Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ohio Sanctions Unauthorized Practice

The Ohio Supreme Court web page has this report from Kathleen Maloney

In separate cases, the Ohio  Supreme Court today ordered a collections business near Cleveland and a Minnesota  civil rights advocate involved in two Ohio domestic relations cases to stop engaging  in the unauthorized practice of law (UPL).

Collections company commits 113 offenses, fined $282,500       Derek Wooten is a co-owner of  Aaron, Derek, Carter & Steen (ADCS), a collections agency in Beachwood.  Before founding this company, Wooten, who is not an attorney, worked for  another business collecting debt for medical and payday-loan companies. He  filed collection actions on behalf of those companies in municipal and common  pleas courts, and personally signed the complaints in those  courts. In August 2008, the Akron Bar Association notified Wooten that he was  practicing law without a license and instructed him to stop negotiating claims  for other individuals or corporations.

The Cleveland Bar Association  submitted its complaint against Wooten and ADCS in 2012. The bar association included  more than 100 pleadings that ADCS  and Wooten had filed, mostly for check-cashing or payday-loan companies, in  municipal and small claims courts in Rocky River, Bedford, Willoughby, Euclid,  and Akron.

In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme  Court noted that Wooten and ADCS offered minimal cooperation in the  investigation and pointed to the Akron Bar Association’s earlier order. The  court determined that Wooten and ADCS committed 113 offenses, and they harmed  the defendants in the  lawsuits they filed.

The court, in a per curiam opinion, issued  a civil penalty against Wooten and ADCS of $2,500 per offense, totaling  $282,500. Wooten and ADCS are prohibited from signing pleadings, appearing in  court proceedings, and engaging in mediation on behalf of any other party, and  they must inform their clients that they are not authorized to file complaints  or represent their clients in any court of law.

The court’s majority was  joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence  O’Donnell, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French. Justices Judith Ann  Lanzinger and William M. O’Neill would instead impose a $25,000 civil penalty  against Wooten and ADCS.

2013-1353. Cleveland  Metro. Bar Assn. v. Wooten, Slip  Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-1907.

Out-of-state  “advocate” acted as a lawyer in two Ohio divorce-related matters In a second case involving a non-lawyer, the Supreme  Court forbid Kimberley Bukstein of Minnesota from engaging in any further  unauthorized practice of law and imposed a civil penalty of $10,000 for her actions  while working with two Ohio women.

Bukstein filed an affidavit in a Clark County divorce case  stating that she was a neutral third party, helping Melinda Polen to access  justice and showing how Polen’s rights had been denied. Bukstein had described  herself as a national “civil rights advocate” who “specialized in ethics issues  arising in litigation and government agencies.”

The Supreme Court’s Board on the Unauthorized  Practice of Law found that Bukstein acted as a lawyer by providing legal  advice, by drafting a motion for Polen  to sign indicating that she was representing herself, by making legal arguments  in communications on Polen’s behalf, and by sitting in court at the table for  attorneys.

Among Bukstein’s actions, she  filed a grievance with the Ohio Board of Nursing against the current wife of  Polen’s ex-husband. Bukstein also filed complaints with the Ohio State Bar  Association against the attorney ex-husband, the judge in the divorce hearing,  Polen’s original attorney, and the lawyer representing Polen’s ex-husband.

Bukstein also assisted Christine  Tibbitts with visitation and financial issues after Tibbitts’s Delaware County divorce  was finalized. Tibbitts’s ex-husband testified that Bukstein emailed, mailed,  and called him, and he believed she was an attorney attempting to change their parenting  and divorce agreement.

In a unanimous per curiam decision, the  court agreed that Bukstein made legal arguments for others, demanded discovery, and  threatened to file disciplinary complaints or lawsuits to coerce others to  cooperate in legal matters. The court barred Bukstein from giving legal advice,  preparing or helping to prepare legal documents for other people, sending  correspondence for others that threaten to file disciplinary or legal actions,  among other prohibitions.

The board recommended a  civil penalty of $20,000. Because the court did not have adequate evidence to support the board’s finding  that Bukstein’s unauthorized practice of law was persistent, systematic, and  continuing and because her conduct was not among the most egregious UPL  incidents, the court lowered the penalty to $5,000 per case, for a total of  $10,000.

2013-1334. Disciplinary  Counsel v. Bukstein, Slip  Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-1884.

(Mike Frisch)

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