February 23, 2012
Accusations Lead To Suspension
From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court of Ohio has suspended the law license of Newark attorney Philip L. Proctor for six months for making unsupported accusations of bias, ex parte communications and other improper conduct by opposing counsel and a judge in documents he filed in two Licking County courts.
In a 6-1 per curiam decision announced today, the Court adopted findings by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline that Proctor had violated state disciplinary rules that prohibit an attorney from engaging in undignified or discourteous conduct that is degrading to a tribunal, failing to maintain a respectful attitude toward the courts, and making statements concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judicial officer either while knowing them to be false or with reckless disregard of their truth or falsity.
The statements at issue arose from a 2002 civil lawsuit filed by Proctor on behalf of client Julie Peterman. Proctor withdrew as Peterman’s attorney in 2003, and she subsequently dismissed the suit. The defendants in the dismissed action moved the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas to order reimbursement of the attorney fees they had incurred in defending against Peterman’s complaint, and the court entered a judgment ordering Proctor and Peterman to jointly and severally pay the defendant $31,995.
Proctor filed a motion to vacate that judgment, and requested that the judge make formal findings of fact and law supporting the attorney fee award. The judge who issued the judgment recused himself, and a substitute judge considered and rejected both of Proctor’s motions. In a supplemental request submitted to the replacement judge, Proctor alleged that the original judge had a bias against him, had engaged in improper ex parte communications with opposing counsel, and had “gone to great effort to cover up” those facts. When the substitute judge rejected his supplemental request, Proctor appealed the trial court’s ruling to the 5th District Court of Appeals, and reiterated his accusations against the original judge and opposing counsel in his appellate brief. Proctor’s appeal was denied, and he paid approximately $26,000 of the judgment.
During disciplinary proceedings, Proctor admitted that at the time he made the accusations he did not have a reasonable belief that they were true, and stipulated that they had been made recklessly. In setting the appropriate sanction for his misconduct, the Court noted that despite these admissions, when the disciplinary board recommended that he receive an actual suspension from practice, Proctor effectively recanted his earlier admissions by filing objections with the Supreme Court in which he claimed that he had a duty to make his accusations against the judge under bar governance rules that require the reporting of known or suspected misconduct by another attorney or judge.
The Court’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Robert R. Cupp and Yvette McGee Brown.
Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton dissented, stating that she would impose a 12-month license suspension with all 12 months stayed as the appropriate sanction for Proctor’s misconduct.
The opinion is linked here. (Mike Frisch)
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