Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Not Now Or Ever An Attorney

From the Ohio Supreme Court web page:

The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today that Gardner Pratt of Loveland engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by holding himself out as an attorney at law, performing legal services and collecting fees from six different “clients” over a two-year period despite the fact that he is not and never has been admitted to the practice of law in Ohio.

In a 7-0 per curiam decision, the Court issued an order barring Pratt from engaging in any future conduct that constitutes the unauthorized practice of law, and imposed a $60,000 civil penalty for the illegal actions addressed in today’s decision.

The Court adopted findings by the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law that between March 2006 and November 2007 Pratt collected more than $70,000 in fees from one individual who hired him to perform legal services for several businesses after Pratt represented himself as an attorney licensed to practice in Ohio and Florida.  When Pratt abruptly stopped responding to the client’s phone calls and failed to initially return case files and documents in his possession, the client discovered that Pratt was not licensed as an attorney and obtained a court judgment ordering Pratt to refund $70,073.97 in fees he had collected from the client for “legal services.”  Pratt has not paid any part of that judgment.

The Court agreed with the board’s conclusions that, by providing services to the judgment creditor and five other clients who believed they were retaining a licensed attorney, Pratt engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by giving legal advice and counsel to others, preparing contracts and other documents affecting other persons’ legal rights and obligations, representing the legal interests of others in settlement negotiations and collecting fees from others for services that may lawfully be provided only by an attorney.

In imposing a substantial civil penalty on Pratt, the Court noted that the purpose of the state laws and rules that prohibit the unauthorized practice of law is to protect the public against incompetence, conflicts of interest and other negative consequences of unskilled representation. The Court also noted that enforcement of licensing regulations is essential to ensure that individuals and businesses who need legal advice and services to protect their vital financial and personal interests will obtain those services from licensed professionals who have met the education and training requirements and character and fitness standards established by the Supreme Court, and who have demonstrated their practical knowledge of the law and legal procedures by passing the state bar examination.

The opinion is linked here. (MIke Frisch)

 

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