On Thursday, February 15, 2024, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission Review Board recommended that James Douglas Cottrell receive a reprimand for misappropriating client funds.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of James Douglas Cottrell,” with case no. 2022PR00069.

The case stemmed from an incident in 2016 where Cottrell misused $2,544 from a client trust account. He further misappropriated another $300 in 2022 and $58 at another point, totaling $2,902 in misused funds. Cottrell admitted to intentionally taking the money without permission and acknowledged it was wrong.

As background, in 2011 Cottrell had purchased a law practice from retiring attorney Carl Sinder. As part of the purchase, Cottrell received a $2,977 check that was meant for entities associated with real estate transactions from decades prior. However, the list Sinder provided did not include contact details for the entities.

Over the years, Cottrell spent time trying to locate the entities to return the funds. He was only able to identify two names on the list and return $5 to one and $67 to another. By 2014, he had deposited the remaining funds into a client trust account, despite having no clients of his own.

In 2022, Cottrell self-reported his misconduct to the ARDC, acknowledging he misappropriated the $2,902 through unauthorized usage. A hearing board took up the case and found he violated rules regarding safeguarding client funds and engaging in dishonest conduct.

The hearing board recommended a reprimand but the ARDC appealed, seeking a suspension of at least 30 days. On review, the Review Board affirmed the hearing board’s findings of misconduct. However, they agreed a reprimand was the appropriate sanction due to significant mitigating factors in the case.

The Review Board cited Cottrell’s 40-year unblemished career before this incident and that his actions did not involve client matters. They also noted he fully cooperated, expressed remorse, and self-reported at a time when the misconduct was unlikely to come to light otherwise. Given Cottrell’s long client service to municipal drainage districts, the Review Board also said a suspension could harm those clients.

In sanctioning Cottrell with a reprimand, the Review Board balanced the seriousness of intentionally misusing funds while also considering the unique circumstances and Cottrell’s steps to take responsibility for his actions.

The recommendation states:

“For the foregoing reasons, we find that the Hearing Board did not err in denying Respondent’s motion for a directed verdict, and we affirm the Hearing Board’s findings that Respondent committed the charged misconduct. We recommend that Respondent be reprimanded. We also adopt the letter of reprimand issued by the Hearing Board. We find that a reprimand is commensurate with Respondent’s misconduct; it will serve the goals of attorney discipline; and it is consistent with discipline that has been imposed for comparable misconduct.”

According to avvo.com, Mr. Cottrell is a litigation attorney in Champaign, Illinois. He attended the Drake University Law School, graduating in 1982. He acquired his law license in Illinois in 1983.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.