On April 9, 2007, local Urbana attorney Brian Silverman began a nine month suspension handed down by the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) in Springfield. They found credible the allegations made by a girlfriend of one of Silverman’s clients that he had extorted her for money and sexual favors. This was in exchange for getting the State’s Attorney, who was a friend and “will do just about anything I say,” to go easy on her boyfriend. The State’s Attorney was Tom Difanis, now Presiding Judge of the entire Champaign County criminal justice system. According to the woman, she was not only forced into sexual relations with Silverman against her will, but she was asked to provide $5000 “under the table” for Difanis and find someone to “be good” to him.
This is the second incident in recent years when a well-connected member of the “good old boys club” in Urbana-Champaign has gotten off lightly for allegations of sexual misconduct. In 2005, Urbana officer Kurt Hjort was forced to resign after having sex with a 25 year-old woman while on duty. The woman claimed she was raped and filed a civil suit claiming officials knew of Hjort’s record of repeated sexual harassment. The civil suit was settled for at least $100,000. Criminal charges were considered, but State’s Attorney Julia Rietz claimed a conflict of interest because her husband was also an Urbana cop and she knew Hjort personally. The case was ruled on by Presiding Judge Tom Difanis, who gave the case to a Special Prosecutor, James Dedman, incidentally a good friend of Silverman’s and an attorney in his law firm. Hjort’s defense was that the woman consented to having sex with him. Dedman investigated criminal charges against Hjort but decided he could not prove the case “beyond a reasonable doubt” and never even pressed charges.
Of course, these men have been in the legal community for 20 to 30 years and have a working relationship. But after the latest revelations about Silverman’s sexual misconduct, several questions arise: Why did Difanis never press criminal charges against Silverman while he was State’s Attorney? If, today, the ARDC finds the girlfriend of one of Silverman’s clients credible, why was her story not taken seriously in 1993 when it occurred? Was Silverman exaggerating about his relationship with Difanis or were they close friends? Are members of the local criminal justice system covering up the perverse sexual pleasures of their peers?
Silverman made a career from defending the indigent as a Public Defender and by serving as counsel for many women as a divorce lawyer. What is most disturbing about Silverman is that he was hired to protect these people, and yet he further victimized and mistreated them when they were already in a difficult situation.
Silverman came to town when he was hired as the first full-time Public Defender in Champaign County. One woman who was a member of the County Board that hired Silverman in 1979 told me that in his first week on the job he made sexual advances toward her. She was in his new office when he closed the door, pinned her up against the wall, and kissed her without her consent. If this was how he would treat one of his bosses, how was Silverman treating the poor women he was defending?
Silverman remains defiant and still accepts no wrongdoing. He even had the nerve to appeal the ARDC decision, which was rejected. A nine-month suspension is light punishment for years of Silverman taking advantage of his clients. This is yet another sign of how low the standards are for individuals in the Champaign County criminal justice system.
Justice For Sale In Champaign County.
At least six women have come forward to say they were sexually harassed by attorney Brian Silverman. On September 23, 2004, a complaint was filed with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. It claims that Silverman engaged in improper sexual misconduct with four women: a client, a prospective client, and the girlfriends of two clients. It also includes two counts of improper communication with individuals without their lawyers present. Outside of the ARDC complaint, two other women – a local attorney and a Champaign County Board member – have said that they were also sexually harassed by Silverman.
One of the counts in the ARDC complaint was filed on behalf of a female client who hired Silverman to litigate a small claims case in 2004. She alleges that Silverman told her he would take her case for free if she would let him “flirt” with her, if she would “dress nice,” and if she would discuss additional “conditions.” The woman says she asked Silverman if he was married and he responded, “what [his wife] didn't know won't hurt her.”
A second count involves a 2002 case with one of Silverman’s clients who alleges that he made several sexual advances towards her. She claims that during one of their phone conversations she broke down crying and Silverman attempted to console her by telling her the “only problem” was that she needed to have sex and then he began making licking noises over the phone.
A third count was filed regarding a client in a 1991 divorce case. This woman felt like she had been abused twice over: “I was getting a divorce from somebody that was mentally abusive towards me, and then I expected [Silverman] to help me. Instead it ended up being sexual harassment… throughout the whole time.”
Yet she also felt further victimized because she was poor. She would have fired Silverman and hired another lawyer but says, “I didn’t have the money to get another lawyer.”
Like many women who are sexually abused, she did not know whom to report the incident to. She explains her regret, “It just makes you like… you have to do what they tell you to do… I didn’t know who to go report it to… I didn’t feel like I had anybody to go [to]… I didn’t know who to go say anything to, so I didn’t. And I – I have regretted that from day one that I didn’t say something.”
The ARDC found this woman to be a “credible and believable witness.”
