Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Civil Penalties And Injunction For Unlicensed Practice Of Law

From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court of Ohio today imposed civil penalties totaling $50,000 and issued an injunction prohibiting  Senior Estate Planning Services of America, Inc. (SEPSA) of Blue Ash and company owner Robert D. Tanner, Jr.  from marketing and selling legal instruments prepared by persons not licensed as attorneys and from engaging in any other future acts that constitute the unlicensed practice of law.

The Court’s unanimous per curiam decision affirmed a summary judgment issued by the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law finding that SEPSA and Tanner violated the state bar governance rules that restrict the practice of law to persons who have met the requirements for licensure as attorneys and have been admitted to practice in this state. The Court noted that while customers responding to SEPSA’s advertisements for estate-planning services were directed to an attorney employed by the company, the attorney was paid by the company rather than by the customer, and did not provide customers with independent estate planning advice but instead received a $500 commission from SEPSA for each customer that purchased one of the company’s living trusts. (The attorney, Daniel Heisler, has since been sanctioned by the Supreme Court in a separate disciplinary action).

In adopting the board’s recommended sanction of a maximum $10,000 civil penalty for each of five proven instances of unauthorized practice, the Court noted that SEPSA and Tanner did not cooperate with the investigation of their conduct, continued to run an Internet ad for their services after assuring authorities that they had ceased doing business in Ohio, committed multiple violations, and acted in flagrant disregard of prior Supreme Court decisions dating back to 2002 in which the Court has consistently condemned living-trust marketing schemes virtually identical to SEPSA’s business model.

The Court concluded that, “by selling these products without having to comply with the ethical standards established by a lawyer’s duty to safeguard client interests, respondents profited at the customers’ expense, creating an incalculable risk to the customers’ financial resources and future.”

The court's opinion is linked here. (Mike Frisch)

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