Monday, May 7, 2018

Ohio Considers Two Bar Discipline Matters

Two bar discipline matters will be argued tomorrow before the Ohio Supreme Court

Trumbull County Bar Association v. John H. Large, Case no. 2018-0250
Trumbull County

A Trumbull County lawyer who has been suspended from practicing law twice since 2009 is contesting a Board of Professional Conduct recommendation for his permanent disbarment.

A three-member board hearing panel concluded that John H. Large violated several of the rules governing Ohio lawyers during his representation of two clients. The panel recommended that Large be indefinitely suspended. However, the full board is recommending the Ohio Supreme Court permanently disbar Large.

Federal Tax Conviction Led to First Suspension
The Trumbull County Bar Association brought the complaint against Large to the board and has maintained that Large has learned little from his prior sanctions by the Supreme Court. In 2009, Large was suspended for one year based on his federal conviction for failing to file personal income tax returns or report his employees’ wages to the IRS. The Court noted in its opinion that Large “demonstrated a pattern of misconduct motivated by his selfish desire to delay payment of his tax obligation,” and caused his employees harm by failing to report their wages to the IRS.

In 2012, Large was suspended for two years, with six months stayed, for violating rules related to the representation of clients, which included not keeping them informed of their cases, not acting diligently in his representation, and acting with dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. The board reported that in less than two years after his reinstatement to practice law, two clients filed grievances against him with the Trumbull County Bar Association for allegations of misconduct similar to those of his past clients.

Lawyer Fails to Appear at Trial
Susan Seargeant of Morgantown, West Virginia, contacted Large by phone in December 2015, asking him to represent her in a judgment collection effort and in a second collection case in Warren Municipal Court. Large appeared at the initial 2015 hearing and requested a continuance. At that point, Seargeant sent Large all her documents supporting her claims. She didn’t retain copies.

The day before the trial, Large asked the court to move the case because of a scheduling conflict, but he didn’t tell Seargeant the case was moved to later in the month. She called Large on the day before the original trial date for confirmation, but he didn’t respond. She drove from Morgantown to Warren only to discover the case wasn’t being heard.

Later that month, she appeared at the trial, but Large didn’t, and the magistrate required that she represent herself. Because Large had her only copy of the documents, Seargeant defended herself without the benefit of the documents. Two weeks later, the magistrate ruled in Seargeant’s favor, but for a lesser sum than Seargeant argued she had been owed.

Seargeant and Large objected to the magistrate’s decision. The trial court let the decision stand. At the board panel hearing, Large was asked if he accepted responsibility for what happened in Seargeant’s case. Large “bluntly stated he would not,” the board states in its report to the Court.

Attorney Urges Client Filed Lawsuit, then Doesn’t Pursue Case
Large represented John Baryak in legal proceedings surrounding Baryak’s candidacy for Newton Falls City Council. Large advised Baryak that he had grounds to sue two men challenging his candidacy, and Baryak hired Large and paid him a $2,500 retainer. The panel found Large gathered no evidence to make his case, and failed to respond to discovery requests from his opponent. He didn’t inform Baryak about the information requests or the opponent’s motion to have the case dismissed.

In November, 2015, Large dismissed the case and refiled it without Baryak’s knowledge. The opponents resubmitted generally the same informational requests, which Large largely ignored and didn’t report to his client. In 2017, the trial court sanctioned Baryak for more than $10,000 to pay the fees and expenses of his opponents in the first case and jointly sanctioned Baryak and Large for $15,000 for expenses in the second lawsuit.

At the disciplinary hearing, Large acknowledged he violated several professional conduct rules. The panel recommended an indefinite suspension. The full board noted the Court recently, in Toledo v. Harvey (2017), disbarred an attorney who had two prior suspensions in a five-year period, and found it similar to Large’s situation. It recommended the Court disbar Large.

Sanction Too Harsh, Lawyer Responds
Large acknowledges he should be sanctioned for his actions, but states his brief that permanent disbarment is “extreme and does not align with the allegations against” him. Large argues that his clients were left in no worse position than had he not been retained and that there were no allegations of mishandling client funds, committing an illegal act, or acting with a selfish or dishonest motive.

He argues the Court has reserved disbarment for the most egregious misconduct, and while his work was not stellar, he deserves a lesser sanction.

Bar Association Supports Disbarment
The Trumbull County Bar Association’s brief states that Large acted with a selfish and dishonest motive that negatively impacted the cases of his clients and did them harm. The association notes that it was originally in agreement with a lesser sanction until Large expressed no remorse and took no responsibility for his actions at the panel hearing.

The bar association argues that Large learned nothing from his prior suspensions and is before the Court again for even more serious disciplinary violations. The association concludes that Large’s history “demonstrates that compliance with court orders and professional standards are not priorities in his practice of law.”

