Judge's paid lectures under scrutiny

Judge's paid lectures under scrutiny

URBANA — Appellate Court Justice Robert Steigmann of Urbana said a complaint filed against him Monday by the state Judicial Inquiry Board for giving paid legal lectures to police officers and doctors is "regrettable, embarrassing and unnecessary."

"I plan to vigorously dispute the Board's complaint before the Illinois Courts Commission," Steigmann told The News-Gazette on Monday, hours after being notified that the complaint would be filed. "I intend to be represented by counsel."

Steigmann, 72, has known for nine months that the inquiry board has been investigating him and has fully cooperated. Indeed, he supplied the JIB with all the information it asked for and more, including his background, who and what he teaches, how and when he's been compensated and written evaluations by his audiences.

Knowing that his paid lectures were under scrutiny, Steigmann said he has invited JIB representatives to attend and has asked several times for "guidance" on what invitations the board thinks he should or should not accept. Steigmann said the JIB did not respond.

Steigmann sent another letter to the JIB late last month asking for direction regarding an invitation to present a seminar in September for police officers in Champaign.

"Their guidance was to file a complaint," he said.

The three-count complaint alleges that Steigmann, a trial and appellate judge for 41 years, violated the Code of Judicial Conduct by using his office staff and equipment to "solicit paid lecturing opportunities" from law enforcement and medical groups and hospitals.

"In doing so, (Steigmann) used the prestige of his judicial office as well as the court's resources to advance his private interests. This conduct also created a potential for an appearance that he is biased in favor of physicians and law enforcement with respect to matters involving those professions," the complaint said.

Steigmann denied any appearance of impropriety, supplying the board with 22 decisions in which he ruled against the state, a hospital or a doctor — the classes the board suggests that Steigmann appears to favor.

'No less than $24,300'

Steigmann has long been known for proudly and publicly sharing his legal acumen with anyone who will listen, but especially those groups that can benefit from legal insights in their own professions. He counts police, prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, doctors, law students and radio listeners among his audiences over the years.

The former prosecutor, circuit judge and now appellate court judge for the 30 counties spanning the central part of Illinois, is also the author of a three-volume treatise on Illinois evidence law, which he updates annually and for which he is paid.

Steigmann noted that the Supreme Court has declared that "a judge may engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system and the administration of justice" and, that he or she may be paid "if the source of such payments does not give the appearance of influencing the judge in his or her judicial duties or otherwise give the appearance of impropriety."

In short, the high court has said the pay should "not exceed a reasonable amount" and expenses should be limited to the actual costs of food, travel and lodging.

In its complaint, the inquiry board said that in May 2015, Steigmann initiated contact with law-enforcement organizations to give paid lectures, sending letters on official court letterhead.

Between June 2015 and April 2016, the complaint said, he sent 30 email solicitations and 96 letters to chiefs of medical societies and hospitals to present lectures on medical malpractice in exchange for honoraria.

Those solicitations, the complaint said, resulted in 15 presentations in 2015 and 2016 by Steigmann to police and another nine to medical-related groups for a total of "no less than $24,300 in excess of his judicial compensation."

Steigmann said the compensation for his police presentations was $1,250 per appearance for seven hours of lecturing and the preparation for those.

Appellate court justices in Illinois earn $211,416 a year.

Steigmann called his presentations "well-received" by the police and medical people.

"I get great response ... The evaluations are off the charts," he said.

'There's no precedent'

The complaint uses stinging language, including "failed to conduct himself in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary; failed to refrain from financial and business dealings that tended to reflect adversely on his impartiality, exploit his judicial position and involve him in frequent transactions with persons likely to come before the court in which he serves; and failed to refrain from assuming an active role in the management of a business."

"I'm a judge but I'm not their spokesperson," Steigmann said of the Illinois judiciary. "I'm just offering my personal opinions."

"I'm accused of doing something where the Supreme Court has given careful attention and in 2002 they said I could," he said.

"Now (the JIB is) saying, 'You can't run a business.' There is no precedent for how much is too much. I spoke to a lot of cops and a lot of doctors. What's reasonable compensation?" he asked.

"I don't think I've done anything wrong. It would have been better if I hadn't used (court) stationery," he admitted.

But he's unapologetic about relying on his office assistant, Becky Gordon, with him more than 36 years, to help produce the materials he uses in his teaching and the legal treatises he authors.

"Of course I used my staff," said the man who dictates and writes notes in longhand for Gordon to type.

Steigmann said it's "unpleasant" to be lumped in with other judges who have had affairs in office or been found mentally unstable.

Still, there's few places he'd rather be than behind his desk and a pile of paper.

"It's a wonderful job, it's an honor and privilege to serve as a judge. I like to think I am doing good work," he said.

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KlaatuSansGort wrote on August 07, 2017 at 10:08 pm

Nemesis, even if belatedly awakened and provoked, would reign with brutal objectivity.

RatDog wrote on August 09, 2017 at 10:08 pm

Oh so fallen the arrogant tyrants. This discredits all of his judgements & they should be reexamined. He needs be removed from the bench & disbarred for this, in addition, for making sentences too complicated for stupid clerks to cypher.