What Happens When Women Seek Justice In Champaign County: The Case of Brian Silverman

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On April 9, 2007, local Urbana attorney Brian Silverman began a ninemonth
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. She says she performed
sexual acts for Silverman in exchange for his assurance that he could
get the State’s Attorney, who he said 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 $5,000 “under the table” for Difanis and find someone
to “be good” to him.
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 a County
Board Member, how was Silverman treating the poor women he was defending?
This man made his career by 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 sometimes further
victimized and mistreated them when they were already in a difficult situation.
An unscrupulous attorney, Silverman remains defiant and still accepts no wrongdoing.
He even had the nerve to appeal the ARDC decision.The appeal was rejected. A
nine-month suspension is light punishment for the many years Silverman took advantage
of his clients.
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 presence. 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
that 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.”
The ARDC found this woman to be a “credible and believable witness.”
But the most egregious allegations made against Silverman were from the girlfriend
of a client who says that in 1994 she was extorted for $5,000 and sexual favors in order
to get her boyfriend’s sentence reduced. 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.”
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. Rowan hired Silverman
as his attorney, but his girlfriend helped
raise money to bail him out of jail and pay
for legal fees. Rowan’s girlfriend spoke to
Silverman several times on the phone and
also met him personally to talk about the
According to an affidavit by Rowan’s
girlfriend, Silverman invited her out to
lunch to discuss Ray’s case. She claims Silverman
told her that then State’s Attorney
Difanis “does not like Ray” but that he and
Difaniswere 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, she said 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. She said Silverman
told her he could get it down to two
years, but it was going to cost $5,000
“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 her for $5000 to give to Difanis
and to find a sexual partner for his friend.
She says 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.
Rowan’s girlfriend says she went to Silverman’s
office on August 16, 1993. 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.” She says 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 tshirt.
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, she
says 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.
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.”
A civil suit for $15,000 and punitive
damages was filed by the woman in 1994,
with Ora J. Baer, II as attorney (94-L-
1050). Despite Silverman’s many attempts
to get the case dismissed, it went to trial
in 2000. The woman gave her account
and testified 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.”
The civil suit 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.
In 1999, despite these allegations, Brian
Silverman had the arrogance to run for a
judgeship. He announced he was running
in a News-Gazette article and basing
his campaign on “family values.” 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. 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.”
Why Silverman was never prosecuted
on criminal charges remains a mystery.
Did his relationship with State’s Attorney
Difanis have anything to do with it?
Judge Difanis would not return my phone
calls to confirm or deny his knowledge of
Silverman’s sexual misconduct.
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 comments he has made, comments
that were printed in the News-
Gazette. In 2004, Difanis said 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.
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
For a full text

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.
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