- Dan Trevas

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing Trumbull County Bar Association: Randil Rudlof, 330.393.1584

Representing John H. Large: Thomas Wilson, 330.746.5643

Attorney Discipline

Disciplinary Counsel v. Harlan D. Karp, Case no. 2018-0254
Cuyahoga County

The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct recommends a two-year suspension with 18 months stayed for Cleveland attorney Harlan D. Karp. The board found that the attorney neglected an immigration case and lied to his client about its status.

The attorney and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which submitted the complaint to the board, had agreed to a fully stayed two-year suspension. In recommending the six-month actual suspension, the panel of the board that reviewed the matter expressed concern about Karp’s repeated misrepresentations about filing important immigration paperwork, which could have serious consequences for his client. The board adopted the proposal to recommend to the Court a two-year suspension, with 18 months stayed.

Dancer Needs to Update Visa to Change Employers
Veronika Gadzheva, a Bulgarian ballroom dancer, entered the United States in May 2015 on an O-1B visa to work for the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Morristown, New Jersey. The visa was valid until Feb. 27, 2018. Unhappy with her job, Gadzheva looked elsewhere for work, and Londance III Studio in Laguna Niguel, California, offered her a position in July 2015.

A friend referred Gadzheva to Karp, who has a solo practice in Cleveland focused on immigration law. The dancer contacted Karp in July for assistance in having her visa transferred to her new employer. Karp agreed to represent the dancer to file an I-129 petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). He communicated that his fee was $750 and that she also would need to pay the $325 filing charge. Gadzheva shared that she hoped to leave the New Jersey dance studio as soon as possible, and Karp told her she could move once the I-129 was filed.

During August and early September, Gadzheva asked Karp several times about the status of the I-129 filing. On Sept. 11, 2015, Karp told Gadzheva that he had filed the paperwork with CIS. In early October, Gadzheva notified Karp that she was heading to California.

Attorney Says He Filed Paperwork When He Hadn’t
The attorney continued during the next several months to tell the dancer and Patricia West, owner of Londance III Studio, that he had filed the paperwork. West and Karp had a “heated conversation” on April 14, 2016, about the time it was taking to secure the appropriate paperwork. The next day, Gadzheva contacted a Maryland law firm for help handling her immigration paperwork. Karp submitted the I-129 petition the same day. 

When preparing the petition, Karp didn’t send the paperwork to West for her signature, but signed for her. The parties agreed that West never gave the attorney authority to sign her name.

Immigration Consequences Uncertain
After Gadzheva left her job at the New Jersey dance studio in October 2015, the studio requested a revocation of the I-129 petition it had filed for the dancer. According to the board’s report, it’s possible but not clear that Gadzheva may have started accruing days of “unlawful presence” in the United States once her prior paperwork was revoked because Karp hadn’t filed a new petition. Unlawful presence in the U.S. can lead to a ban from the country for years.

Based on a new petition filed by the Maryland law firm in July 2016, Gadzheva was granted a new visa. However, because of the gap in her immigration status, she must leave the country to activate the visa, which she is afraid to do because she doesn’t know whether she accrued days of unlawful presence during the time Karp lied about her immigration paperwork.

Disciplinary Counsel Investigates
Gadzheva filed a grievance against Karp with the disciplinary counsel. During the investigation, Karp altered a copy of the I-129 petition to conceal his lack of authority to sign for West, and the disciplinary counsel also found that he improperly used his client trust account (IOLTA) as both a personal and a business account.

The board’s report notes that Karp was diagnosed in 2017 with hypothyroidism and depression. He is taking medication for the conditions and receiving therapy.

Because Karp’s repeated misrepresentations may have grave consequences for Gadzheva, the board recommends to the Ohio Supreme Court that Karp receive a two-year suspension with 18 months rather than all of the suspension stayed, conditioned on treatment and other requirements.

Attorney Highlights Circumstances Supporting Lesser Penalty 
Karp maintains that “abundant” mitigating factors in his case support a fully stayed suspension. He notes in his objections to the proposed sanction that he has had no prior discipline before this incident in 28 years of practicing law. In addition, at disciplinary counsel’s request, he refunded Gadzheva for his legal fees and the filing charge. His malpractice insurance company also paid the dancer $7,150, the legal fee she paid to the Maryland law firm that took over the case. Karp notes that he admitted his wrongdoing, cooperated with the investigation, entered into extensive stipulations during the disciplinary process, and has acknowledged his remorse and the potential consequences to Gadzheva from mishandling her case. He also demonstrated physical and mental disorders that contributed to his misconduct.

Disciplinary Counsel Favors Fully Stayed Suspension
While not condoning Karp’s misconduct, the disciplinary counsel believes that this “blip” in Karp’s decades-long legal career resulted from his untreated depression and physical disorder. If Karp continues with his treatment and adheres to the recommended conditions for his suspension, the disciplinary counsel trusts that the public will be protected if Karp receives a fully stayed two-year suspension.

  • Kathleen Maloney

(Mike Frisch)

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