Thursday, December 13, 2018

Scenes From A Mall

Dan Trevas summarized a decision of the Ohio Supreme Court

The former Mahoning County auditor was indefinitely suspended from the practice of law by the Ohio Supreme Court today for ethical violations related to the “Oakhill scandal.”

In a per curiam decision, the Supreme Court placed several conditions on Michael V. Sciortino if he were to seek to practice law again. Sciortino had voluntarily agreed to put his attorney registration on inactive status in February 2016 when he pleaded guilty to felony charges, including having an unlawful interest in a public contract and soliciting or accepting improper compensation.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, and Mary DeGenaro joined the opinion. Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Judith L. French separately stated they would not support some of the requirements related to Sciortino’s required participation with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP). Both would support giving him credit for the time served while suspended.

Auditor Stalls Building Purchase
In 2006, the Mahoning County commissioners authorized the purchase of a former hospital known as Oakhill Renaissance Center with the plan of relocating county offices from an Ohio Valley Mall Company lease to the newly acquired Oakhill property. Sciortino, the county auditor, opposed the move. Oakhill’s owners were in bankruptcy at the time of the proposed purchase, and Sciortino appeared at a bankruptcy hearing to object to the sale.

The bankruptcy court authorized the county’s purchase, but the Sciortino continued to question the commissioners about the sale. In a separate lawsuit, Ohio Valley sought to have the transaction rescinded and Sciortino refused to release county funds for the purchase. Eventually, Sciortino complied with a court order to issue the funding.

Criminal Investigations Ensue
The Mahoning County prosecutor filed a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission, alleging that Sciortino and other county officials coordinated with the Carfaro Company, owners of Ohio Valley, to thwart the purchase of the Oakhill.

In May 2014, a Cuyahoga County grand jury indicted Sciortino and other officials on 73 charges. The indictment alleged Sciortino accepted money or services from Carfaro to perform his auditor duties and that he filed false ethics reports to conceal them, as well as lied to investigators about his interactions with Carfaro leaders.

Sciortino pleaded guilty to four charges and the state dropped the rest. He was sentenced to one year of community control for each conviction and agreed to put his attorney registration on inactive status. Because he was convicted of soliciting or accepting improper compensation, he cannot hold public office for seven years.

A Mahoning County grand jury separately indicted Sciortino on 25 felony charges in 2015 for the unauthorized use of government property and theft in office. He received two years of community control and was ordered to complete an inpatient program at Community Corrections Association and required to attend three Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings per week.

Disciplinary Proceedings Begin
After receiving notice of the convictions, the Supreme Court suspended Sciortino’s license to practice on an interim basis. The Court noted he had been previously suspended briefly in 2011 for failing to register as an attorney for the 2011-2013 biennium.

The Mahoning County Bar Association filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Conduct in 2017 based on Sciortino’s convictions. The parties and the board stipulated that the convictions resulted in four violations of the rule against committing an illegal act that reflects adversely on Sciortino’s honesty and trustworthiness, and that he engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

The board recommended Sciortino be indefinitely suspended with conditions for his reinstatement that included submitting to an OLAP evaluation and entering into an OLAP recovery contract if appropriate. He would be required to comply with all OLAP conditions. The board recommended he receive credit for time served under his interim suspension.

Court Considers Sanction

When the Court imposes a sanction it considers aggravating circumstances that could increase the penalty it imposes and mitigating factors that could lead to a lesser sanction.

The Court noted that Sciortino had a prior disciplinary record and committed multiple rule violations while acting as a public official. The Court also found Sciortino did not act with a selfish motive, made full disclosure to the board, cooperated with the investigation, and submitted letters attesting to his character.

Scioriino did not object to the suspension, but did contest the OLAP evaluation and program participation. He admitted having past alcohol issues, but stated he has completed an inpatient treatment program and attends no fewer than two AA meetings per week. He said he is in recovery and has been sober for four years. He suggested a local lawyer be appointed to monitor his sobriety rather than OLAP.

The Court’s opinion commended Sciortino for his efforts, but stated it did not find sufficient information to evaluate his treatment. The opinion stated that OLAP is “uniquely qualified to evaluate” his condition; assess his past treatment; recommend additional treatment if necessary; monitor his progress; and assess his “ability to resume the competent, professional, and ethical practice of the law.”

The Court did not grant him credit for time served on suspension. It required that to be reinstated, he must prove he completed all terms of his court-ordered community control and comply with all terms imposed by OLAP.

2018-0259Mahoning Cty. Bar Assn. v. SciortinoSlip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-4961.

Video camera icon View oral argument video of this case.

(Mike Frisch)

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