Saturday, March 14. 2009
March 14, 2009
by Jim Dey
The justices in Springfield heard this week about the celebrated crooked judge of Cumberland County as they dipped their toes ever so slightly into the open sewer of a multi-year case of legal corruption.
John Cutright of Toledo--the crooked judge's allegedly crooked lawyer was the subject of oral arguements in the regal chambers of the Illinois Supreme Court. The hearing was scheduled after the high court decided it wanted to take an in-depth look at Cutrights role as both a helpmate of the legal adviser to convicted felon and former Circuit Judge Robert Cochonour while he was appearing routinely as a lawyer before Cochonour.
A lawyer's discipline panel recommended that Cutright be suspended from the practive of law for six months as a penalty for a series of transgressions while state lawyers are urging a two-year suspension for the 67 year oldCutright.After hearing arguments, the high court tookthe case under advisement and there was no indication when it will issue a decisiion.
A University of Illinois law school graduate, Cutright was the right hand man of former Cumberland County Circuit Judge Robert Cochonour. Legal records show that Cochonour looted the estates of at least four sick elderly women and that he also stole hundreds of thousands intended for charitable foundation created by the late Jay Hayden, a millionaire businessman from Greenup. Cochonour used some of the money personally while transferring his other ill-gotten gains into family horse, oil and real estate businesses.
Cutright on numerous occasions prepared legal documents that facilitated Cochonour'squestionable financial dealings, and thats part of what brought him before the seven justices of the state's high court. The discipline case before the Supreme Court is much more narrow than the broad-based Cochonour corruption, a circumstance that allowed Cutrights lawyer, William Moran of Springfield, to offer a narrow defense on Cutright's behalf.
Moran argued essentially, that his client's admitted misconduct was not the result of venality but stupidity. He contended that his client was dummer than a box of rocks and, as a result, "oblivious" to his legal responsibilities.
This isn't very complimentary of my client", Moran acknowledged. Moran's defense worked with the panel form the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission that heard the case, but it's unclear whether Moran"s characterization of Cutright, one at odds with Cutright's reputation will persuade the high court.
Indeed the justices may not consider Cutright purported stupidity in a favorable light. Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald noted that "it makes little difference to the victim whether a lawyer is crooked or merely incompetent because both can produce disastrous results.
Two of the three charges against Cutright stem from his dealings with Chchonour who was convicted of looting the Jay Hayden estate of more then $100,000 and served 11 months in prison. Despite his conviction, Cochonour receives a judical pension of roughly $100.000 a year,
One charge alleged that Cutright performed free legal service for Cochonour, including preparing his personal and business tax returns while appearing regularly before the judge in criminal and civil cases.It was a clear conflict of interest but Cutright never informed opposing lawyers of his special relationship with Cochonour
The other Cochonour-related charge stems from Cutright's simultaneous representation of Cochonour while he prepared a will for the late Martha Hayden of Greenup, the mother of Jay Hayden that forgave a purported $312.000 loan to the Cochonour family. In addition to representationing both parties in the transaction, a basic legal no-no, Cutright said he never questioned Martha Hayden about her financial assets or discussed with her the advisability of such a larg gift. She died virtually penniless in 2001 at age 96. The Martha Hayden will Cutright prepared was voided years later by Circuit Judge Steve Pacey because evidence showed she was deep in the throes of Alzheimer's disease at the time it was written in 1993.
After her death in the late 2001, the entire Cochonour scandal broke, forcing him from the bench and ultimately into disgrace and prison.Civil lawyers representating the Hayden foundation and several elderly victims of Cochonour's thefts uncovered Cutright's in the affair and reported it to the state.
A variety of civil lawsuits are pending, prompting Cochonour and his two brothers, Joe and Don to try to escape liability in federal bankruptcy court. One recent highlight of the bankruptcy court skirmish was the report prepared by Champaign-based forensic accountant, Roger Stone of the estate of Cochonour family patriarch Clark Cochonour, who died in 1992. The accountant discovered what he described as massive fraud in the estate tax return that showed the senior Cochonour's estate was insolvent. That estate return was prepared by Cutright.
The third charge against Cutright is that he allowed the small estate of Bessie Carpenter to remain open roughly 20 years and did nothing to distribute estate assests to her heirs, some of whom died before receiving their due.
