Thursday, October 24, 2013

Alcoholism, Bipolar Disorder Mitigates Sanction

The web page of the Ohio Supreme Court has this Kathleen Maloney summary of a case decided today:

The  Supreme Court of Ohio today suspended [a] Columbus attorney...from practicing law for two years, with the second year stayed on  conditions, for multiple violations of attorney disciplinary rules.

In  today’s 4-3 decision, the court in a per curiam opinion (not authored by a  specific justice), adopted the findings of fact and misconduct of the Board of  Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline but imposed a one-year effective  suspension rather than the board’s recommended indefinite suspension.

[The attorney's]  misconduct stemmed from nine grievances, a criminal conviction, and his failure  to respond to inquiries from the Columbus Bar Association, which filed the  charges in this case. Most of [his] misconduct resulted from not communicating  effectively with clients, particularly about the basis of his fees and his lack  of professional malpractice insurance. Also, [he] never set up a client trust  account to separately handle client fees, as required by the rules.

In  addition, two judges and a court administrator filed grievances against [him]  for appearing hours late to court, failing to file a notice of appeal and merit  briefs in a case, and being under the influence of alcohol at a hearing. The  Supreme Court found that [he] engaged in conduct that adversely reflected on  his fitness to practice law and that was prejudicial to the administration of  justice in these matters.

In  2010, [he] also pleaded guilty to reckless operation of a motor vehicle. [He] initially  failed to respond to the bar association’s inquiries about this conviction and  the other grievances – though he eventually cooperated in the board’s  proceedings.

A  mental health professional determined that alcoholism and recently diagnosed  bipolar disorder contributed to [his] misconduct, and the court stated that it  gave considerable weight to these mitigating factors in determining [his]  sanction. The psychologist concluded that [he] should be able to return to the  practice of law, as long as he takes his recommended medication, continues  psychotherapy, and keeps participating in Alcoholics Anonymous and the Ohio Lawyers  Assistance Program.

The  court noted, however, that [he] had an earlier history of relapses, he hasn’t  yet sustained a lengthy period of successful treatment, and these health issues  weren’t the cause of all his professional misconduct.

Given  [his] history of relapses, the court determined that a significant suspension  is necessary to ensure that his new treatment regimen continues successfully. A  two-year suspension, with the second year stayed on the board’s recommended  conditions, will appropriately protect the public but allow [him] to return to practicing  law if he maintains his sobriety and manages his mental illness, the court said.

At  the suggestion of [his] attorney, the court also added a condition that [he] wear an alcohol-monitoring device during his suspension.

The  court’s majority opinion was joined by Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence  O’Donnell, Sharon L. Kennedy, and William M. O’Neill.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Judith Ann  Lanzinger and Judith L. French dissented, stating that they would indefinitely  suspend [him], as the board had recommended.

The opinion is linked here. (Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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