I recently wrote a post about Michelle Obama’s law license being in an inactive status, and why that might be so. The theory was that she had some kind of court-mandated disciplinary action against her. Update 10-24-09 For the latest information, and simpler reading click here.
In December 2008, another blogger, through some hard work and sleuthing, found a form filed with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) of the Supreme Court of Illinois. The form says that Michelle Obama is “Voluntarily inactive and not authorized to practice law.”
The questions: why would Michelle give up her law license only 4 years after passing the bar, and was she disciplined, because, after all, the form was a “disciplinary record. Did she chose to go inactive rather than face a more public investigation?
Just to repeat, the form said it was a “Disciplinary Record.”
A few days ago, I received an email from a writer and researcher, Lynn M. Stuter. Ms. Stuter said she had looked into the claim that MO might have been disciplined. Her research did not support that conclusion.
Through the ARDC, Stuter received a document concerning the First Lady’s “decertification” as an attorney. Stuter was told that at the time Michelle “surrendered” her license to practice law, there was only one avenue to do so through the ARDC.
The ARDC told Ms. Stuter that the only way to surrender a license was to do it through ARDC Rule 770 – which says that it is a “disciplinary” proceeding.
In other words, every person who ever went inactive had to do it though a “disciplinary’ ruling. That is just bizarre. It appeared that she was “disciplined,” but she really was not. This is an organization that registers and records disciplinary actions against lawyers!
Ms. Stuter was kind enough to attach two documents along with her email – documents which came to her from the ARDC. One is titled “ARDC Organizational Information – Rule 770 – 1994.” It is actually dated April 20, 2001 and addressed to the Chief Justice and Justices of the Supreme Court of Illinois, from the ARDC. It identifies the contents as:
The annual report of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission for 2000 is submitted to the Court, to the members of the Bar of Illinois, and to the public in accordance with Supreme Court Rule 751.
The first section discusses the attorneys registered to practice law in Illinois for the year 2000 and then discusses why the numbers may look out of balance for that year. In the second paragraph is this:
…and deleted Rule 770, which had provided for a court-ordered inactive status that did not require annual registration or payment of any fee.
So it appears that there was no disciplinary action, just Michelle’s request to become inactive and pay no registration or fee for doing so. But Rule 770 has now been deleted and this communication says that an amendment was added to Rule 756 and that amendment allowed for an inactive status registration category, which requires the payment of a reduced fee and annual registrations….So now, since 2000, an attorney with inactive status must pay a reduced fee and “annual registration.”
If Michelle Obama was not “disciplined,” as the form indicated, and the ARDC didn’t have a mechanism to render a lawyer voluntarily inactive without using a Disciplinary form…there’s not much else to say…if that’s what happened.
However, there is more to say, thanks to Pamela Geller at Atlas Shrugs and her commenters. Between the red text is the update. If your head aches at the details, skip to the last paragraph in red that begins with “The summary is….”
About that Rule 770. As explained above, the ARDC in their correspondence with Lynn Stuter, seemed to say that Rule 770, was a catch-all for discipline as well as simply requesting to go to inactive status. One of Pam’s commenters left the link to the actual Illinois Supreme Court Rules. Rule 770 deals with NOTHING BUT DISCIPLINE.
(March 23, 2004)
Effective April 1, 2004, former Rule 771 (“Types of Discipline”) was renumbered as Rule 770 and a new Rule 771 (“Finality of Orders and Effective Date of Discipline”) was adopted.
771770. Types of Discipline
Conduct of attorneys which violates the
Code of Professional ResponsibilityRules of Professional Conduct contained in article VIII of these rules or which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute shall be grounds for discipline by the court. Discipline of attorneysmay be:
(b) disbarment on consent;
(c) suspension for a specified period and until further order of court;
(d) suspension for a specified period of time;
(e) suspension until further order of the court;
(f) suspension for a specified period of time or until further order of the court with probation;
(g) censure; or
(h) reprimand by the court, the Review Board or a hearing panel.