Arguing for the state, ARDC lawyer Steven Splitt noted Cutrights behavior and contended it is especially offensive because Cutright claimed he "didn't see what the problem was" with his conduct.
Monday, January 5. 2009
December 13, 2008
A new trail of suspicious behavior related to the Byzantine and dishonest financial dealings of former Cumberland County Circuit Judge Robert Cochonour leads directly to the estate of deceased family patriarch Clark Cochonour.
After the millionaire businessman from the Clark County community of Casey died in 1992, family members and their Toledo lawyer, John Cutright, filed legal documents indicating that the Clark Cochonour estate was insolvent. Sixteen years later, long after most estates are closed, the estate remains open in Cumberland County.
But a new examination of estate assets and debts by court-appointed forensic accountant Roger Stone has revealed evidence of massive fraud.
Stone, who is from Champaign, concluded that Clark Cochonours estate was worth more than $1 million and maybe a lot more. That sum stands in stark contrast to the figures on the estate tax return.
Cutrights tax return showed Clark Cochonour had assets of $2.8 million and debts of $8.5 million.
Stones report concludes that $6.4 million of the $8.5 million in reported estate debts "were fraudulent." While the debts of Clark Cochonours estate were exaggerated, Stone indicated attorney Cutright reported estate assets were $2.8 million when they actually were $3.2 million.
Cutright, who has said he never answers questions from the news media, currently faces a disciplinary case for Cochonour-related activities before the Illinois Supreme Court. The veteran lawyer has long association with the Cochonour family, having prepared numerous questionable legal documents for them.
Continue reading "Dads estate could be trouble for crooked judge"
Monday, December 22. 2008
Tuesday, May 6, 2008 3:07 PM CDT
By NATHANIEL WEST, Staff Writer
EAST ST. LOUIS They really are making a federal case out of it.
A lawsuit filed under the provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act last week in U.S. District Court alleged that an ensemble of area attorneys and financial officers participated in a conspiracy masterminded by former judge Robert Cochonour.
He was the leader and primary architect of this enterprise, and (the defendants) contributed their professional skills and positions of influence in helping to defraud (the plaintiffs) of money, property and intangible rights, said the two-count lawsuit filed Friday by the beneficiaries of a wealthy Greenup businessman, his mother and a retired Clark County schoolteacher all of whom are now deceased.
The lawsuit does not seek a specific monetary amount; rather, it asks for compensatory and treble damages, costs and attorneys fees and such other relief the court deems proper and just.
Although the Cochonour saga has been in the public eye since 2002 when Cochonour resigned as Cumberland County resident judge amidst allegations of wrongdoing this lawsuit is the first action taken in federal court by the Jay E. Hayden Foundation and the estates of Martha Hayden and R. Maurine Johnson against a larger group of alleged conspirators.
Until now, the lengthy legal battle has been waged primarily in probate court and state civil court in Cumberland County, and more recently in federal bankruptcy court. There has been one state criminal trial in the Cochonour controversy: The ex-judge was acquitted of forgery in December 2005.
Cochonour also was incarcerated for about two years following a plea deal brokered in early 2003 with the Illinois Attorney Generals Office. The former judge admitted to stealing from Jay Haydens estate, which Cochonour had overseen since Haydens death in 1985.
This case may last longer than the Iraq war, depending on who wins the election, said Cochonours former attorney, Rick Halprin of Chicago, referring to the new federal lawsuit.
Defendants include: Toledo-based First Neighbor Bank and employees Carol Jo Fritts, Bradley Fitch and June Hayden; Charleston attorney William A. Tony Sunderman; Toledo attorney John Cutright; Mattoon attorney Ralph Glenn; Mt. Vernon attorney Morris Lane Harvey; Edward Jones company; and broker Dwight Erskine of Effingham County.
The defendants or their attorneys either did not return calls or declined to comment because they had not seen the latest lawsuit.
Neither Cochonour nor his two brothers, Joe and Don, are named as defendants because they all remain under bankruptcy protection, according to Naperville attorney Fred Roth, counsel for the plaintiffs.
The Hayden foundation and two estates hired St. Louis attorneys David B.B. Helfrey and Douglas P. Roller, along with Roth, to represent them in the federal lawsuit.
Both Helfrey and Roller are veteran U.S. attorneys; in fact, Roller prosecuted alleged Chicago mob boss Joseph The Clown Lombardo, who now is a client of Halprins.
