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Grund & Leavitt, P.C., divorce attorneys with history of unethical conduct

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Attorneys who are prominent in divorce court in Cook County, David J. Grund, Marvin J. Leavitt, and Grund & Leavitt, P.C., lost their appeal of a case where they were found in contempt of court for representing a woman, after having a consultation with her husband to represent her.  This is a violation of Illinois Supreme Court Article VIII – Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.9 regarding conduct of attorneys in the case of conflict of interests.  They were also ordered to forfeit the $245,000 in fees they were charging the woman.

Beware of Gund & Leavitt, P.C. as attorneys in divorce cases, as they have already proven that money is more important to them than ethics and have been reprimanded by the court for their unethical conduct.

The following is part of the Illinois Appellate Court decision on the appeal by Gund & Leavitt, P.C. of their contempt conviction.:

Case Number 09-0683

Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division.

In re The MARRIAGE OF David NEWTON, Petitioner–Appellee, and Hadley Newton, Respondent (David J. Grund, Marvin J. Leavitt, and Grund & Leavitt, P.C., Contemnors–Appellants

Nos. 1–09–0683, 1–09–0684, 1–09–0685.

June 30, 2011.

“Petitioner, David Newton, and respondent, Hadley Newton, were divorced pursuant to a judgment for dissolution of marriage entered on March 8, 2010. In the underlying divorce proceedings, David filed an emergency motion to disqualify Hadley’s attorney, Grund, and the law firm of Grund & Leavitt, pursuant to [Illinois Supreme Court Article VIII Rules of Professional Conduct] Rule 1.9 (Ill. S.Ct. Rs. of Prof. Conduct, R. 1.9 (eff. Aug. 1, 1990)), due to Grund’s former representation of David in the same proceeding. On August 9, 2007, the circuit court entered a preliminary injunction order prohibiting Grund and Leavitt from representing Hadley while the motion to disqualify was pending. Hadley filed her response to the motion to disqualify on July 27, 2007. A hearing was held on September 4, 2007. The court heard testimony by David, Grund, and Hadley. However, upon questioning of Grund regarding his conversation with David, David’s counsel objected based on attorney-client privilege. Although there was an offer of proof, the circuit court barred Grund’s testimony on the basis of the attorney-client privilege. David testified that he met alone with Grund in Grund’s office for between 1 1/2 and 2 hours. They discussed information and issues related to his marriage and impending divorce from Hadley, including issues regarding the children and his financial situation, and Grund took notes.

Hadley testified, upon questioning by Grund, that she learned that there was a conflict with Grund representing her because Grund himself told her there was a conflict when she came in to see him. However, he entered into a retainer agreement with her and represented her. The court found that Grund and Leavitt were disqualified from representing Hadley.

. . . .

“[Illinois Supreme Court Article XIII Rules of Professional Conduct] ]Rule 1.9. Conflict of Interest: Former Client

(a) A lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not thereafter:

(1) represent another person in the same or a substantially related matter in which that person’s interests are materially adverse to the interests of the former client, unless the former client consents after disclosure; or

(2) use information relating to the representation to the disadvantage of the former client, unless:

(A) such use is permitted by Rule 1.6; or

(B) the information has become generally known.” Ill. Rs. of Prof’l Conduct, R. 1.9 (eff. Aug. 1, 1990).

. . . .

Although Grund and Leavitt argue that they should be entitled to fees incurred before they were disqualified by the court’s order, Grund violated Rule 1.9 at the moment he agreed to meet with Hadley knowing he had a conflict. Grund knew from the initial consultation with Hadley that there was a conflict of interest. The testimony by Hadley at trial was that Grund told her of the conflict. Notably, this testimony was unrebutted by Grund and Leavitt. As the court clearly stated, it is inexplicable that Hadley made it past screening and that Grund agreed to represent her. Grund was clearly prohibited by Rule 1.9 from entering into a retainer agreement with Hadley. As noted earlier in our analysis, “[a]n attorney/client relationship can be created at the initial interview between the prospective client and the attorney.” Nuccio v. Chicago Commodities, Inc., 257 Ill.App.3d 437, 440, 195 Ill.Dec. 670, 628 N.E.2d 1134 (1993) (citing Herbes v. Graham, 180 Ill.App.3d 692, 129 Ill.Dec. 480, 536 N.E.2d 164 (1989)). Therefore, Grund is barred from any earlier fees based on either ground we have discussed: (1) the retainer agreement was unenforceable under section 508(c)(3) of the Act; or (2) the retainer agreement was void ab initio as against public policy.

. . . .

