February 14, 2013
Fee Sharing And Other Misconduct Draws Indefinite Suspension
From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court of Ohio today indefinitely suspended the law license of Cleveland attorney Gary Ray Axner for neglect of five separate legal matters, failure to reasonably communicate with some of those clients, employment of a suspended attorney without notifying the proper authorities of that relationship, and initially failing to cooperate with the investigation of his misconduct.
In a 7-0 per curiam decision, the court adopted findings by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline that in two bankruptcy cases, Axner accepted fee advances from clients and then completely neglected or failed to complete the necessary legal work to obtain a bankruptcy decree for 17 months in one case and more than three years in the other. In both instances, the court found that Axner repeatedly ignored or evaded client inquiries about the status of their cases, and when the clients were able to reach him, made false and misleading statements to them indicating that resolution of their cases was imminent.
The court also adopted board findings that Axner engaged in an ongoing course of misconduct by employing Howard Schuman, a former attorney whose license was suspended in 1998 and has never been reinstated, for 14 years without disclosing that relationship to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel as required by state bar governance rules. The court also found that, on multiple occasions, Axner improperly shared fees with Schuman despite his status as a non-attorney, and allowed Schuman to meet independently with clients and their creditors in Axner’s place in violation of administrative orders and local court rules.
In imposing an indefinite license suspension as the appropriate sanction for these and other rule violations, the court noted the mitigating factor that Axner has no prior record of disciplinary infractions and the aggravating factors that he engaged in a pattern of misconduct involving multiple rule violations, acted with a selfish motive, and took advantage of vulnerable clients.
As a precondition for applying for reinstatement of his license after Feb. 14, 2015, Axner must demonstrate that he has entered into and fully complied with a substance abuse contract with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program.
The opinion is linked here. (Mike Frisch)
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