Wednesday, July 11, 2018
The Ohio Supreme Court permanently disbarred an attorney as described by Dan Trevas
The Ohio Supreme Court today permanently disbarred a Cleveland attorney for violating several professional conduct rules, including failure to file an appeal of his client’s criminal conviction that he had promised to submit.
Guy D. Rutherford had been under suspension by the Supreme Court since December 2015 and was being disciplined for past instances of accepting client payments then not following through with work on their cases. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel sought Rutherford’s permanent disbarment in September 2017, which the Court voted 6-0 in a per curiam opinion to impose. Justice Mary DeGenaro did not participate in the case.
Lawyer Suspended Multiple Times
Rutherford was suspended four times between 1998 and 2009, beginning with a two-month sanction for nonpayment of child support. He was briefly suspended both in 2005 and 2007 for failure to timely register as an Ohio attorney. In 2006, he received a six-month stayed suspension for neglecting three client matters, not depositing unearned fees into his client trust account, and not promptly delivering funds that his clients were entitled to receive. The stay was revoked because he was found in contempt of a Supreme Court order, and he remained suspended until May 2009.
In March 2016, Rutherford was suspended on an interim basis after failing to respond to a disciplinary counsel investigation regarding his alleged abandonment of several clients, failure to refund their retainers, and engaging in additional misconduct. Later that year, the Court converted the interim suspension into an indefinite suspension, which remained in effect until his disbarment today.
Investigators Receive Additional Client Complaints
As the disciplinary counsel was pursuing Rutherford on the March 2016 complaints, the office filed additional charges with the Board of Professional Conduct in November 2016 based on four separate client matters.
Three client matters involved individuals who paid Rutherford to represent them in divorces. He accepted $600 to $800 retainers from each, and did not perform any of the contracted work. He falsely told one client that he filed a divorce on her behalf when he did not, and he had little to no communication with the clients. While all requested refunds, only one was paid and it took Rutherford more than a year to return the money.
Based on his behavior, the board found Rutherford violated several rules governing the conduct of Ohio lawyers, including failing to act with reasonable diligence in representing a client, not keeping clients informed of the status of their legal matter, charging an excessive or illegal fee, failure to promptly refund any unearned fee, and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.
Criminal Matter Not Pursued
In the fourth instance, Rutherford accepted $4,500 from Rinaldo Vega to represent his son in a criminal and immigration matter. After numerous failed attempts to contact Rutherford, Vega hired another attorney to represent his son in the immigration case. Rutherford met with the other attorney and promised to forward files in his possession. He forwarded some documents, but never provided most of the files.
Vega’s son was found guilty of several criminal offenses, which Rutherford attempted to appeal. The appeals court sent notifications to Rutherford’s address on record, but the mail was returned, and Rutherford took no further action on the case. The appeals court dismissed it for failure to prosecute. Vega filed a grievance with the disciplinary counsel and requested a refund of his $4,500.
The board found Rutherford violated several rules when representing Vega’s son, including engaging in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice.
Lawyer Unresponsive to Disciplinary Inquiry
In addition to his failure to represent clients, Rutherford also did not respond to letters and emails sent to him from the disciplinary counsel at the addresses he provided to the Court’s Office of Attorney Services. The investigators learned from an office building receptionist that Rutherford had not been seen at his office in months, but that mail was being left on his desk. They left letters regarding two client matters and noticed stacks of unopened mail on the desk. After several unsuccessful attempts to reach him, the board found Rutherford violated the rules for failing to cooperate with a disciplinary investigation and not providing his current residential address and business contact information. The board recommended the Court permanently disbar him.
Court Weighs Evidence
When considering a sanction, the Court considers aggravating circumstances that would increase the punishment it imposes on a lawyer and mitigating factors, which could lead to a reduced penalty. The Court found he acted with a selfish motive, engaged in a pattern of misconduct, committed multiple offenses, took advantage of vulnerable clients, and failed to pay restitution.
The Court found no mitigating factors. It also considered the punishment it levied to other attorneys committing similar rule violations. The opinion noted that attorneys who accept retainers and fail to do any work is conduct that is “tantamount to theft of a fee from the client.”
“Given the nature of Rutherford’s misconduct, the extensive aggravating factors present — including his prior discipline for similar acts, the complete absence of mitigation factors, and the sanctions we have imposed for comparable misconduct, we agree that permanent disbarment is warranted,” the Court concluded.