SPRINGFIELD – An Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission hearing board has recommended a two-year suspension for Monticello attorney Leonard Keith Hays Jr., who admitted committing forgery and perjury in his own divorce proceedings.
Hays, who represented himself, told the commission's hearing board: "I can't completely understand what caused me to do what I did" and "I cannot provide any definitive reason that is acceptable to me," the hearing board report stated.
According to ARDC public documents, Hays filed for dissolution of marriage in May 1998 and amended the complaint in late April 2004. Six weeks later, he filed a marital settlement agreement which he had prepared and on which he had admitted forging his wife's signature, the ARDC hearing board report said.
Hays also appeared in court on June 10, 2004, and testified under oath to things that he knew to be false, including that the signature on the settlement agreement was his wife's; that they had agreed he would pay maintenance of $400 a month; that they had agreed to have the divorce and settlement records sealed; and that the reason for that request was in part because of "her desire for privacy," according to the hearing board report.
Believing Hays' statements to be true, the judge granted the divorce and approved the settlement.
Three days later, Hays married another woman in Vermilion County.
Joan Hays did not learn of her divorce until after that wedding, according to the ARDC documents. She then hired an attorney and ultimately obtained a valid divorce in March 2005.
She testified before the hearing board that her former spouse's conduct in this matter was "an aberration," but the panel noted that it was a significant error in judgment.
"The Respondent's misconduct in this case was of the most serious kind," the hearing board report stated. "He deliberately lied to a court. He knowingly filed forged documents and then gave false testimony under oath. As a result of his dishonesty he obtained, as he intended, a judgment of dissolution of marriage by fraud."
In recommending the two-year suspension, the hearing board stated that it also considered the following mitigating factors: that Hays did not attempt to cheat his wife out of money or property in the forged divorce settlement agreement; he appeared to be genuinely remorseful; he cooperated with the ARDC; that Circuit Court Judge John Shonkwiler testified that Hays' actions were "totally out of character" for him; and that he has serious health problems.
The suspension must be approved by the Illinois Supreme Court before it can take effect.
It is also possible that Hays could face criminal charges for his actions. That decision is up to the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office in Springfield.
Charles Zalar, administrator of the special prosecution unit in the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. Hays did not return a call seeking comment either.