Champaign school lawyer not registered with state; he left board to seek job

CHAMPAIGN — The former school board member the Champaign schools recently hired as its new school attorney is not currently registered to practice law in Illinois.

The Champaign school board voted 4-1 at its Monday meeting to hire Tommy Lockman as school attorney, a new position.

The News-Gazette has also learned that:

— Lockman resigned from the board because he was considering applying for the job.

— Both the superintendent and the school board president say there is no conflict of interest.

— And the new position is not expected to add to the school district's payroll, as Lockman's $100,000 salary will be the same as the former finance director's.

Jim Grogan, spokesman for the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, said Lockman last year registered as an inactive lawyer but hadn't registered at all in Illinois, active or inactive, as of Tuesday morning.

"Pursuant to the relevant Supreme Court rule, he has to register each and every year, even if he has to register for inactive status," Grogan said.

Lockman said Tuesday afternoon that he was waiting to see what would happen with the hire before registering.

"I actually called (the commission) this morning, as well, to get that clarified," Lockman said.

The deadline to register with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, or as a retired lawyer, was Jan. 1, Grogan said.

"To be fair, there's a grace period," Grogan said. "What happens is, all lawyers really should register by Jan. 1, but we give them until February to comply with what they need to comply with."

If they don't register by February, Grogan said, attorneys are stricken from what he called the "master roll" and must pay a penalty, plus the fees that are due, to be restored.

Lockman said he was previously inactive because he currently works in a position at the University of Illinois that doesn't require an active law license. There's a higher fee associated with having an active license, Lockman said, as well as a need to carry malpractice insurance.

The fee to be an active, registered lawyer in Illinois is $342 this year, Grogan said. Last year, the fee to be an inactive, registered lawyer was $105. The fee to be an active lawyer last year was $289, he said.

Grogan said anyone who plans not to practice law during a given year can register as inactive and can easily change his or her status to active by paying the fee to be active for that year.

"It's important that they register very quickly and pay their active registration fee and change their status," he said.

An inactive lawyer cannot represent clients or work as a lawyer in Illinois, he said.

"You can only practice law if you're active," Grogan said.

Grogan said no disciplinary action has ever been filed or is pending against Lockman.

Lockman's annual salary as school attorney will be $100,000, said school spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart, and the school district is still working out when he will start the job, said Superindent Judy Wiegand. Wiegand said she couldn't comment on the status of Lockman's license.

Lockman currently works as an award coordinator for the UI Office of Sponsored Programs and Research Administration and made $51,250 annually in that position as of last September, according to the UI.

He served on the school board from April 2009 until December, which was before he applied for the school attorney position, he said.

"I resigned because I was considering applying," Lockman said. "I didn't want there to be any concern that I was in any way involved in creating the position."

Lockman said he was not a part of the discussion, as a board member, about the position's job description or what it would be.

"Those are all done at the administrative level," he said.

Before working at the university, Lockman was an associate attorney at Meyer Capel in Champaign, where he specialized in real estate acquisitions and development, corporate law, and business and estate planning, according to a news release from the school district.

Lockman said at Meyer Capel, he garnered "a range of experience in different areas of the law."

"There are a whole lot of different things that you ultimately encounter when you're working for a school district," Lockman said. "I have experience in a number of different areas I certainly believe will be relevant to my practice with the school district."

Wiegand said Lockman, as school attorney, will work on property acquisitions, insurance, workers compensation and creating a policy for how injured workers come back to work.

The school district currently lacks a return-to-work policy, Wiegand said, and the school board has asked for one in the last couple of years.

Lockman will also do work related to bids and will serve as lead negotiator in upcoming contract negotiations with the unions that represent teachers and support personnel, Wiegand said.

Some of Lockman's responsibilities will be those previously taken care of by Barbara Ramsay, the former finance director, Wiegand said. Ramsay resigned, effective Jan. 11, to become chief deputy auditor for Champaign County.

Wiegand said she decided not to fill that position, and she called Lockman's salary "an even swap" in comparison to Ramsay's.

The school district is hoping to save $50,000 to $100,000 by having a lawyer as an employee, rather than paying legal fees to outside firms.

Wiegand said the school district was looking for an attorney "who could also work in the business realm, as well," and said Normal's school district has done something similar.

"That's really what he brought to the table," Wiegand said.

Wiegand said the school board had hoped last year, when the school district was looking for someone to lead its human resources department, to hire someone with a legal background. The board was concerned about legal fees, Wiegand said, but the district was not able to hire someone with legal expertise at that time.

