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South Florida Estate Planning Law Blog

Insight & Commentary on Estate Planning, Wills, Trusts, Probate & Taxation

Attorney Charged with Ethics Complaint over Probate Blog

Every now and then, blogging will get someone in “trouble.” See e.g. Rakofsky v. Internet, in which one Joseph Rakofsky sued a whole bunch of bloggers and other media over their posts criticizing among other things, his competency and ethics.   I put the words “trouble” in quotes, because just because someone sues, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the blogger was in the wrong. I myself have been contacted a few times by various people who did not like what I wrote in my own posts and requested that I take it down.

Now, according to the National Law Journal, the Illinois Attorney and Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint against patent and trademark attorney attorney Joanne Denison, because of her “probate blog.

Yes, you read that right. Why is a patent attorney writing a probate blog?

According to the complaint, and the NLJ story, Denison’s posts describe a contested guardianship in which she at first, personally represented one of the litigants. However, on December 7, 2009, the Court disqualified her from representing [one of the parties] due to the fact that Denison notarized the signatures of her client and the Ward (who had not yet been declared incapacitated) on a document that gave her client the Ward’s entire interest in a lawsuit at a time when the Ward may have been suffering from dementia.

Two years later, while the case was still ongoing, Denison began her blog marygsykes, with “Mary G. Sykes” being the name of the incapacitated person in the above referenced case. The ethics complaint cites to a number of Denison’s posts in which Denison accuses the judges, the probate system, and the guardians ad litem of being “corrupt.”

I’ve read a bit of Denison’s blog and one thing is for sure – she is angry. But she is angry at what she sees to be major injustices in the Guardianship systems, both in Cook County, and elsewhere. More recently, she is angry at the Illinois Attorney and Registration and Disciplinary Commission disregard of the First Amendment.

I certainly would never call my local probate judges “corrupt.” First, because they’re not, and second, because I value my livelihood. Ms. Denison wrote a large volume of lengthy posts. The complaint seems to cherry pick some of the more incendiary language with the intent of shutting her up.

Although I don’t necessarily agree with her tactics, as a blogger who is in favor of more free speech for attorneys vs. less, I’m rooting for Ms. Denison. At least for now.

About the Author

David ShulmanDavid is a Fort Lauderdale attorney with a law practice focused on estate planning, probate and trust administration, asset protection, guardianships, and tax. Among other things he is a Mac nerd, BBQ lover, and blogger. Follow him on Google or Twitter.View all posts by David Shulman →

  • joanne denison

    THANK YOU FOR YOU POST! How great is that. Actually, lawyers know that WE HAVE FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS and we can post whatever we want—as long as it’s the truth or substantially the truth.
    We don’t in fact have to prove ANYTHING. The reality is, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that the First Amendment is so broad that unless I write something that is patently false or untrue, I have to be left alone. The standard is “true or substantially true” and my opponent must prove that anything I say is false.
    Unfortunately for the ARDC I have known this family for years, and what I post is true. I also post on other (harrowing) cases, and while some of it does not seem believable at first, unfortunately it is true. I don’t know if the emotion I have is anger, it’s more like righteous justice. I poke, pick fun of and enjoy critiquing pompous ass, money grubbing attorneys that aren’t following the Illinois Probate Act, for whatever green reason they have.
    So thank you for posting this and letting me explain how wonderful the First Amendment is to the US Constitution. In Illinois we also have Article 1 of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 and we have the Citizen’s Participation Act, 750 ILSC 110 that protects any type of speech, as long as it is not completely made up or completely false.
    How wonderful is that?
    Write me at joanne@denisonlaw.com if you have any questions.