Originally Posted Online: Feb. 08, 2013, 1:01 pm
Last Updated: Feb. 08, 2013, 10:02 pm
Former RI County state's attorney Terronez wants to keep law license
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By Anthony Watt, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Former Rock Island County State's Attorney Jeff Terronez spoke at an Illinois Registration Disciplinary Commission panel hearing Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, in Chicago. The panel is deciding whether to recommend that the Illinois Supreme Court strip Mr. Terronez of his law license. The court voted to disbar Mr. Terronez today.
An Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission appeals panel heard oral arguments Friday morning in the latest phase of the fight over whether former Rock Island County states attorney Jeff Terronez should keep his law license.
ARDC branch manager Peter Rotskoff said the panel could take up to 90 days to make a recommendation to the Illinois Supreme Court, which must make the final decision in the case.
Mr. Rotskoff said the justices will review the case, but likely will do so based on the written record of the proceedings. Further oral arguments are possible, but usually are rare.
In August, another ARDC panel recommended Mr. Terronez be suspended from practicing law for two years after he pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of providing alcohol to a minor in April of 2011.
Mr. Terronez is accused of buying alcohol for a minor identified as "JW" and a 19-year-old identified as "BY," which led to his resignation as state's attorney in April 2011.
The panel administrator -- the ARDC's version of a prosecutor -- pushed for disbarment, but the panelists ruled there was misconduct but not to the degree contended by the administrator.
The case is in appeal because the ARDC still is arguing that Mr. Terronez should lose his law license.
"In the administrator's view, this a disbarment case, not a suspension," said Steve Splitt, who made the administrator's arguments on Friday.
The administrator's case is focused on Mr. Terronez's relationship with JW, which began during the prosecution of former United Township High School teacher Jason VanHoutte, who is now in prison after pleading guilty to sexual encounters with the underage student.
Mr. Splitt contended that, as the county's lead prosecutor, Mr. Terronez deliberately built trust with JW to aid the case against Mr. VanHoutte. After that case ended, he continued that relationship.
"He (Mr. Terronez) was in a position of trust and authority as to this girl," Mr. Splitt said.
The administrator is arguing that it was during this phase of their relationship that Mr. Terronez allegedly bought her alcohol and sent her what the administrator described as "sexually charged text messages," which were for Mr. Terronez's own sexual gratification.
Mr. Terronez has argued that the texts were jokes between friends, but Mr. Splitt said Mr. Terronez -- as an adult -- was not in a position to have such interactions with the teen.
The administrator also is arguing that Mr. Terronez committed criminal offenses -- purchasing alcohol-- while serving as the county's lead prosecutor and lied to authorities who were investigating those crimes.
The administrator contends that any one of those infractions on their own would lead to a lengthy suspension for an attorney.
Mr. Terronez represented himself at the Friday appeal panel. He argued that during the initial phase of the case against him, the administrator did not meet the burden of required proof.
He described his behavior as reprehensible, but said no professional relationship existed between himself and JW when the misconduct occurred."Once the case (against Mr. VanHoutte) completed, I simply had no authority over her."
Mr. Terronez denied allegations he was getting sexual gratification from their interactions, and said he had no physical contact with the teen and was not sexually attracted to her.
He repeated that his relationship with JW had become friendly and that he was joking with her, but agreed with Mr. Splitt that hisbehavior was not appropriate. However, he said, the administrator's case just doesn't have the evidence to prove there was sexual exploitation.
Mr. Terronez, who received an interim suspension when the case was filed against him, expressed regret for his behavior."What I did here has devastated myself, my career, my family."
Mr. Terronez declined to comment outside of the statements he made during the proceedings.