The last time Champaign lawyer Brian Sides got in trouble with the state’s attorney-discipline agency — in 2014 — he escaped with a two-month suspension of his law license based at least partially on his pledge to never represent himself again in a legal dispute.
But the 51-year-old Sides’ law license was recently suspended by the Illinois Supreme Court — this time, it could be permanent — after he was charged again with misconduct and represented himself before the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission.
Sides “has engaged in a troubling pattern of conduct that includes falsely impugning the qualifications and integrity of tribunal members (state court judges in his previous disciplinary case, a federal bankruptcy judge in the underlying case and the Hearing Board Chair in the instant disciplinary proceeding) when rulings did not go his way,” the ARDC panel said in its recommendation to the high court.
Sides declined to comment in detail on the suspension decision, offering only a cryptic one-sentence response.
“It’s been years since I’ve represented a client,” he wrote Tuesday in an email to The News-Gazette.
The high court ordered Sides’ suspension on an “interim basis and until further order of the court” because he “made false or reckless statements about the integrity and qualifications of a federal bankruptcy judge” and “engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.”
The disciplinary case grew out of Sides’ representation of a client in federal bankruptcy court, where he launched a verbal attack on Judge Mary P. Gorman.
Sides wrote that the “unhinged, and thus dangerous, (Gorman) recklessly brings infamy to her office and becomes a scourge to her profession with her Order’s false story, and she will likely find herself civilly and/or criminally liable.”
After a complaint about his allegedly false statements was filed with the ARDC, the hearing board wrote that Sides accused the ARDC’s “staff and volunteers of wrongdoing.”
Sides declined to participate earlier this year in the substance hearing in his case. He objected to the three-member panel that presided and sought to delay the proceedings. But once the hearing began, he advised the hearing board that he would “remain to observe the video conference, but would not otherwise participate.”
Because neither Sides nor a lawyer working on his behalf participated in the hearing, “the allegations of the complaint were deemed admitted.”
While not participating directly in the hearing, Sides employed colorful language in a motion he filed that was entitled “Suggestion of Death.” The motion asserted “the death of any perception of impartiality,” “the suggestion of death of the Constitution of the State of Illinois,” and the “suggestion of death of the Constitution of the United States.”
The panel concluded Sides’ license must be suspended because “its interactions with (him) leads us to conclude he is unwilling or unable to articulate disagreements with tribunals and persons involved in the legal process without resorting to personal attacks and unfounded accusations.”
The panel’s report states that the trouble started in January 2019, when Sides “filed an adversary proceeding on behalf of a client against First Financial Bank” in bankruptcy court.
An adversary proceeding is a separate lawsuit filed within a bankruptcy case. The judge ultimately dismissed Sides’ complaint. Starting in August 2019, Sides responded with a series of 13 motions that accused the judge of inappropriate and criminal conduct.
“There is no limit to the judge’s willingness to misuse the powers of her office, including the criminal use of false statements as she continues to threaten” Sides and his client, he wrote.
The high court’s decision to suspend Sides’ license “until further order” frequently turns into permanent suspension because it requires the suspended lawyer to go through a lengthy reinstatement process.
When Sides was suspended in 2014 for the same kind of behavior — launching personal attacks on local state judges he appeared before — he was suspended for two months and required to work under an experienced lawyer when he returned to work.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-393-8251.