Politics & Government

Former Madison County assistant public defender charged after working without law license

Kelcie Miller, the former assistant in the Madison County Public Defender’s office who was fired after working on cases without a law license, was charged with three felonies Thursday afternoon.

Miller, 26, of Edwardsville, was charged with one count of theft of over $10,000 of government property, one count of false impersonation of an attorney and one count of forgery, Madison County court records indicate. She was taken into custody Wednesday night and is being held in the Madison County Jail. Her bail was set at $100,000.

According to the charging documents, the theft charge stems from the salary and benefits Miller collected while working in the public defender’s office. As for the forgery charge, Miller is accused of presenting Madison County Public Defender John Rekowski with a fake Illinois Attorney Registration Card that stated she was active and authorized to practice law in the state.

Rekowski said Wednesday that he didn’t ask Miller, or any other job candidates over 35 years, to show proof that they passed the bar exam before hiring them. Miller failed the bar exam twice, according to Rekowski.

“I have never asked to see a law license,” Rekowski said. “I’ve never been lied to about it. ... I just had no reason to ever think that anybody would do this. The big lie sometimes is better than the small one.”

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said in a statement Thursday that the allegations in Miller’s case were “some of the most unusual I’ve ever seen in over 20 years praciticing law.”

“This is a sad reminder that just when you think you’ve seen it all, someone lowers the bar even further,” he said. “Along with many specific individuals who were deceived in their legal representation, the taxpayers of Madison County are also the victim of a theft of a substantial amount of money. We will work tirelessly to recover what was stolen from the taxpayers and to restore justice to the many victims and, hopefully, with our efforts, we can restore the balance in our criminal justice system.”

Anyone practicing as a lawyer without a license can be found guilty of contempt of court and ordered to pay a civil penalty of up to $5,000 to the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation and actual damages, according to state law.

Scott Renfroe, a deputy administrator with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, said Thursday that in the past, the commission has suspended or disbarred people working without a license so they can no longer practice law.

Supervisory lawyers, like Rekowski, are required to make “reasonable efforts” to ensure other lawyers follow the Illinois Supreme Court’s Rules of Professional Conduct that the ARDC enforces. Supervisors could be found responsible for another lawyer’s misconduct if they knew about it but allowed the lawyer to continue working.

Rekowski has said Miller represented herself as a lawyer and maintained that she was one when confronted about being unlicensed.

He said he learned that she was unlicensed after a judge tried to look her up on the ARDC’s directory to confirm the spelling of her first name for a court reporter. Miller wasn’t listed.

Rekowski said he transferred Miller’s open cases to other attorneys in the public defender’s office, and he has contacted some part-time assistants to help out with the caseload until a replacement is hired.

None of the cases that Miller worked on went to trial, according to Rekowski. The defendants who pleaded guilty after accepting a plea deal have been contacted, he said.

The metro-east is home for investigative reporter Lexi Cortes. She was raised in Granite City, went to school in Edwardsville and now lives in Collinsville. Lexi has worked at the Belleville News-Democrat since 2014, winning multiple state awards for her investigative and community service reporting.
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Hana Muslic has been a public safety reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat since August 2018, covering everything from crime and courts to accidents, fires and natural disasters. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and her previous work can be found in The Lincoln Journal-Star and The Kansas City Star.