"(The board) brought it up again a couple of months ago," Wiegand said. She said she knew Ramsay was looking at "other opportunities," and so she started looking at how other school districts, especially those in the Large Unit District Association, organized their central offices.

Diane Rutledge, the Large Unit District Association's executive director, said some member districts have attorneys on staff, including the Chicago Public Schools, Elgin, Joliet, Carpentersville and Normal, which has a combined attorney and chief financial officer position.

"Some larger districts find it more economical to add an attorney to staff versus paying contract fees," Rutledge said.

Wiegand said she's concerned that there may be a perception that Lockman's hire is a conflict of interest.

She said Lockman was not involved in creating the position and happened to be out of town when Wiegand spoke about the position to the school board. She said Lockman resigned before submitting his application for the position.

Wiegand said the school district is still working out when Lockman will start his new position.

Board President Stig Lanesskog on Monday said he didn't believe the board had a conflict of interest in approving Lockman's hire.

Lanesskog said Lockman will not report directly to the board, but to Wiegand.

"I think the board feels strongly that she should be able to select her team," Lanesskog said.

Lockman will not represent the board's interests, because it has its own legal counsel, Lanesskog said.

He said he also believes Lockman's board experience will be helpful.

"He can put the law into Champaign's context," Lanesskog said.

Board member Jamar Brown voted against Lockman's hire.

"I don't believe Tommy's the candidate that is in alignment with the direction that the district is going," Brown said.

Lockman said he's looking forward to his new job.

"I'm very excited to have a position that blends my real passion with my professional skills," he said.

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45solte wrote on January 15, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Quick deal over the holidays it seems.  Isn't that how it all went down with Ms. Wiegand about a year prior? 


'Lockman .........happened to be out of town when Wiegand spoke about the position to the school board.'  This is offered as proof of what, exactly? 


Is it both: 'Wiegand said she decided not to fill that position, and she called Lockman's salary "an even swap" in comparison to Ramsay's,' and: 'the new position is not expected to add to the school district's payroll, as Lockman's $100,000 salary will be the same as the former finance director's.'


What experience does Mr. Lockman bring to the table as a Chief Financial Officer?  Is he going to be the CFO, or, just take the salary allotted for one while the CFO position remains vacant?


Same old, 'but, we can explain...'  (followed by some convoluted telling of a series of wacky events that led to the 'we are excited about' outcome) from Unit 4.  I guess the real news is that there is an apparent direction the school district is going in, per Mr. Brown.  He's probably not allowed to talk about that though.


Perception.  Didn't you hire a PR firm?  Maybe you just said you did, and, there's just some wacky story behind why that's not what they're delivering on here.  Never mind.  You hired a PR firm that had some issues relating to perceptions of impropriety.  http://www.wpaag.org/Fischer%20-%20Fischer%20&%20%20DeJong%20%20Connection.htm


Wisconsin has the right idea.  Seems like good business or something...


Wisconsin Statutes (Section l9.59 Code of Ethics) No district board member may use or attempt to use the position held by the member to influence or gain unlawful benefits, advantages or privileges personally or for others.
No former district board member, for 12 months following the date on which he or she ceases to be a district board member, may, for compensation, on behalf of any person other than a governmental entity, make any formal or informal appearance before, or negotiate with, any officer or employee of the district with which he or she was associated as a district board member within 12 months prior to the date on which he or she ceased to be a district board member.
No former district board member, for 12 months following the date on which he or she ceases to be a district board member, may, for compensation, on behalf of any person other than a governmental entity, make any formal or informal appearance before, or negotiate with, any officer or employee of a district with which he or she was associated as a district board member in connection with any judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding, application, contract, claim, or charge which might give rise to a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding which was under the former member's responsibility as a district board member within 12 months prior to the date on which he or she ceased to be a member. 

sacrophyte wrote on January 16, 2013 at 6:01 am

@45solte: would you provide your name please. Much of what you have written is interesting and good discussion material, but I am not going to trade words with an anonymous moniker.

 

-- charles schultz

45solte wrote on January 16, 2013 at 4:01 pm

'provide your name please...I am not going to trade words with an anonymous moniker.'


Then don't, I guess.  Of what relevance is my name to this discussion? 

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on January 16, 2013 at 5:01 am
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Naturally I'm thrilled that the N-G has done (some amount of) its homework about active and inactive attorneys.

 

Apart from the trebled cost of registration, and the malpractice insurance, is the requirement to maintain separate trust accounts  to avoid co-mingling of client funds.

