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The Democratic candidate for state’s attorney in Fayette County doesn’t hesitate to talk about being reprimanded by the state’s disciplinary commission more than two decades ago.
In fact, Matt Chancey has been explaining why he was reprimanded – and why he risked losing his license to practice law – to people in Fayette County for some time.
And, he said, he would again risk disciplinary action in such a situation.
Chancey told Fayette County State’s Attorney Stephen Friedel about the reprimand when he was being considered as Friedel’s assistant.
He also told party faithful about the 1988 Lake County child abduction case at a Democratic fundraiser this summer in Fayette County.
An Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission hearing board recommended in October 1992 that Chancey not face any disciplinary action for signing a retired appellate court judge’s name to a false court order while negotiating for the release of a 4-year-old girl who had been abducted by her father.
Before the board, Chancey explained that he had prepared the false court order due to the father’s propensity for violence. The father had asked for an appellate court order that would allow him visitation with his daughter.
Chancey was serving as an assistant state’s attorney in Lake County and was chief of the state’s attorney’s felony division when he was charged by the commission with violating an Illinois Supreme Court rule by committing fraud or deceit.
In its order recommending that Chancey be reprimanded, the hearing board stated, “The record shows not only that (Chancey’s) behavior was free of any corrupt motive or base intent, but that he acted in pursuit of a humane objective.”
In April 1994, an IARDC review board voted to 6-3 to penalize Chancey with a reprimand, the lowest form of punishment.
Higher penalties include censure, suspension and disbarment.
“An unexact analogy, but one that helps people to understand the different forms,” Chancey said, “is that a reprimand is like a student getting sent to the principal’s office, a censure is like detention, a suspension is like a school suspension, and disbarment is like being expelled.”
In its order, the hearing panel admonished Chancey for not consulting with anyone in the Appellate Court, that he had failed to disclose his actions after the fact and that he had “no authority from his superiors” in the state’s attorney’s office to create and sign the fake court order.
“Although this respondent acted improperly,” the hearing ruling states, “his motives were good ones.
“Further, this case presents special mitigating circumstances, most obviously the apparent urgency and danger of the situation, the risk of serious harm to a child, and the limited use, both intended and actual, of this document,” the review board stated.
Dissenting members of the panel said Chancey created and signed the document only for the purpose of getting the 4-year-old child back to safety.
They stated in their dissenting opinion, “Our legal system has historically demonstrated a special sensitivity to the safety of children.
“(Chancey) was motivated by one thing and one thing only in this case and that was to safeguard the physical welfare of a small child.”
About the issue, Chancey said, “The child’s own father felt that the child’s life was at risk.
“I had prosecuted a case before where an abducted child had been murdered, and I didn’t want that to happen again,” he said.
Chancey said that while it was known that the father had purchased airplane tickets for Italy, it was not discovered until later that the man was in Mexico.
The father had contacted his attorney, asking the attorney to meet him in Mexico. Negotiations had convinced the man to turn over his child to his attorney, Chancey said.
Chancey said that the Appellate Court order that he created and signed was never meant to be used in court, and it was not.
“I recognized that there was a risk,” Chancey said, acknowledging that he realized that his actions could result in him losing his license to practice law.
“But, at the same time, I know that law enforcement was allowed to lie to criminals in those types of situations. The Supreme Court had already ruled on that,” he said.
“I knew that there would be a risk, but I thought that I would be OK.
“But, there was the safety of a 4-year-old girl at risk, and that was what was most important,” Chancey said.
He said that his supervisors, including an assistant state’s attorney who is now a judge, “were very supportive of me through this.”
Chancey stayed in the Lake County state’s attorney’s office until 1995, at which time in went into private practice, and then returned to the office for seven years until coming to Fayette County in 2007.
“The review panel made the point that I had not talked to my superiors before I took that action,” Chancey said.
“What if I had, and they told me, ‘Go ahead.’ I’d still be in trouble, and there would be two or three people in trouble instead of just one.
“My supervisor had always delegated authority to me. I was used to making decisions,” Chancey said.
“The document (fake court order) was never meant to be used for any means other than securing the release of the 4-year-old girl, and it never was,” he said.