Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ticket Off The Bench

Kathleen Mahoney reports on the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court

Harland H. Hale, who served on  the Franklin County Municipal Court, has been suspended from practicing law for  six months.

In a 5-2 decision, the Ohio  Supreme Court determined that Hale improperly dismissed his personal attorney’s  speeding ticket, tried to cover up that misconduct, and falsely testified in a  disciplinary hearing that he had not represented clients in the months after he  resigned from the bench.

This is the second time the court  has considered the disciplinary complaint against Hale. In November 2013, the  court returned the case to the Board of Commissioners on Grievances &  Discipline to conduct further proceedings and to consider a harsher sanction  than the six months the board had originally recommended. After  reconsideration, though, the board again proposed a six-month suspension.

Hale was a judge in the municipal  court’s environmental division and also served in rotation as a duty judge,  assisting with criminal arraignments, traffic violations, and other court  matters.

In November 2011, Patrick Quinn,  Hale’s attorney in a civil lawsuit, received a speeding ticket. Quinn did not  show up for his arraignment in December, and an arrest warrant was issued. Quinn contacted Hale, the duty  judge at that time, asking to be arraigned without going to court.

When Hale reviewed the case file,  he completed a form stating that the prosecutor was dismissing the charge against Quinn and the court was assessing no fines or costs.  However, Hale had not discussed the matter with the prosecutor.

Following a media inquiry around  April 2012, the city prosecutor began investigating how the case had been  handled. Hale then contacted Quinn and the prosecutor, asking them to sign off  on vacating the dismissal. When the prosecutor refused, Hale vacated the  improper dismissal on his own and recused himself from the case.

The state’s Disciplinary Counsel  filed a complaint against Hale the next spring, and Hale resigned from the  bench on May 24, 2013. At a disciplinary hearing in March 2014, Hale stated that  after he stepped down he had not acted as an attorney on legal matters until  late November or early December 2013. A few months later, however, he notified  the board’s panel reviewing his case that he had actually represented five  clients during that time.

Of the seven alleged violations  of judicial and attorney conduct rules, the disciplinary board voted to dismiss  one that prohibits actions that adversely reflect on a lawyer’s fitness to  practice law. After reviewing similar disciplinary cases in the state, the  board again concluded that a six-month suspension was appropriate. It reasoned  that Hale’s dishonesty related to only one incident and noted that he  voluntarily gave up his job.

The Disciplinary Counsel objected  to the board’s dismissal of one alleged rule violation and to the proposed  sanction. Hale had argued he had served a self-imposed suspension after he  resigned from the bench by not working on legal matters, even though he later  admitted that was not true. Counsel contended that Hale’s false testimony was an attempt to keep the court from  imposing a harsher punishment.

In an opinion written by Justice  William M. O’Neill, the court found that Hale violated all seven conduct rules,  including the lawyer fitness provision. Justice O’Neill stressed that Hale’s  actions were serious ethical violations and that his false testimony was  unacceptable, and then imposed a six-month suspension.

He noted several factors to  support a suspension of this length: “(1) Hale practiced law for approximately  30 years without incident, (2) his misconduct was limited to a single case to  which he had a personal connection, (3) justice was ultimately served in that  matter, (4) … no litigants suffered permanent harm as a result of Hale’s  misconduct, and (5) Hale acknowledged that his actions were not appropriate and  voluntarily resigned from the bench within one month of [the Disciplinary Counsel’s]  complaint being certified to the board.”

Joining Justice O’Neill’s opinion  were Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon L. Kennedy, and  Judith L. French.

Chief Justice Maureen  O’Connor and Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger dissented and would have imposed a  one-year suspension.

2013-1622. Disciplinary  Counsel v. Hale, Slip  Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-5053.

Video of the oral argument is linked here. (Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2014/11/kathleen-mahoney-reports-on-the-web-page-of-the-ohio-supreme-court-harland-h-hale-who-served-on-the-franklin-county-munici.html

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