The legal drama unfolding inside Algonquin Township now includes a twist one Chicago attorney is describing as “bizarre.”
Plagiarism accusations have surfaced against the $400-an-hour attorney representing Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser.
On April 25, Woodstock attorney Robert Hanlon filed a legal brief in a lawsuit against Clerk Karen Lukasik, former Highway Commissioner Bob Miller and his wife, Anna May Miller.
Attorneys on the other side of the case reviewed the filing. On Page 4, they noticed a change in Hanlon’s distinct writing style.
A Google search of the irregular writing revealed Hanlon’s brief included more than 1,000 words copied word-for-word without any citation from two publications: an April 2011 Chicago Daily Law Bulletin article and a “Practice Series” primer on temporary restraining orders from Chicago-based firm Jenner & Block.
“In my 20 years of practice, I’ve never seen anything like that,” township attorney James Kelly said.
Hanlon denied copying material from any publications.
“Go pound sand,” said Hanlon, who billed the department more than $276,000 last year in a complex, expensive labor battle and already has billed more than $107,000 this year, according to billing records. “I’m not dignifying that.”
Gasser could not be reached for comment.
Township trustees were notified of the finding, and at least two of them – Dave Chapman and Melissa Victor – plan to discuss the accusations during a meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the township offices, 3702 Route 14.
“There are multiple citations that should have been made, and he passed that off as his own,” Chapman said. “That is the definition of plagiarism.”
The Northwest Herald reached out to Martin Bishop, the Reed Smith lawyer in Chicago who co-wrote the Daily Law Bulletin story, “Injunctive relief: Recent developments in Illinois law.”
“It’s bizarre,” said Bishop, who questioned Hanlon’s legal writing ability. “You would never take chunks out of a colleague’s opinions or briefs and claim it as your own. Most lawyers would not quote newspaper articles as an authority. You would check it out on your own.”
Daily Law Bulletin Editor Marc Karlinsky, who does not have a law degree, said he never would expect a lawyer to use the articles in his publication as the heart of a legal argument – unless it is cited.
“As a trade journal, we present ourselves as a useful tool [for attorneys],” he said. “As editor, I would not advise pasting copy into a legal argument uncited.”
The Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission frowns on plagiarism in legal documents.
“If a court finds out that a lawyer has partaken in plagiarism, the judge can strike any or all of the attorney’s brief or motion,” said Ari Telisman, the ARDC’s senior litigation counsel and spokesman. “From an ethical standpoint, there could be problems with the ARDC.”
The ARDC prohibits conduct involving fraud, dishonesty, deceit or misrepresentation.
“They may be violating that rule, and they can be disciplined for that,” Telisman said.
A lawyer proved to have plagiarized could face a formal ARDC reprimand. At worst, a lawyer can lose his or her law license.
Jay Reeves spent 35 years as a lawyer in North Carolina and South Carolina and worked as a risk manager with Lawyers Mutual, an insurance agency for attorneys.
“It’s outrageous,” Reeves said of Hanlon’s brief. “Without attribution or some sort of evidence that indicates an honest mistake, at best, it’s poor form – it’s unprofessional. At worst, it’s some sort of ethical violation.”
Generally, rules governing lawyers in every part of the country require “integrity and honestly and truthfulness and candor” in what they do, Reeves said. “This doesn’t strike me as something he is adhering to.”
Bishop expects more from attorneys who charge $400 an hour.
“My son, who’s sitting next to me, just finished his final report for school,” Bishop said, “and he knows better.”
Trustees now are questioning Hanlon’s past legal work, which has led to an “enormous amount of fees,” Chapman said. Hanlon charged the highway department more than $45,000 between May 5 and June 6.
“It’s a big deal because he’s plagiarizing other people,” Victor said. “It shows me that he has no morals and no ethics whatsoever.”