Lawyer Accused of ‘Frivolous’ Filing After Malaysia Airlines Tragedy

PHOTO: Malaysias acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, center, comforts a relative of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at a hotel in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Saturday March 29, 2014.
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A Chicago lawyer who was the first to file a legal petition after the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370 in southeast Asia is under investigation after an ethics committee criticized her conduct and called the petition “frivolous” – an allegation she firmly denies.

Less than three weeks after Flight 370 disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China, in early March, the law firm of attorney Monica Ribbeck Kelly filed a petition for discovery on behalf of 25-year-old Indonesian passenger Firman Siregar, naming Malaysia Airlines and the plane’s manufacturer, Boeing, as initial defendants.

The petition was filed a day after Malaysia’s prime minister controversially told reporters he had concluded that the plane was lost and that there were no survivors. However, today, nearly five months after the plane’s disappearance, still no wreckage or significant evidence has been found to indicate what might have happened to the plane and its passengers. The petition was dismissed, but Kelly says she appealed that decision.

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After the petition’s filing, Siregar’s parents quickly said they had not authorized the legal move and claimed that a man the law firm identified as Siregar’s father was actually a distant relative, according a letter that the family sent to the Indonesian Embassy in Malaysia.

Then last week the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee claimed in a complaint that Kelly “has engaged in… conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute…”

“…Respondent [Kelly] alleged that she represented the estate of Firman Chandra Siregar (‘Siregar’), that Siregar had been a passenger on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, that the aircraft had crashed, that Siregar had been killed,” the ethics committee filing says. “Respondent’s allegations… had no basis in fact and were frivolous, because Respondent knew at the time she filed the petition that no evidence had been discovered regarding the location or disposition of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.”

The commission also rapped Kelly for alleging a mechanical malfunction had contributed to the tragedy when committee said there was “no evidence” suggesting such a malfunction.

Kelly has been called to a hearing to answer the commission’s allegations. She told ABC News today that the petition she had filed was hardly frivolous and that she “did nothing wrong.”

“We have been filing these petitions for 15 years,” she said. “I have no idea why the ARDC filed a complaint against me since the case is pending before the appellate court.”

Her attorney, George Collins, said that the ARDC’s action was “unusual” and that Kelly filed the petition in “good faith.”

“The fact is the airplane acted in a manner that could not have occurred without somebody being negligent,” Collins told ABC News. “Somebody wasn’t doing what they were supposed to or some machine on the airplane wasn’t operating correctly. By her discovery petition, [Kelly] seeks to find out who were the manufacturers of the various components of this aircraft so that she can make inquiry of those who might have evidence that could explain this.”

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