Legal Ethics

Lawyer is suspended for faking illness to avoid oral argument

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An Illinois lawyer will be suspended for 60 days for faking an illness to avoid oral arguments before the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Michael Joseph Finn was suspended by consent in an Illinois Supreme Court order issued on Friday.

Finn initially told the court clerk he had vomited the morning of April 14, 2011, and he could not make oral arguments that day, according to a petition filed by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. Finn also asserted he was ill in an initial response to ethics authorities.

Finn later admitted, however, that he had not been truthful. Finn felt unprepared for oral arguments, and that was the reason he missed the court appearance, the petition says. The matter was the first 7th Circuit criminal appeal that Finn had handled by himself.

The 7th Circuit held oral arguments without Finn, and Finn’s client lost the appeal. In an order to show cause, the appeals court said Finn should supply medical documentation of his illness, such as a certificate showing his admission to a hospital emergency room. Finn supplied no documentation and he admitted he was medically capable of attending oral argument, according to the 7th Circuit opinion. The appeals court fined Finn $1,000.

“To leave a client unrepresented on the morning of oral argument is nothing short of appalling,” the 7th Circuit said. Ethics regulators opened an investigation after receiving a copy of the opinion.

Finn is also required to pay $5,000 restitution to reimburse legal fees paid by his client’s mother and to repay the state’s client protection fund for any payments made as a result of his conduct.

Finn tells the ABA Journal he made a “terrible decision” when he didn’t appear for the arguments and it was “a huge mistake” when he wasn’t honest about the reason why. “It’s just another story about the bad things that can happen when you’re not prepared,” he said.

Prior coverage: “Lawyer is accused of faking illness to avoid oral arguments; ethics complaint says he didn’t vomit”

Updated on March 21 to include a comment from Finn.

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