Jim Dey: Giving one's tongue free rein not always smart

A state disciplinary committee will help decide whether a local lawyer essentially talked himself out of his ability to practice law.

State administrators who oversee lawyer misconduct cases have recommended that Brian Sides' law license be suspended for a year and until "further order of the court" in connection with Sides' public feud with Champaign County judges. A three-person hearing panel that heard witnesses in the case, including Champaign County Associate Judge Chase Leonhard, is scheduled to make a recommendation to the Illinois Supreme Court. The high court has the final say on Sides' professional status.

The dispute over Sides' conduct is nothing less than bizarre, starting as a small-claims case involving Sides' unpaid credit card bill. He represented himself and became enraged by adverse rulings during subsequent legal skirmishes before and involving judges Leonhard, John Kennedy, Jeffrey Ford and Thomas Difanis.

"As I said, this went from a molehill to a Krakatoa volcano, and he is responsible for it in some ways," said William Moran, Sides' Springfield lawyer.

Moran came late, perhaps too late, to the case, retained by Sides long after he had talked himself into trouble.

"Therein lies the problem," said Moran, citing Sides' decision to represent himself and promising on his client's behalf that he will never do so again.

During the course of the small-claims litigation, Sides filed legal documents that accused judges Leonhard and Kennedy of repeated acts of misconduct, essentially colluding with Sides' opposing lawyer to reject Sides' defense.

He alleged that Judge Leonhard falsified the court record "to not reflect the actual proceedings." He charged that Judge Kennedy engaged in "back-alley justice" that "makes a mockery" of legal procedures. Sides contended that "all the judges of the Champaign County Circuit Court have colluded against him, and he is unable to obtain a fair trial in this jurisdiction."

(Sides contends that local judges purposely mistreat him because of his conviction for indecent exposure in a city of Champaign case. He later filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city in connection with his arrest, losing at the local federal court in Urbana and then again at the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal.)

Sides' behavior in the small-claims case drew the attention of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, which alleged that he made repeated false statements in legal filings and that his behavior brought the practice of law into disrepute.

Before retaining Moran, Sides challenged the authority of the ARDC to review his behavior, declined to file a written response to the charges and accused ARDC lawyer Denise Church of making false statements about him and being "beyond annoying and tedious." In one legal filing with the ARDC, he wrote that lying about him had become Church's "favorite habit."

The ARDC panel, made up of two lawyers and a non-lawyer, held two days of hearings and is expected to issue a recommendation in late May or June.

The ARDC panel heard lengthy testimony from Sides in which he stated that he believed then and he believes now that everything he perceived about being mistreated in court was true. He did acknowledge using inappropriately "incendiary" language to voice his complaints and made a general apology for doing so.

Sides, 43, has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Illinois and a law degree from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. He practices law with his girlfriend, Cristina Manuel, in Champaign. The couple has three children. Sides testified that he files all his legal documents in Champaign County Circuit Court under Manuel's name because the judges are all against him.

Sides acknowledged that he did a "terrible" job representing himself and said he became "frustrated" by Leonhard's refusal to see the merits of his arguments.

But he stood by his claim that Leonhard, among others, presided over a "sham" hearing in his small-claims case and that it was "no accident."

"The judge was going to destroy my case," Sides testified.

Moran, Sides' lawyer, acknowledged his client's over-the-top rhetoric. But he defended Sides by stating that his client sincerely believes he was victimized by the Champaign County judges.

In any event, Moran said, Sides won't repeat such behavior in the future because he will never represent himself again, that he poses no danger to the public and that his punishment should be limited to a public admonishment. The penalty recommended by the ARDC, Moran argued, is simply "unfair."

Quoting Sides, Moran said "the only real issue in the case is whether any attorney may speak out against" judges he believes are wronging him.

Jim's Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club: Vol. LVIII

The reason that truly compelling personal stories are few and far between is because they border on the incomprehensible — seemingly more fiction than fact.

Louis Zamperini's story was, unfortunately, all fact — triumph and then tragedy, despair and ... well, you've got to read it to believe it.

That's why Laura Hillendbrand's "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption" is the latest recommendation from Jim's Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club. As a pseudo-intellectual, I guarantee it's the real deal.

Zamperini grew up poor and rough in California and could have been headed for trouble if he had not taken up track. He became an accomplished long-distance runner who starred at the University of Southern California and competed at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Germany.

He seemed, and was, charmed until World War II broke out, and he became a bombardier who participated in hair-raising missions in the Pacific. The real story begins when Zamperini's plane crashed into the ocean on a May 1943 search-and-rescue mission. He and two crew members made it onto a raft, with little food or water and only ever-present sharks for company.

They drifted thousands of miles over 47 days, an agony that finally claimed the life of one of Zamperini's companions. When they struck land, hopes for rescue were quickly dashed.

Zamperini and his companion were captured by the Japanese and ultimately sent to a series of prison camps, where they were beaten and starved until the war ended in September 1945.

Hey, I said it was grim. This guy makes Job seem like a lottery winner. But it's still a great story. How do people survive such conditions? Many didn't, but Zamperini did. He returned home to a hero's welcome, but his trial was not over.

He started drinking too much and was consumed by thoughts of revenge against his prison camp tormentors. He remained in his own private prison until a chance visit to a Billy Graham religious crusade in Los Angeles gave him the strength to embrace sobriety and adopt a new perspective on life.

It's an inspiring story extremely well-told. What's remarkable is the sourcing — letters, interviews, news accounts, official records that document a story that, on its face, would appear so private as to be unknowable. "Unbroken" brings Zamperini's incredible story home, and it's one that's hard to put down.

Previous recommendations from Jim's Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club can be found on my blog at news-gazette.com.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or at 351-5369.

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