bankruptcy matter before the Michigan federal court, Williams filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition for Michael Dabney in August 2014. That filing came with false statements from Williams that he anticipated receiving $4,500 in compensation for Dabney’s case despite previously agreeing to a flat $1,500 fee.
In November 2014, Williams failed to notify Dabney that the bankruptcy trustee filed an objection to his bankruptcy plan, and he did not communicate any other issues related to his plan confirmation.
Between that month and January 2015, Dabney tried several times but failed to reach Williams for similar reason to why Lewis was not able to contact Williams.
Dabney submitted a letter describing his circumstances to the court through the bankruptcy trustee. The court held a hearing on the matter, a hearing were Williams was absent. The court then dismissed Dabney’s petition, terminated Williams’ appearance and ordered him to show cause on why his fees were reasonable.
Williams did not appear in court as required for a February 2015 hearing. As a result, the court found his fees unreasonable and ordered him to pay Dabney $2,360. Williams had not repaid the money as of October 2015.
In considering the appropriate discipline, the panel highlighted that Williams’ conduct was aggravated by his failure to participate in the disciplinary process but mitigated by the fact that he hasn’t previously been disciplined.
“Yet, since he had only been admitted to practice law in Illinois for less than five years before engaging in some of the misconduct outlined in the [c]omplaint, we give this factor little weight,” the panel wrote.
“ … In consideration of the nature of [r]espondent’s misconduct, his failure to participate in these proceedings, his lack of prior discipline and the foregoing legal precedent, we agree with the [a]dministrator that a one-year suspension and until further order of the [c]ourt is appropriate.”
But in a dissent, hearing panel chairman Champ W. Davis Jr. wrote that Williams’ matter should be handled in Michigan since that’s the sole state in which all of his alleged misconduct arose.
“Respondent was disbarred from practice before the federal district court for the eastern district of Michigan for that misconduct,” Davis wrote.
“I respectfully suggest that the present case be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and that any further discipline of [r]espondent be left to the Michigan disciplinary authorities.”
ARDC hearing boards act as the trial court in the attorney disciplinary process, while the review board functions as an appellate tribunal. The Illinois Supreme Court has the final say in most disciplinary cases.
Williams’ hearing board panel also included MiAngel C. Cody and Charles A. Hempfling.
Both sides have until July 21 to file exceptions on the matter, In re Jarvis Edmond Williams, 15PR104.