On Tuesday, March 5, 2024, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission recommended that attorney Steven Messner be disbarred from practicing law in Illinois.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Steven Messner,” with case no. 2021PR00094.

The charges cited Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct 1.2(d), 4.1(a)(b), 8.4(c), 3.4(c).

Messner faces three counts of professional misconduct related to his representation of client Luis Downes and Downes’ swimming pool company. The charges stemmed from Messner’s involvement in a tax fraud scheme between 2011 and 2018 where he mischaracterized hundreds of thousands of dollars of Downes’ expenses as deductible business expenses.

A hearing was held in June 2023 to consider the allegations against Messner. According to the report, Messner provided Downes with an American Express credit card to use for personal expenses, claiming it was due to issues in Downes’ marriage. Over five years, Downes charged $219,000 in personal expenses to this card. Additionally, Downes’ company deposited over $1 million into Messner’s client trust account, which he used to pay Downes’ American Express charges.

Both Downes and Messner maintained the charges were legitimate business expenses. However, the report found they could not identify any expenses that were truly business-related. As Messner knew the expenses were personal in nature, he violated his duty when claiming them as deductible business expenses on Downes’ company tax returns. This allowed the company to avoid paying over $100,000 in taxes and caused Messner to commit tax fraud.

Messner was also found to have underreported income belonging to Downes on his tax returns. Payments from Downes’ company for his expenses, totaling over $400,000, should have been included as income but were not.

In addition, a financial affidavit Messner prepared for Downes’ divorce proceedings misstated his income by omitting these company payments. The report noted lawyers rely on accurate financial affidavits, and Messner’s omission undermined the divorce proceedings.

Finally, Messner provided a fraudulent 2014 tax return for Downes to his ex-wife’s lawyer during the divorce, again omitting the company payments. This conduct violated rules regarding obstructing access to evidence.

While Messner had no prior discipline in over 40 years of practice, the hearing board found factors in aggravation outweighed any mitigation. Most importantly, Messner’s misconduct spanned five years and involved calculated acts across multiple circumstances, demonstrating a disregard for ethical rules. Further, Messner used his position and client trust account to facilitate the fraud.

Based on these findings, the commission recommended disbarring Messner, believing it necessary to protect the public and legal profession. The matter now moves to the Illinois Supreme Court for a final determination on Messner’s fate as a licensed attorney in the state.

According to avvo.com, Mr. Messner is a family attorney in Northfield, Illinois. He attended the University of Miami School of Law. He acquired his law license in Illinois in 1978.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.