A panel of Illinois attorneys in charge of setting the bar for the rest of Illinois’ attorneys proved how low they can go.
Illinois’ three-member Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission panel assessing former Rock Island County State’s Attorney Jeff Terronez recommended the state Supreme Court suspend his law license for two years, retroactive to Oct. 12, 2011, when his temporary suspension began.
That will put Terronez back among the ranks of Illinois attorneys by October 2013.
A commission administrator has appealed Friday’s recommendation, which was based on testimony and evidence presented in an April 24 hearing about Terronez’s professional failure the summer of 2010. That’s when he repeatedly bought alcohol for an underage girl, shared a hotel room with her and another teenage girl while at a government conference in Champaign, Ill., and persistently texted messages no parents would ever want their minor daughter to see. Remember, this minor was the victim of a sexually exploitive high school teacher whom Terronez prosecuted.
The attorney panel seemed to understand the gravity of the offenses. Their 31-page report shows they understood the evidence, though tended to view ghastly disclosures with a forgiving eye.
“Even if (Terronez) did enjoy a position of power, we do not believe the evidence supports a finding that he exploited either” of the young women. Parents of a daughter subjected to sexually explicit emails from this man might disagree.
The panel also concluded: “With respect to the criminal act of supplying alcoholic beverages to underaged persons, those acts did not involve any deceptions or false representations.” Again, parents of the liquor-plied minor might disagree, as would the succession of detectives who recorded Terronez’s lies, excuses and cover-ups.
Those lies ultimately convinced the panel to consider punishment for one main reason: “We find that Respondent’s conduct did tend to defeat the administration of justice and did bring the legal profession into disrepute.”
The punishment — a two-year suspension — was based on previous suspensions handed out mostly to attorneys who used or dealt drugs.
These cases, it could be said, set the bar for the bar. The panel cited these cases:
The judges included some more severe cases with law license punishment greater than they recommend for Terronez:
n An assistant state’s attorney was disbarred for “committing the criminal act of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and cannabis.” He was disbarred because the hearing board believed he wasn’t candid about the charges.
n An assistant state’s attorney was disbarred for buying and delivering cocaine on multiple occasions.
n An assistant state’s attorney was disbarred for tricking an evidence custodian into releasing three bags of marijuana from a police locker.
n An attorney had his license suspended 30 days for lying to a police officer investigating his traffic accident. This attorney was a state’s attorney candidate who admitted to drunken driving and was found guilty of one misdemeanor count of obstructing a police officer.
n An attorney had his license suspended 90 days for using his real estate broker’s license to get into a condo and obtain evidence from someone he was suing on behalf of another client.
About the same
n A state’s attorney who purchased and used cocaine and cannabis got a two-year law license suspension. He was allowed to resign with no criminal charges.
n An assistant state’s attorney convicted of possessing methamphetamine got a two-year suspension. The second year was stayed.
n An assistant state’s attorney convicted of Class A misdemeanors for cocaine and marijuana use was given a two-year suspension.
n An assistant state’s attorney who backed a car over the repo man coming after it. The attorney was convicted of four counts of reckless conduct and issued a two-year suspension.
In none of these cases did a state’s attorney exploit his relationship with a minor victim who came to him for help.
In none of these cases did a state’s attorney repeatedly lie to investigators and the public.
In none of these cases did a state’s attorney send dozens and dozens of intimate, sexually explicit texts to a sexually exploited teen.
In fact, just one of the precedent cases involved an elected state’s attorney. The rest involved appointed assistants, or private attorneys.
We believe Terronez’s elected position elevates the gravity of his criminal and ethical misconduct.
The Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission panel may be comfortable returning this kind of individual to their ranks.
Let’s hope the Supreme Court sets the bar higher.