An attorney ethics board has called for a three-year suspension of the law license held by the ex-chief of staff to former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.
In a 23-page report, the board recommended suspending John Harris for his part in the former governor’s plan to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated when President Obama took office in 2008.
Harris, 50, admitted in 2010 to conspiring with Blagojevich to solicit bribes in exchange for the Senate seat, a position the former governor had the power to fill by appointment when Obama was elected. Harris cooperated with prosecutors in the criminal case against Blagojevich and received a 10-day prison sentence, two years’ supervised released and a $1,000 fine. Blagojevich began serving a 14-year prison term last year.
The report and recommendation released on Monday by the Hearing Board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission said that Harris violated ethics rules pertaining to honesty, fitness to practice, and protecting the reputation of the profession and the administration of justice. The Illinois Supreme Court ultimately will determine whether and how to sanction Harris.
The call for a three-year suspension was a compromise between the sanction sought by the administrator of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and the sanction for which Harris had argued. Administrator Jerome Larkin pushed for Harris’ disbarment, while Harris proposed a three-year suspension applied retroactively to the date that his interim suspension began: April 6, 2010.
The administrator’s office said Wednesday that it would continue to argue for disbarment.
"As a general rule, with lawyers who are involved in public corruption or aid in it, we seek a substantial discipline," said James Grogan, deputy administrator and chief counsel of the discipline commission. "The original recommendation of the administrator is appropriate."
Representing Harris was attorney Mary Robinson of Robinson Niro in Chicago. She did not respond to requests for comment. Harris could not be reached for comment.
In making its decision, the board considered aggravating factors including the "extremely serious" nature of the corruption case, Harris’ position as a public official, his knowing participation in the corruption and his failure to stop or report it to authorities.
It also considered mitigating factors, including "his acknowledgement of his wrongdoing and acceptance of responsibility for his actions" and his cooperation against Blagojevich. The board noted that Harris, whose father had been a delivery truck driver and mother a factory worker, had taken "positive steps" to change his life following his plea. Harris is married, the father of three young children and the sole earner in the family, according to the board’s report.
"Respondent has essentially started over from a professional standpoint by taking a job as a linesman’s apprentice electrician," the board found. "He is close to completing the three-year lineman training program and has also completed other training as part of that job."
The board recommended that the three-year suspension begin once the Illinois Supreme Court makes its final decision. Serving on hearing board panel were Kenn Brotman, Jay Frank and Donald Pettis.
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