On March 31, 2014, the Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, ruled in Stone Street Partners, LLC v. City of Chicago, 2014 IL App (1st) 123654, that corporate parties involved in administrative hearings must be represented by legal counsel. In its ruling, the court held that an appearance by a non-attorney on behalf of a corporate entity at an administrative housing hearing was null and void because the individual was not an attorney. The court explained its reasoning stating “all courts in this country, including this court, requires that corporations be represented by counsel in legal proceedings.” The court determined the housing hearing at issue was a legal proceeding because it involved the examination of witnesses and the introduction of evidence.
The scope of this decision expands beyond simply housing hearings. The court stated that corporate entities must be represented by legal counsel at all legal proceedings in Illinois, including all administrative hearings. Consequently, a corporate entity must have an attorney present at any Illinois administrative hearing in which it is a party and requires the examination of witnesses, introduction of evidence, or legal analysis.
The only manner by which the rule may be changed is a successful appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. However, if there is no appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, or the appeal proves unsuccessful, the rule will become permanent. In its decision, the court noted that legislation cannot trump the rule imposed by the court. Notably, the court’s opinion does not bind federal courts, and as a result, its ruling does not apply to federal administrative hearings