But the most egregious offense committed by Silverman was toward the girlfriend of a client who says that in 1994 she was extorted for $5000 and sexual favors in order to get her boyfriend’s sentence reduced. The ARDC found her testimony to be the most credible and this was largely the basis for Silverman’s suspension. This misconduct, in the words of the ARDC, “tended to bring the administration of justice and the legal profession into disrepute.” They cited the testimony of this woman who said she felt as if “justice was for sale in Champaign County.”
No Defense For This Kind Of Defense
Brian Silverman became a licensed attorney in 1971. He has been a member of the local legal community since 1979 when he was appointed as the first full-time Public Defender in Champaign County. He held that position until 1987 when he opened his own private practice, now called Silverman and Associates at Main and Broadway in downtown Urbana. In almost 30 years of working in Champaign county, he has become known as a criminal defense lawyer, a divorce lawyer, and an entrenched member of the legal community.
On June 18, 1993, Ray Rowan was busted for drugs by “Task Force X” who was well-known for its aggressive tactics. While it is undeniable that Rowan was dealing drugs, he said his case was one of entrapment by undercover agents who pressured him into buying drugs. Rowan hired Silverman as his attorney, but his girlfriend helped raise money to bail him out of jail and pay for Silverman’s counsel. Rowan’s girlfriend spoke to Silverman several times on the phone and also met him personally to talk about the case.
According to an affidavit by Rowan’s girlfriend, Silverman invited her out to lunch to discuss Ray’s case. Silverman told her that then State’s Attorney Difanis “does not like Ray” but that the two men were good friends and that Difanis “will do just about anything I say.” Silverman asked her out to lunch to discuss the case further. When she agreed and asked what he wanted to eat, he responded, “I want to eat you.”
Rowan’s girlfriend, who lived in Chicago, took a bus to Champaign and was picked up at the station by Silverman. She recalled that he was driving a burgundy Lexus with his name on his license plate (his Illinois plates still read “BRIAN”). According to her affidavit, she says that Silverman told her the State’s Attorney was “still trying to get a lot of time” for her boyfriend. Silverman told her he could get it down to two years, but it was going to cost $5000 “under the table,” and she would “have to be good to him.”
Yet according to this woman, besides getting his own favors, Silverman was also asking for $5000 to give to Difanis and to find a sexual partner for his friend. Silverman told her that “Mr. Difanis was in the middle of a divorce and if you can find someone to be good to him we can probably get the 2 years I stated.” Difanis was, in fact, in the middle of divorce proceedings in 1993.
According to the woman’s affidavit, Silverman said that Difanis was coming over to his house for a cocktail and they would talk about the case. Silverman then rubbed her leg and asked when he could see her again.
After raising the money, Rowan’s girlfriend says she called Silverman at his home. Silverman’s wife answered the phone and she asked to talk to her husband. According to testimony, Silverman’s wife called out Difanis’ name, then excused herself and said there was company at the house. Silverman’s wife told the ARDC that Difanis had, in fact, been to their home on several occasions. According to Rowan’s girlfriend, when Silverman got on the phone, he asked how she was doing and if he could “eat my pussy.” When she questioned him about his marriage, Silverman said his wife was in the other room. Rowan’s girlfriend said she would be back in Champaign the following Monday and Silverman offered to pick her up at the bus station.
If You Do Me, I’ll Do You.
On August 16, 1993, Rowan’s girlfriend says she went to Silverman’s office. She gave him $5,000 in cash. Silverman took it and said, “what about the other thing.” According to the woman, Silverman then started rubbing her leg, stuck his hands up her dress and said, “Come on. It’s for Ray. Don’t worry about it.” He asked her to perform oral sex but she started crying and told him “no.” She then describes Silverman taking off his pants and stripping down to a pair of white boxer shorts, black socks, and a t-shirt. She specifically remembered he was wearing a walking device on his legs. Silverman has a debilitating disease, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a form of muscular dystrophy, and before his suspension he could be seen going to and from the courthouse in a motorized wheel chair.
Silverman allegedly said to her, “If you do me, I’ll do you,” meaning if she performed sexual acts, he would take care of Ray Rowan’s case. He asked her to, “play with [his] penis” and then ejaculated on Lewis’ buttocks. After he was done, he gave her a tissue and said, “don’t tell anybody.”
She did not tell Ray Rowan until just days before his pleading guilty on September 2, 2003 to case 93-CF-500. State’s Attorney Tom Difanis had agreed to a plea bargain for a nine-year sentence to run concurrently with 15 months that Rowan still had to serve in prison because he had broken parole from a 1989 case. But Judge Delamar revoked the concurrent sentence and ruled that the sentences would run consecutively. Rowan faced over ten years in prison and felt betrayed by Silverman and Difanis.
Rowan’s girlfriend confronted Silverman at the courthouse because he “told me it was gonna be two years.” She said Silverman replied, “Well, I lied” and told her, “so sue me.”
