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An attorney who is himself a party to the litigation represents himself when he contacts an opposing party. 87 Ill. 2d R. 7--104(a)(1) is designed to protect litigants represented by counsel from direct contacts by opposing counsel. A party, having employed counsel to act as an intermediary between himself and opposing counsel, does not lose the protection of the rule merely because opposing counsel is also a party to the litigation. Consequently, an attorney who is himself a litigant may be disciplined under Rule 7--104(a)(1) when he directly contacts an opposing party without permission from that party's counsel.
The Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a three-count complaint charging respondent, Morton Allan Segall, with professional misconduct and recommended a two-year suspension. Count I of the complaint charged that respondent's attempts to settle a lawsuit brought against him by the Carte Blanche Corporation violated Rules 1 -- 102(a)(4), 1 -- 102(a)(5) and 7 -- 104(a)(1) of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Count II charged the same violations with regard to respondent's attempts to settle a lawsuit brought against him by the Amoco Oil Company. Count III charged that respondent's repeated refusal to allow Amoco to take his deposition violated Rule 1 -- 102(a)(5) (87 Ill. 2d R. 1 -- 102(a)(5)). The Hearing Board found no ethical violation with regard to the third count, but found against respondent on counts I and II. The Hearing Board recommended that respondent be censured. The Review Board agreed with the Hearing Board’s findings but recommended that a two-year suspension be imposed.
Was it proper to impose a two-year suspension against respondent attorney on the account of his alleged violations?
The court held that respondent violated 87 Ill. 2d R. 7--104(a)(1) by contacting two credit companies and bypassing the companies' counsel in an attempt to reach a settlement agreement. Respondent's conduct, taken as a whole, was calculated to deceive the credit companies by obtaining settlements of large claims for de minimis amounts. Respondent bypassed each of the companies' attorneys with the intention of making the companies' agents believe that the minimal amount tendered was the amount actually due. By doing so, respondent's conduct violated 87 Ill. 2d R. 1--102(a)(4). The court held that respondent's attempted fraud was serious enough to warrant a suspension from the practice of law for a period of two years.