Jim Dey: Rhetorical delusions draw a mild rebuke
Local lawyer Brian Sides talked himself into a jam that threatened his law license. Luckily for him, Sides' lawyer talked him out of trouble with state regulators — at least for now.
Rather than losing his license for at least a year and maybe much longer, Sides faces a two-month suspension for his rhetorical attacks on the judges hearing his cases.
Sides has drawn considerable attention over the years for scrapes with the law that resulted in voluminous litigation and included incendiary accusations he made against judges. It was that behavior, deemed to be unprofessional and demeaning to the practice of law, that drew the wrath of the state's legal disciplinary organization.
In addition to the suspension, a three-member Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission hearing panel recommended, as conditions of a two-year probation, that Sides "be supervised by a licensed attorney" and "attend and successfully complete the ARDC professionalism seminar."
Asked if he considered the result a win, Sides' Springfield lawyer William Moran said, "I think it was. ... At least, the hearing panel didn't recommend what the ARDC requested."
ARDC spokesman Jim Grogan came to the same conclusion.
"I don't disagree (with the characterization)," he said.
Grogan, however, said the ARDC will appeal the hearing panel's recommendation; the Illinois Supreme Court is the decision maker in all lawyer discipline cases.
Grogan made it clear that ARDC lawyers want Sides sidelined from the practice of law for a long time because the milder sanctions do not "adequately protect the public."
Sides, who practices law with his wife, Christina Manuel, is best known locally for his arrest in July 2001 on indecent exposure charges. He was convicted after a jury trial and appealed his case unsuccessfully through the Illinois courts. He also filed an unsuccessful civil rights lawsuit against the city of Champaign and Champaign police in federal court, at one point asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his appeal.
The legal battle that resulted in Sides' suspension stems from a 2006 civil judgment against him for more than $9,000. While challenging that judgment, Sides made numerous allegations of unprofessional and biased behavior against Champaign County Judges Jeffrey Ford, John Kennedy and Charles Leonhard. He also charged all Champaign County judges are biased against him.
In both cases, Sides represented himself. During the ARDC hearing, Sides acknowledged that was a mistake and promised never to represent himself again.
The ARDC alleged that Sides' vitriolic and false legal filings were "prejudicial to the administration of justice." It said Sides' legal filings, which included phrases like "back alley justice," "corrupt intention," "corrupt interest" and accusations of bias, required punishment. Sides specifically called Judge Kennedy a "predator" and a "scourge on his profession."
Sides acknowledged his rhetorical overkill, calling his language "inflammatory," "incendiary," "just over the top."
"(I) let my emotion get the best of me," he said.
The disciplinary case put the ARDC hearing panel in an interesting position of judging the language of a lawyer untethered to reality. It repeatedly found Sides' accusations were false but concluded that Sides believed them anyway. Therefore, the hearing panel concluded Sides was not guilty of making intentionally false statements because he believed, contrary to the evidence, that they were true.
Regarding Sides' attacks on Judge Leonhard, the ARDC panel concluded that "nothing that occurred ... shows or even suggests" the misconduct Sides alleged. The panel also stated that "we do not find (Sides) to be credible or his testimony believable.
"It is apparent that (Sides) convinced himself that certain things occurred and certain comments were made even though his beliefs in that regard were without any factual basis and were unreasonable," the ARDC panel wrote.
When the ARDC initially charged Sides with misconduct, he responded in his usual aggressive manner, disputing the ARDC's jurisdiction over him. Continuing that approach would have been disastrous, but the process became more orderly after he hired a lawyer.
Sides subsequently issued repeated apologies, claiming that "I am sorry for the language I used and any damage the language has caused anyone."
In opting for a lesser penalty, the hearing panel noted that Sides has never been in trouble before and has not engaged in any inappropriate behavior while representing anyone other than himself.
"We find little threat to (Sides') future clients or to the public," the ARDC panel stated.
The appeals process is expected to take anywhere from 90 to 120 days. Then the issue will go to the Illinois Supreme Court for final resolution.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 351-5369.