Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gag Order Violation Leads To Suspension

From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court of Ohio today suspended the license of [a] Greenville attorney...for six months for deliberately violating a court order and then misrepresenting to the court his responsibility for that misconduct.

The Court adopted findings by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline that[the attorney], while serving as appointed defense counsel in a case involving a child accused of setting a fire that killed five people, violated a “gag” order imposed by the trial court by having a member of his office staff deliver a copy of a motion he had filed in the case to the Darke County Daily Advocate newspaper.  At a subsequent hearing after the newspaper published a story based on the “leaked” document, [the attorney] made misleading statements to the court indicating that he may have been responsible for a “misunderstanding” that resulted in his staff’s disclosure of the motion, but that he had not deliberately instructed his staff to violate the gag order.

The court agreed with the board’s findings that [his] conduct violated the state attorney discipline rules that prohibit knowingly making  a false statement to a tribunal, knowingly disobeying a rule or order of a court, engaging in conduct that reflects adversely on an attorney’s fitness to practice law, engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, and engaging in conduct that involves fraud, deceit, dishonesty or misrepresentation. 

While the disciplinary board recommended that [his] license be suspended for six months with the full term stayed on conditions, the Court voted 7-0 that Rohrer’s deliberate false statements to the court and other aggravating factors in the case merited an actual six-month suspension from practice.

The court found that the attorney had engaged in a pattern of misconduct and (contrary to the board) had acted with a selfish and dishonest motive. The court noted:

Deliberately disbobeying a court order, then lying about it to the judge during a court hearing on the matter, is not justified by an otherwise commendable desire to protect a client and engage in zealous advocacy. There were legitimate ways for respondent to protect his client; this conduct was not among them.

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


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