“The Shark” has been beached.
Two months after being accused of badmouthing a former drug client on social media for turning government informant, longtime Chicago defense attorney Joseph “The Shark” Lopez was suspended from practicing in federal court for six months and fined $5,000.
In her three-page ruling, U.S. District Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer wrote that Lopez violated several rules governing lawyers, including the confidentiality of information and continuing duties to former clients.
The ruling, which bars Lopez from practicing in the Northern District of Illinois, also requires him to complete eight hours of “continuing legal education courses” and notify all affected clients of his suspension within three weeks.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Lopez declined to comment specifically on the allegations but said he would follow the instructions of the court.
Pallmeyer’s decision was made public after a behind-the-scenes disciplinary process that began in September, court records show. Lopez submitted his answer to the court’s rule-to-show-cause order on Nov. 6, but both filings remain under seal.
The proceedings began after it was revealed in the sentencing of Lopez’s former client, Rudy Acosta III, that prosecutors and Acosta’s new attorney had withheld information about Acosta’s cooperation from Lopez out of fear he’d leak it on the street and put Acosta and his family in danger.
In advance of Acosta’s testimony against a cartel-connected drug kingpin earlier this year, Lopez posted on social media the Acostas were “a family of rats” and said Acosta “was a Satan Disciple who turned informant on other folks in his circle.”
“King Rudy turned into Fruity Tutti Rudy,” Lopez wrote.
Lopez’s wife, Lisa, represented one of the co-defendants in that trial.
In sentencing Acosta to a year in prison, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman said he found Lopez’s conduct “totally reprehensible” and asked if anything was done about it. The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Erskine responded that prosecutors took steps to handle it, but didn’t elaborate.
“Well I hope there are consequences for that. … I don’t get that at all,” Gettleman said. “Why a lawyer would do something like that and put his former client’s life in jeopardy is just unbelievable.”
Lopez told the Tribune in September that he’d done nothing wrong, and said the government never came to him with any such concerns.
“It was no secret,” Lopez said. “Everybody on the street knew Rudy was snitching the minute he walked out of jail.”
Known for his flamboyant pink socks, high-profile clients and guest spots on the hit show “Chicago P.D.,” Lopez defended Outfit boss Frank Calabrese in the landmark Family Secrets trial and former Bolingbrook cop Drew Peterson on charges he killed his wife.
Lopez also faced a trial of his own in 2015, when he was accused of misdemeanor battery after allegedly striking his own client in the mouth during an altercation in a courtroom lockup at the Leighton Criminal Court Building.
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Lopez was acquitted in a bench trial later that year, defended by an equally well-known Chicago attorney, the late Edward Genson.
“I really understand what my clients are going through now,” a beaming Lopez told the Tribune after that verdict. “It’s terrifying.”
Shortly after that acquittal, Lopez filed an appearance in the case against Acosta, a onetime gangster rap impresario and real estate mogul known for the castle-like home he built along the Kennedy Expressway.
In all, prosecutors said, Acosta’s cooperation eventually led either directly or indirectly to 36 people being federally charged, including public corruption and major drug cases that involved more than a dozen wiretaps and the seizure of several million dollars in drug proceeds and 100 kilograms of cocaine and heroin.
His cooperation also had implications in the case against former Ald. Edward Burke, since his father, Rudy Acosta Sr., was a longtime 14th Ward precinct captain.
To assist his son, the elder Acosta helped the feds develop evidence in a sprawling public corruption probe against a number of elected officials and political operatives in exchange for leniency, prosecutors said.