(i) No Effect on Disciplinary Proceedings. The provisions of this rule pertaining to registration status shall not bar, limit or stay any disciplinary investigations or proceedings against an attorney.
It appears that the “Finality of Orders and Effective Date of Discipline” was separated from “Types of Discipline.”
Rule 756 is titled “Registration and Fees.” Rule 756 became effective February 1, 1973. The short story is that an attorney can go inactive and pay an annual fee of $105.00. However, if you are “voluntarily inactive,” pursuant to former Rule 770, (see Rule 756 (7)), a “petition for restoration” must be filed.
This is a very different procedure from coming out of a normal inactive status. Rule 756(7) then pertains to Rule 759 titled “Restoration to Active Status.” Rule 759 pertains to those inactive due to “disability,” “hearing and review (Rule 753)” which appears to be first step before disciplinary action. Rule 759 says that if an attorney is restored to active status under Rule 759, which is not the normal route to restoration, any “disciplinary proceedings pending against the attorney may be resumed.
So, this indicates that an attorney who has gotten into some hot water and will be “disciplined,” can go inactive and stop the laundering of dirty linen. If the attorney later wants to go active, the disciplinary action and review goes forward.
To recap: Prior to April 1, 2004, Rule 771 was titled “Types of Discipline.” Prior to April 1, 2004 Rule 770 did not exist. Rule 770 was titled “Reserved,” and there appears to be no text attached to 770. On April 1, 2004, Rule 771 was apparently new, and the text was new, and titled “Finality of Orders and Effective Date of Discipline.”
So the information sent from the ARDC to Lynn Stuter referred only to Rule 770, which was “Reserved” and had no text attached to it. If true, that’s a neat trick and completely deceptive. The communication with Stuter was dated April 2001, some 6 or 7 years after Michelle went inactive.
The ARDC form show her last year as 1993.
The summary is, I believe, that Michelle Obama’s inactive status came from Rule 771, which was renumbered Rule 770, some years after she went inactive. There appears to have been no Rule 770 at the time of her going inactive – so why would the ARDC have referred to either Rule 770 or 771 in conjunction to Michelle. If she just decided to go voluntarily inactive, and if there was no disciplinary action, or possible disciplinary action, Rule 756 would have been referenced.
To be clear, this record was removed from the ARDC website after Atlas Shrugs found it and captured it in December 2008. The removal is not a coincidence, in my opinion.
End of 8-9-09 update
Note that the form referring to Michelle Obama, shown in this article, and found about December 2008, is no longer available on the web. A search of the ARDC’s lawyer-search- function yields nothing for Michelle or Barack Obama. Perhaps both gave up their Illinois law license, but if so, a record does not appear on the ARDC website. There seems to be no record that either of them ever practiced law in Illinois, and there is no record that Michelle began paying the required reduced fee and registration in 2000.
In addition to the Annual Report, a letter was attached from the Clerk of the Supreme Court of Illinois, dated June 23, 1994, “re: Michelle Lavaughn Robinson.” It mentions her “Motion for Transfer to Inactive Status Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 770.” The letter attaches a filing:
To Michelle Obama: Please take notice that on June 23, 1994 I will file your Motion to Transfer to Inactive Status Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 770 and the Administrator’s Consent…and it is signed by “Counsel for Administrator.”
It is obvious we will never know what really happened because the ARDC utilized a disciplinary record that wasn’t necessarily a disciplinary record – odd, quirky and certainly inefficient for the public who should have ‘the right to know.’
About the last three paragraphs above, be sure to read the update in red. These three paragraphs are not what they appear to be. Michelle Obama is clearly inactive pursuant to Rule 770 or 771 – which involves discipline – not merely requesting to go inactive.
To view the original form from ARDC, visit Atlas Shrugs.
For my original post, go here.