Wednesday, May 17, 2017
The Ohio Supreme Court agreed that a stayed 12-month suspension by consent was appropriate on these facts
In their consent agreement, the parties stipulate that while affiliated with the law firm of Fitzpatrick, Zimmerman & Rose Co., L.P.A., Miller represented the seller in a real-estate transaction valued at approximately $2.26 million. He also oversaw the closing of the transaction as the manager of the Tuscarawas County Title Company, which was owned by his law firm.
Miller knew that the city of New Philadelphia would have to approve the legal description for one of the tracts involved in the transaction, but he closed the deal without seeking—let alone obtaining—that approval. More than a week later, he submitted the deed-conveyance forms to the appropriate county office, but they were returned with a notation that the legal description of one tract required city approval. In the interim, he disbursed funds from the transaction to the seller, the real-estate agents, and the Tuscarawas County treasurer, but he continued to hold funds owed to the law firm and the title agency
On or about July 29, 2015, an attorney from Miller’s firm requested copies of the recorded mortgage and assignment of rents to submit with the buyer’s application to transfer a liquor license. Miller affixed a recording stamp on the first pages of the mortgage and assignment of rents to make it appear as if they had been recorded, when, in fact, they had not. Immediately after giving his colleague the falsified documents—with knowledge that they would be submitted to a government agency—Miller left for a planned vacation.
An assistant of Miller’s colleague noticed that most of the pages of the documents that Miller had provided were missing the standard time-stamped volume and page number and that the recorder’s page-number notations did not match the number of pages of each document. The title company immediately sent one of its employees to the courthouse, only to discover that the deed, mortgage, and assignment of rents had never been recorded. And in the title company’s own file, an employee found slips of paper that Miller had used to alter the documents.
When a member of the firm confronted Miller with this information by telephone, Miller admitted that he had cut the recording information from authentic documents, pasted it onto the documents that he should have recorded, and photocopied the altered documents to make them appear authentic. He also apologized for his misconduct. Although Miller declined the firm’s request that he return from vacation to rectify his misconduct, he agreed to monitor the situation by telephone. The firm submitted the documents for approval on July 30, 2015, and they were approved and recorded on August 3, 2015.
The firm terminated Miller’s employment when he returned from vacation. He self-reported his dishonest behavior to relator in a September 18, 2015 letter.
Miller’s forgery was an isolated incident that was discovered almost immediately. He promptly admitted his conduct, and there was no appreciable harm to his client or the public. Therefore, the parties stipulate that the appropriate sanction is a 12-month suspension, fully stayed on the condition that he engage in no further misconduct. The panel and the board found that the consent-to-discipline agreement conforms to Gov.Bar R. V(16) and recommend that we adopt the agreement in its entirety.