Appellate Court Rules That City Did Not Engage in the Unauthorized Practice of Law at Local Administrative Hearing

Author: Dave Noland
April 19, 2018

Late last year, the Illinois 1st District Appellate Court decided an appeal raised by an individual landowner (the “Owner”) arising from the City of Chicago’s Department of Administrative Hearings, seeking review of the decisions of the administrative law judge’s findings of liability as to ordinance violations.

In the case at issue, the Owner argued that it was an unauthorized practice of law by the City of Chicago (the “City”) when they were not represented by counsel at the administrative hearing, therefore the findings should be null and void. The facts of this case included that at the hearing, no one appeared on behalf of the City, including any agent or employee. The administrative law judge served as both judge and prosecutor, including introducing photographic evidence without witnesses, finding that the City had set forth a prima facie case, and finding the Owner liable.

The Illinois statute making it unlawful for a corporations to practice law or appear as an attorney at law for any reason in any court applies equally to private and municipal corporations.

The Court held that the Owner’s argument against the City failed. Specifically, there can be no practice of law unless an actual person engages in an undertaking that requires legal knowledge or skill. In the present case, the Court explained that corporations can only act through their agents, and because the Owner failed to identify an actual person acting on behalf of the City, the burden was not met.

The Court’s holding provides further guidance that a municipal body will not be found to engage in the practice of law unless they have an actual person (1) giving advice or (2) rendering services that (3) require the use of any degree of legal knowledge or skill.

Author: Dave Noland