Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Less Than Disbarment

The Ohio Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended an attorney as reported by Dan Trevas

The Ohio Supreme Court today indefinitely suspended a Cleveland attorney convicted of attempting to launder $20,000 in purported drug money offered to him by an FBI informant posing as a drug dealer.

Matthew J. King had his law license suspended on an interim basis in 2016 after his convictions for money laundering and attempted money laundering. In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court indefinitely suspended King, and stated that for King to seek reinstatement, he must prove he completed the supervised release imposed on him by a federal court.

Twelfth District Court of Appeals Judge Stephen W. Powell joined the opinion, sitting for Justice Michael P. Donnelly, who did not participate in the case.

Law Enforcement Learns of Scheme from Recorded Call
In 2014, King engaged in a recorded conversation with a confidential informant for the FBI and a regional law-enforcement task force. King told the informant he would form a corporation for the purpose of laundering money derived from the profits of drug sales. Shortly after the call, King accepted $20,000 in marked bills from the informant and told him he would deposit it into his client trust account in a way to avoid detection by authorities.

King never incorporated the shell company nor deposited the money into his client account. Over the next several weeks, he complied with requests by the informant to give him cash from the account. After King returned the $20,000 to the informant, he delivered two $2,000 checks from his personal checking account to the informant. The informant absconded with the money, and King was charged with attempted money laundering for planning to launder the $20,000 he accepted, and money laundering for issuing the two $2,000 checks.

Attorney Rejects Plea Offer, Convicted on All Charges
King rejected a plea bargain, which would have reduced his potential sentence, but required that he surrender his law license. A jury convicted him on all counts in 2016, and he was sentenced to 44 months in prison. He was released in August 2018 after serving 22 months and placed on three years of supervised release.
Based on the conviction, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association charged King with multiple violations of the rules governing the conduct of Ohio attorneys. The parties stipulated to King’s misconduct, including that he committed an illegal act adversely reflecting on his honesty and trustworthiness; engaged in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law; and engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

The Board of Professional Conduct recommended to the Supreme Court that King be indefinitely suspended, while the bar association suggested that he be disbarred.

Court Considers Sanction
When the board considers a sanction to recommend to the Court, it considers aggravating circumstances that could increase the penalty and mitigating factors that could lead to a lesser sanction.

The parties agreed that King cooperated with the disciplinary investigation once released from prison, suffered other penalties for his misconduct, completed alcohol- and drug-treatment programs, and provided letters from attorneys and others attesting to his good character and skills as a lawyer. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Peter J. Corrigan, who serves as King’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, testified at King’s disciplinary hearing. The judge told the hearing panel about the turmoil in King’s life at the time of the criminal incidents and stated that he believed King should return to the practice of law.

At his disciplinary hearing, King testified about his alcoholism, but the board rejected it as a mitigating factor because King could not demonstrate that any disorder was related to his criminal misconduct, and he did not submit the required prognosis from a medical professional stating that he could return to the competent and ethical practice of law.

The board also found King acted with a selfish motive.  While King acknowledged he made a poor decision, the board characterized most of King’s testimony as “an attempt to explain why he should not have been (criminally) charged in the first place.” 

Disbarment Request Rejected
The Court’s opinion noted that while King complained about the prosecution, he accepted that he should be sanctioned for his conduct. The board also noted that while King laid out a plan to launder the $20,000, “he withdrew from the scheme before it was implemented,” and he offered to assist the FBI in recovering the $20,000 stolen by the informant.

The bar association argued that disbarment is appropriate for a lawyer who engages in a scheme to launder the proceeds of illegal drug trafficking, and maintained there was not enough mitigating evidence to justify an indefinite suspension. The Court disagreed.

“There is no doubt that King engaged in a serious crime that involved dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation or that his crime adversely reflects on his honesty, trustworthiness, and fitness to practice law. But based on the facts and significant mitigating evidence before us, we believe that King may be able to rehabilitate himself and once again establish that he possesses the requisite character, fitness, and moral qualifications to practice law,” the opinion stated.

2018-1762. Cleveland Metro. Bar Assn. v. King, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-4715.

Video camera icon View oral argument video of this case.

(Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2019/11/less-than-disbarment.html

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