Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lawyer Disbarred, Gambled After Guilty Plea

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.

2012-2072. Stark  County Bar Association v. Williams, Slip Opinion No. 2013-Ohio-4006.

Video clip View oral argument video of this case.

(Mike Frisch)


Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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