I actually highly doubt that this is what he is doing. It wouldn't keep him from getting disbarred in any state I know of, and Illinois is a state with very well-developed lawyer discipline law due to the fact that it's a big state with a lot of lawyers. If he was just giving up, they'd do what in Pennsylvania (IAAL in PA) is called "disbarment on consent," which is a voluntary disbarment with no findings of fact or law. Doing it by consent and saving the state bar a lot of money by not having to put on a case theoretically makes it easier to get reinstated, in states that allow reinstatement from disbarment (but even in those, you're talking about maybe 3 people in 100 getting reapproved later, and those are usually in cases where the problem was drugs or booze and you can document that you've been sober for umpteen years and have been washing the feet of lepers on alternate Tuesdays when you run out of other good deeds to do).
The sanctions orders are still in effect in California-- that would keep him from going to another state to set up shop, even if going inactive would somehow cause him to escape the clutches of Illinois, which it wouldn't. The general public really doesn't realize how much information you have to provide about yourself (so that a state can do further research) before being admitted to a state bar. Ask a recent law graduate who's passed the bar about how his or her "character and fitness" is going, and prepare yourself for a long story even if it's going well. TV portrays lawyer licensing as a simple and routine thing. It isn't-- it takes dozens of hours of paperwork, credit checks, criminal background histories, fingerprints, etc. even if you've never gotten a speeding ticket in your life (mine was three times as voluminous because I have a hyphenated last name, and so had to prove a negative for every conceivable variation of my name). And that's just the part where you accumulate your packet to hand over to the Character and Fitness People-- you usually wait for months after that to get any sort of response.
I suspect that Steele's reason for going inactive is far more prosaic-- it costs a lawyer hundreds of dollars a year to keep a license active (registration fees, plus the cost of taking continuing education). If you're going down anyway, why waste the money to keep a license you're not using anyway (because of bad publicity) active?