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Thursday, May 14, 2015 11:10 am

Cahnman engaged in misconduct, panel finds

Former alderman had conflict of interest as attorney

A state panel has concluded that attorney and former Ward 5 alderman Sam Cahnman engaged in misconduct by having a conflict of interest as a lawyer-legislator. 

Cahnman, who served two terms as alderman before losing his bid for a third term in April, could face punishment ranging from censure to disbarment. 

The case stems from Cahnman's representation of Calvin Christian, a blogger in Springfield who has butted heads with Springfield police through public records requests, numerous traffic tickets and lawsuits. The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) accused Cahnman in August 2014 of having a conflict of interest between his alderman duties and his lawyer duties by representing Christian in traffic tickets issued by Springfield police. A three-member panel upheld the ARDC allegations on May 7, saying Cahnman engaged in misconduct. [See "Cahnman faces ethics inquiry," April 23, by Patrick Yeagle.]

Attorney Peter Rotskoff, chief of litigation for the ARDC, said he cannot comment on the case.

The order finding Cahnman engaged in misconduct is different from a final decision issued by the Illinois Supreme Court. The order simply establishes that the board believes Cahnman engaged in misconduct. The board will later issue a report and recommendation to the Supreme Court, which will issue the final decision.

During Cahnman’s April 16 hearing, the panel wasn’t allowed to hear evidence pertaining to Cahnman’s previous discipline, a 2014 censure from the Supreme Court for misleading a judge.  Cahnman’s attorney, Bill Moran of Springfield, says prior discipline isn’t allowed in such hearings because it could influence how the panel views the accused. Moran likens it to a hearing on a traffic ticket.

“The prosecutor can’t say, ‘he did it before, so must have done it this time,’ ” Moran said.

Now that the hearing board has established that it believes Cahnman engaged in misconduct, Moran says, the board can hear about his prior discipline and decide what effect it should have on the case and on his future discipline. 

ARDC administrator Gary Rapaport presented the ARDC’s allegations against Cahnman at an April 16 hearing, and on May 13, Rapaport urged that Cahnman’s law license be suspended for six months. Rapaport detailed Cahnman’s prior discipline to the panel, adding that Cahnman “repeatedly deceived the city council, by participating in the discussions of Calvin Christian’s lawsuits in numerous council meetings without disclosing his ongoing attorney-client relationship with Christian.”

Moran says he will fight the recommended six-month suspension of Cahnman’s law license. 

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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