Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stayed Suspension For Misconduct As Public Official

From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court of Ohio today imposed a six-month suspension, with the full term of suspension stayed on conditions, against the law license of Cleveland attorney George L. Forbes.

The Court adopted findings by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline that Forbes engaged in conduct that reflects adversely on his fitness to practice law by filing false financial disclosure statements and accepting improper gifts while serving on the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) Oversight Commission.

During his service on the commission and its investment committee from 1995 through 2005, Forbes’ duties included reviewing BWC staff recommendations for potential investment consultants and money managers to assist the bureau in investing its financial reserves. As a member of the commission, he was required under R.C. 102.02(A) to file annual financial-disclosure statements with the Ohio Ethics Commission.

In July 2007, the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office charged Forbes with four violations of R.C. 102.02(D), which prohibits any person from knowingly filing a false financial-disclosure statement, and two violations of R.C. 102.03(E), which prohibits any public official or employee from soliciting or accepting “anything of value ... that is of such a character as to manifest a substantial and improper influence upon the public official or employee with respect to that person’s duties.” On July 5, 2007, Forbes pleaded guilty to the four R.C. 102.02(D) charges and no contest to the two R.C. 102.03(E) charges, admitting that he had accepted gifts, meals, travel expenses and loans from parties that were providing or seeking to provide investment-related services to the BWC, and that he had not reported those items in his annual financial disclosure statements. He was convicted of all six misdemeanors.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel subsequently pursued a professional misconduct complaint against Forbes, alleging that the conduct that resulted in his convictions also violated DR 1-102(A)(6), the state disciplinary rule the prohibits an attorney from engaging in conduct that reflects adversely on his fitness to practice. A three-member panel of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline heard the case and found that Forbes had committed the charged misconduct. A majority of the panel recommended that Forbes receive a public reprimand; a dissenting panel member recommended a six-month license suspension. The board adopted the panel’s findings of misconduct and the majority’s recommended sanction.

In today’s per curiam decision, the Court accepted the board’s finding of misconduct, but wrote that Forbes’ convictions “warrant a more exacting sanction than the board recommended. To deter lawyers who work as public officials from violating R.C. 102.02(D) and 102.03(E) and to safeguard the public, we order a six-month suspension of respondent’s license to practice, with the suspension stayed on the condition that respondent refrain from further misconduct.”

The majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer and Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Maureen O’Connor, Judith Ann Lanzinger and Robert R. Cupp.

Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and Terrence O’Donnell dissented, stating that they would impose a public reprimand as the appropriate sanction for Forbes’ misconduct.

The court's decision is linked here.  The attorney stipulated that he had accepted (and failed to disclose as required by law) gifts, meals and travel expenses over a lenghty period of time. The attorney "has a long history as a prominent attorney and defender of civil rights in Cleveland" and the court concluded that there was "little chance that [he] will repeat the ethical mistakes committed in this case." The attorney was admitted to practice in 1962.

A Wikipedia entry about the lawyer is linked here.  (Mike Frisch)

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