Contempt of court can result from a party’s failure to comply with the terms of a court order. People v. Coupland, 387 Ill.App.3d 774, 777, 327 Ill.Dec. 120, 901 N.E.2d 448 (2008). Persons subject to the order of a court having jurisdiction must obey the order until it is reversed by a reviewing court or set aside or modified. Busey Bank v. Salyards, 304 Ill.App.3d 214, 217, 238 Ill.Dec. 197, 711 N.E.2d 10 (1999) (citing People v. Graves, 74 Ill.2d 279, 284–85, 24 Ill.Dec. 153, 384 N.E.2d 1311 (1979), quoting Faris v. Faris, 35 Ill.2d 305, 309, 220 N.E.2d 210 (1966)). “[E]xposing oneself ‘to a finding of contempt is an appropriate method of testing the validity of a court order.’ ” In re Marriage of Rosenbaum–Golden, 381 Ill.App.3d 65, 82, 319 Ill.Dec. 27, 884 N.E.2d 1272 (2008) (quoting In re Marriage of Beyer, 324 Ill.App.3d 305, 321, 257 Ill.Dec. 406, 753 N.E.2d 1032 (2001)). “ ‘[W]hether a party is guilty of contempt is a question of fact for the trial court, and * * * a reviewing court will not disturb the finding unless it is against the manifest weight of the evidence or the record reflects an abuse of discretion.’ ” Killion v. City of Centralia, 381 Ill.App.3d 711, 715, 319 Ill.Dec. 519, 885 N.E.2d 1199 (2008) (quoting In re Marriage of Logston, 103 Ill.2d 266, 286–87, 82 Ill.Dec. 633, 469 N.E.2d 167 (1984))

We note the well-established rule that where a “ ‘refusal to comply with a trial court’s order constitutes a good-faith effort to secure an interpretation of [an issue without direct precedent], it is appropriate to vacate a contempt citation on appeal.’ ” Mueller Industries, Inc. v. Berkman, 399 Ill.App.3d 456, 482, 340 Ill.Dec. 55, 927 N.E.2d 794 (2010) (quoting Cangelosi v. Capasso, 366 Ill.App.3d 225, 230, 303 Ill.Dec. 767, 851 N.E.2d 954 (2006)). However, under the facts of this case, we find that Grund and Leavitt’s refusal to comply with the circuit court’s order denying them fees did not constitute a good-faith effort to secure an interpretation without direct precedent. Rule 1.9 of the Rules of Professional Conduct is clear that representing clients with conflicts of interest is prohibited. Precedent is clear that fees for such prohibited representation are barred. It is unrebutted that Grund knew of the conflict before he agreed to represent Hadley and yet undertook to represent her anyway, thus paving his own road to the denial of fees. Therefore, the court’s adjudication of civil contempt was well founded and not against the manifest weight of the evidence or an abuse of discretion.

Further, we note that in this very case Grund had previously been found in direct civil contempt in an order dated June 30, 2008, in which the court found: “Grund’s verbal outbursts obstructed and embarrassed the court and constituted a direct defiance of a court order before a judge in open court and Grund is found to be in direct contempt of court. It is ordered that contemnor David Grund will pay to the Clerk of the Circuit Court a fine of $500.00 forthwith. Grund is remanded to the custody of the Cook County Sheriff and released upon payment of the fine. Mittimus stayed 48 hours—10:40 am 7/2/08” s/Judge Jordan.”

The fact that the order states that Grund and Leavitt were found in direct contempt “for their failure to obey the court’s disqualification order” indicates that the court was attempting to coerce compliance with its order denying Grund and Leavitt’s fees. The order stated that paying the fine would purge the contempt.

We note that our distinguished colleagues in the Fourth District take a different approach. In re Marriage of Samuel, 394 Ill.App.3d 398, 333 Ill.Dec. 750, 915 N.E.2d 821 (2009), is instructive. In In re Marriage of Samuel the circuit court entered a civil contempt order imposing a fine and ordering an apology. The appellate court found that the trial court’s imposition of a fine was a punishment for improper behavior. In re Marriage of Samuel, 394 Ill.App.3d at 402, 333 Ill.Dec. 750, 915 N.E.2d 821. However, the apology “implie[d] an admission of past conduct” and was “easily construed as a promise not to engage in similar behavior in the future,” and to that extent, it was coercive and permissible as a sanction for civil contempt. In re Marriage of Samuel, 394 Ill.App.3d at 402, 333 Ill.Dec. 750, 915 N.E.2d 821.

We find that the purging provision which would allow Grund and Leavitt an opportunity to purge the contempt by paying the $100 fine was well within the court’s discretion in the selection of a purging provision and was remarkably restrained, given the entire record of this case.”

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