Tuesday, September 24, 2013
From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court of Ohio has permanently revoked the law license of Canton attorney Agatha Martin Williams for multiple and repeated violations of state attorney discipline rules, including misappropriating more than $170,000 of client funds and causing significant harm to five clients — mostly as a result of her gambling addiction.
In a unanimous decision announced today, the court adopted most of the facts and misconduct identified by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline but determined that Williams’s actions required disbarment rather than the indefinite suspension the board had recommended.
While this disciplinary action was pending, Williams pleaded guilty to forgery and theft felonies, which were connected to some of the misconduct in this matter. She is now serving a prison sentence of more than eight years. After receiving notice of her convictions, the Supreme Court suspended Williams in April 2012 from the practice of law on an interim basis.
The court in its per curiam (not authored by one justice) ruling today found Williams engaged in a pattern of dishonesty and neglect, seriously misused her lawyer trust account, and misappropriated client funds in her representation of five clients. Specifically, she collected an excessive fee, endorsed a settlement check without authorization, stole settlements from two clients, and transferred another client’s funds for personal use.
The court, agreeing with the board’s report, noted several aggravating factors including Williams’s harm to vulnerable clients, failure to make restitution, and lack of cooperation in the disciplinary process. The Stark County Bar Association, which brought the disciplinary charges against Williams, argued that she also acted deceptively during the disciplinary process. The court agreed. For example, Williams testified at her March 2012 deposition she hadn’t gambled since 2011. However, her bank records showed that she had gambled at West Virginia and Pennsylvania casinos on several dates in January and February 2012. She even went gambling three days after pleading guilty to felony charges, the court noted.
Williams had asked the board to consider her mental disorders as a mitigating circumstance. Her addictions counselor, therapist, and psychiatrist each testified that she suffers from major depression, a gambling addiction, or an impulse-control disorder. However, while Williams was being treated for her addiction and other issues, she kept gambling and wasn’t open and honest about that with her counselors. The court explained that the board’s regulations require a person to show completion of a “sustained period of successful treatment” for a mental disorder to qualify as a mitigating circumstance, but Williams hadn’t shown a period of successful treatment.
Eight witnesses had testified before the board on Williams’s behalf, which convinced the board to recommend that Williams be indefinitely suspended. While the court said the witnesses provided substantial character evidence, the court ruled that this evidence didn’t outweigh Williams’s misconduct. As a result, the court determined that the aggravating factors justified a harsher sanction than that recommend by the board.
Concluding that Williams hasn’t shown a commitment to recovery and that she poses a threat to the public, the court disbarred Williams from practicing law in Ohio.