It looks like a huge scatter gun of allegations, and its really hard in my mind to tie it together, Halprin said of the new lawsuit.
The lawsuit says from 1985 Cochonour and the defendants stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the estates of Jay Hayden and Martha Hayden, plus R. (Maurine) Johnson and Mary Johnson, and others.
The suit says the defendants and the three Cochonour brothers constituted a group of persons associated together for the common purpose of carrying out the fraudulent and illegal acts.
The lawsuit says First Neighbor Bank and the three named employees knew Cochonour was converting funds that belonged to others and helped Cochonour concealing his actions.
The lawsuit also states attorneys Cutright, Sunderman, Glenn and Harvey as counsel to the bank and others, assisted Cochonour by preparing false legal and other documents and making misrepresentations in court and other places.
And Erskine and Edward Jones allegedly allowed Cochonour to convert money belonging to Martha Hayden and R. Maurine Johnson and Mary Johnson.
Contact Nathaniel West at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-6860.
Wednesday, April 5. 2006
Once upon a time he was one of the fastest thoroughbreds in the world. In 1990 he was put down after breaking his legan accident, it was assumed, until last year.
by Skip Hollandsworth
He was a beautiful, proud thoroughbred, headstrong and demanding, the kind of horse who would snort impatiently if he decided the grooms were not paying him enough attention. Each day, his oak- paneled stall was swept, mopped, and replenished with fresh straw. His richly colored chestnut coat was constantly brushed. For his daily exercise sessions, he was taken to his own three-acre paddock, where he could frolic alone in perfectly tended bluegrass.His name was Alydar. To sports fans, he was known for the thrilling duels he staged with his rival, Affirmed, for the 1978 Triple Crown. But to the world's wealthiest horse breeders, he was revered for a different reason altogether. Alydar was one of the greatest sires in Thoroughbred historya 1,200-pound genetic wonder whose offspring often became champion racehorses themselves. Each spring, the breeders would come with their convoys of horse trailers to Kentucky's Calumet Farm, one of the country's premier horse-racing operations, willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to have Alydar mount their finest mares. Day after day, more than two hundred times a year, he would strut into the breeding shed, eye his latest prize, rise up on his hind legs, and begin to dance forward. Within seconds, his tail would swoosh up, signaling the end of his encounter, and he would be washed and then led away, back to the stall with his name emblazoned on the brass doorplate.
But on a chilly November night in 1990, the great stallion was found in shock in his stall, his coat glistening with sweat, his right hind leg hanging by tendons, a shaft of white bone jutting through his skin. J. T. Lundy, the rotund, blustery head of the farm, told veterinarians that Alydar had shattered his leg by kicking his own stall door. He had kicked it so hard, Lundy said, that he had knocked loose a heavy metal roller that had been bolted into the floor just outside Alydar's sliding door.
In emergency surgery, veterinarians were able to set the bone and put a cast on his leg. But within 24 hours, Alydar, hearing the whinnying of some mares in a nearby pasture, turned to look out a window in the Calumet clinic, put too much weight on the leg, and this time broke his femur. The sound of the break was like a gunshot. As he lay on the floor, an uncomprehending look in his eyes, Alydar was put down, and his body was taken to the Calumet cemetery, where he was buried with the farm's other racing champions. Eight months later, Calumet itself unraveled, forced to declare bankruptcy with more than $127 million in debts. According to the stories splashed on the sports pages of almost every newspaper in the country, the farm could not begin to pay its immense bills and bank loans without the millions of dollars it had been deriving from Alydar's stud fees. Calumet was so broke that its horses and equipment were going to be sold at public auction.
It was difficult for Kentucky horse people to believe that such a calamity could have happened. A few of them quietly said they were haunted by the strange circumstances of Alydar's death. A foreman from the stallion barn, for instance, couldn't remember Alydar having ever kicked anything hard enough to do any damage to his leg. And it was difficult to understand how even a powerful horse could have kicked that solid oak door with enough force to knock it off its hinges. Yet there was never an official investigation into the events of that night. No public accusations were made. As everyone in the horse business knew, horses could be unpredictable, and they could also be fragile. Alydar's death, no doubt, was one of those accidental, heartbreaking tragedies that no one could have done anything about.
Continue reading "The Killing of Alydar"
Monday, April 3. 2006
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