Both she and Ray Rowan did sue Silverman. A civil suit for $15,000 and punitive damages was filed by Rowan’s girlfriend in 1994, with Ora J. Baer, II as her attorney (94-L-1050). It went to trial in 2000 and ended in a hung jury. In that trial, the woman gave her account of the incident on August 16, 1993 and the events that led up to it. She said that Silverman’s conduct made her feel “sick, hurt, mostly ashamed that men in his business took an oath to help us, and he didn’t.”
In 1995, Ray Rowan filed a civil suit pro se in federal court against Difanis, Silverman, and several others involved in his 1993 drug bust. Coincidentally, Difanis’ lawyer was James Dedman, now Silverman’s law partner (and Special Prosecutor in the Hjort case). Silverman defended himself. After six months, Rowan dropped his civil suit. He said his girlfriend’s case “was more important than my case.” He was concerned more about what had happened to her, as he said in a 2000 deposition, “from how I look at it, Brian had raped a friend of mine.”
Silverman fought for nearly a decade to get the case of Rowan’s girlfriend dismissed, even stepping beyond his bounds as an attorney, so the ARDC found.
Silverman filed a motion to dismiss the civil suit in 1995 on the basis that the plaintiff had consented to her actions, an implicit admission of having sexual relations with her. This same strategy got Urbana Officer Kurt Hjort off on allegations of rape in 2005. Indeed, in Silverman’s case, Judge Stephen H. Peters ruled that it be dismissed. But on May 21, 1996, an Illinois appellate court reversed the decision and the civil suit moved forward.
Rowan’s girlfriend later admitted that she was not physically forced into the situation, but says “mentally I was afraid because I knew he could either hurt [Ray] or help him.”
On October 2, 1996, Rowan’s girlfriend took out an order of protection against Silverman. She said that Silverman called her on the phone and tried to convince her to dismiss her case. Of course, he spoke to her without her attorney present. She also claimed Silverman had contacted Ray Rowan and offered to provide him free legal services for a federal case against him, in exchange for his girlfriend dropping her civil suit. Rowan also took out an order of protection against Silverman.
In September 2000, the civil suit finally went before a jury but ended in a 6-6 split decision and was declared a mistrial. Just days before a second jury trial in 2002, the parties reached a settlement, the terms of which are confidential.
Sleazy Sexual Proclivities
In 1999, despite these allegations, Brian Silverman had the arrogance to announce he was running for judgeship and basing his campaign on “family values.” A Republican candidate, Silverman released news of his bid for judgeship on conservative talk radio host Jim Turpin’s show, and in the News-Gazette. In an article published by the News-Gazette on September 22, 1999, he said, “I think the core of my campaign philosophy will be that I share the family values of the people of Champaign County, and I want to bring those family values to the bench with me and exercise discretion and make decisions based on the family values I was raised with.”
The next day, another woman, also a local attorney, was prompted to write a letter to the News-Gazette. She alleged that in August 1994 Silverman solicited her for oral sex. More specifically, she writes, “he suggested that he lie down on the floor of my law office and I then ‘suck him off.’ At the time, Brian Silverman was married and living with his wife and children.” She said his family values were “non-existent.”
Referring to the pending civil suit against Silverman, she writes, “with this letter, at least two women have gone public with respect to Brian Silverman’s sleazy sexual proclivities.” The letter was never published in the News-Gazette and the allegations were never pursued by the newspaper.
In a 2000 poll held by the Illinois Bar Association, only 27% of lawyers felt Silverman was qualified to be a judge. He admitted he was not a popular person in the eyes of his fellow attorneys. Silverman’s campaign for judgeship did not make it past the primary, getting only 19% of the vote.
Despite his not being liked, Silverman and Associates is still a functioning law firm. It is doubtful that the nine month suspension will put Silverman out of business. His colleague James Dedman is still occupying the office. That Silverman is still practicing law at all should provoke outrage.
Why Silverman was never prosecuted on criminal charges remains a mystery. The ARDC found more than one of his accusers credible and said that he had clearly committed “criminal battery of a sexual nature” against one of them. Does his relationship with Difanis have anything to do with it? Judge Difanis would not return my phone calls to confirm or deny his knowledge of Silverman’s indiscretions.
Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice has filed a formal complaint against Judge Difanis with the Judicial Inquiry Board for his rulings in the Kurt Hjort case and in the Patrick Thompson trial. The complaint also cites Difanis for injudicious remarks he made in 2004 about one woman who was a drug addict, “She is a hopeless and useless junkie whose only accomplishment is that she’s fertile and able to bring children into this world.” In another case, he referred to a male defendant as an “undereducated, underemployed bum.”
If Judge Difanis is going to make such unkind comments about defendants, many of whom are poor and minorities, he should take a closer look at his own colleagues in the legal system.
Judge Difanis is up for re-election in 2008. C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice is waging a “Dump Difanis” campaign to oust the Presiding Judge for his many indiscretions and his tyrannical rule over the Champaign County courthouse.
This article is based on public documents included in the 1994 civil law suit against Silverman (94-L-1050) and decisions published by the ARDC (http://www.iardc.org/