 

But the especially expensive and onerous requirement (for those of us who don't practice much or any law) is the fairly recent addition of Continuing Legal Education.

 

BTW, it's not "the state" with whom Mr. Lockman isn't registered. We'd never let "the state" regulate us. Were lawyers! We regulate ourselves. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes.

bambenek wrote on January 16, 2013 at 9:01 am

This article leads to more questions than answers.

The Unit 4 administration overlooked that he wasn't authorized to practice law, what else did he overlook?

So he left Meyer Capel to take a non-lawyer job at the University, and from the looks of it, I presume at a massive pay cut.  What happened there?

How is someone who isn't even practicing law (his law license problems aside) more qualified then someone actively engaged in the practice of law?

Why did they give him a 100% raise compared to his University work?  

He says he was waiting to see if he got the job to renew his license, that tells me he had no real desire to practice law unless he got that job.  How does someone who appears to not have much investment in his law license the most qualified applicant?

Who else was interviewed?  I have heard anecdotally the committee didn't rank Lockman as their first choice.  If that is so, why was the committees recommendation disregarded?

The good news is, at least Lockman is a local and not a Texas transplant so something has changed since the Culver days.

  

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on January 16, 2013 at 10:01 am
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The "not authorized to practice" language, while accurate (that is, appearing on the IARDC website) is unnecessarily strong. It simply means he's paying the lower rate, and avoiding the requirement to jump through those other (above mentioned) hoops.

 

I don't know why it's confusing that he'd want one specific job that requires an active license, but not just any job.  The practice of law can be stimulating and rewarding. It can also be dull drudgery. It depends on what you're doing each day, all day.

bambenek wrote on January 16, 2013 at 10:01 am

I believe Mr. Lockman when he says he just didn't pay the fee (thus becoming inactive).  I know it's a pretty easy thing to fix.  It really is just a red flag to show that the district really didn't behave in a proper manner.

His comments here show that not only was he not practicing as a lawyer, he apparently had little desire to do so if he didn't get this one job.

Is there really no other qualified lawyers who want to be lawyers who wanted this job?

  

45solte wrote on January 16, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Why is it hoop-jumping and burdensome for attorneys to have to meet continuing ed requirements? 

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on January 17, 2013 at 12:01 am
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Good question.

 

It depends on the nature of the individual attorney's practice; and the nature of the CLE program.

 

I think most CLE programs are interesting and informative. And, like most government mandated programs aimed at the ostensibly rich; they cost a ton of money.

 

Like the military-industrial complex, the CLE industry is not primarily concerned with our safety. They really, really like our money.

pattsi wrote on January 16, 2013 at 11:01 am

This is intrguing on many levels. Let's start with a N-G letter-to-the-editor written by Esther Patt, appeared on 23 Dec 12, p. C-2 with a reference to the 16 Dec 12 editorial concerning the Champaign city mgr search process. She pointed out factually the penchant within this community to proceed with hirings in a non transparent, open search evironment. She mentioned as examples the city of Champaign city manager, Unit 4, Unit 116, and probably included more that are not coming to mind at this moment. The essence was that these are entities support by taxpayer dollars. Yet taxpayers have not been expressing concerns about the procedure, at least up to this point in time. She also illustrated the point of how do we know that we are getting the best of the possible best if there are not well publicized open searches?

According to this article, Unit 4, once again, is circumventing transparency. The actual timeline of events may not have gone against any state laws, as far as we know. If this is accurate, then a conversation with our local legislators might be in order. Plus there is nothing preventing the local board putting in place a "Wisconsin" model provided by a previous poster.

Still the bottomline as I learned during my on site Code of Ethics and OMA seminar is that there is the law and there is perception. As was mentioned during the seminar, the latter is very significant.

rsp wrote on January 16, 2013 at 10:01 pm

I did a simple google search of illinois, ethics, school board, and came up with some restrictions on employment after serving, etc. It was late so I need to read it again. It made me wonder if this was covered. One of the things that bothers me is that the only thing I ever heard about this was the announcement of his hiring. Same thing with city manager, no mention there's only one person who applied. Just we don't need to look any further. Maybe the rest of us wanted to. They don't care about the voters except to get votes. And then they complain about the voters not respecting them. 

Bramfeld wrote on January 17, 2013 at 10:01 am

I don't particularly blame any attorney for being inactive.  There is no reason to be active unless you are actually practicing law.  I point out, however, that active or inactive, there is no requirement in Illinois for professional liability insurance.

 

John F. Bramfeld

EL YATIRI wrote on January 20, 2013 at 3:01 pm
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Stinks, doesn't pass sniff test