Thursday, November 10, 2011

Uninsured And Indefinitely Suspended

The web page of the Ohio Supreme Court reports:

 The Supreme Court of Ohio has imposed an indefinite suspension against the law license of [a] South Euclid attorney...for multiple violations of state attorney discipline rules in his handling of a deceased client’s estate tax return. The Court also found that [the attorney] failed to notify his clients that he did not maintain malpractice insurance, and failed to respond to inquiries from disciplinary authorities  in connection with his misconduct.

In a 6-1 per curiam decision announced today, the Court adopted findings by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline that [the attorney] agreed to represent the estate of a long time client after the client’s death, but neglected and mishandled the filing of an estate tax return over an 18-month period, resulting in an assessment against the estate by the Internal Revenue Service of penalties and interest totaling more than $451,000. When the estate sued [him] for malpractice, he failed to file an answer. The estate was awarded a default judgment against [him] for the amount of the IRS penalties and interest, but [he] did not satisfy that judgment and subsequently admitted that he had not maintained professional liability insurance and had not notified any of his clients of that fact, as required by state attorney discipline rules.

When a disciplinary grievance was filed against [him], he failed to respond to multiple inquiries from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel until a subpoena was issued to compel his appearance. Nittskoff later failed to answer the formal complaint filed against him with the Board of Commissioners, and the board ultimately considered the charges against him through default proceedings.

The Court’s lead opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Robert R. Cupp and Yvette McGee Brown, held that an indefinite suspension was the appropriate sanction for [his] misconduct based on prior cases in which a similar penalty has been imposed for neglect of entrusted client legal matters combined with failure of the offending attorney to cooperate with the investigation of his misconduct. The Court also ordered that [he] must satisfy the $451,000 civil judgment against him as well as submit quarterly progress reports as conditions of reinstatement.

Justice Paul E. Pfeifer entered a dissent in which he noted that most of the cases cited by the majority involved attorneys whose neglect harmed more than one client. Justice Pfeifer wrote that in his view the sanction recommended by the disciplinary board, a six-month license suspension, was the appropriate penalty for Nittskoff’s rule violations.

The opinion is linked here. The dissenting justice viewed the case, at core, as a "garden-variety malpractice case."(Mike Frisch)

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