Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Dan Trevas reports on the Ohio Supreme Court web page
A previously suspended Youngstown attorney involved in Mahoning County’s “Oakhill scandal” received a second suspension from the Ohio Supreme Court today, but will be allowed to continue practicing law if he abides by conditions imposed on him.
In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court imposed a two-year suspension on Martin E. Yavorcik based on charges of campaign finance law violations related to his 2008 run for Mahoning County prosecutor and mishandling client funds. In 2016, the Court suspended Yavorcik for an interim period after his conviction of multiple felonies arising from his role in an alleged attempt to stop Mahoning County from moving government offices out of space leased from the Cafaro Company and into the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place.
Yavorcik’s law license was effectively suspended for 32 months on an interim basis until his conviction was vacated and his license reinstated in January 2019. Today the Court granted 18 months of time served under the previous suspension and stayed the remaining six months of the new suspension with conditions, which included one-year of monitored probation.
Second Complaint Arose from Cafaro Campaign Donation
After his conviction and suspension for his involvement in the Oakhill matter, the Mahoning County Bar Association filed a second complaint against Yavorcik with the Board of Professional Conduct. The bar association charged that Yavorcik violated several of the rules governing the conduct of Ohio attorneys based on false statements and omissions on his 2008 campaign-finance statements, and for neglecting a client matter around the time of his own criminal trial.
When running for county prosecutor, Yavorcik was advised to conduct a poll to evaluate his chances. He received a $15,000 check from Flora Cafaro, and issued a receipt to her labeled “William M. Carfaro/American Gladiator Fitness Center” and represented it as “payment for services rendered.” He then used to money to hire a political polling firm.
In his general election campaign finance report, Yavorcik misrepresented the $15,000 from Carfaro by falsely reporting that it was an in-kind contribution he made to his own campaign. He also failed to report the Carfaro payment as income on his 2008 federal tax return, and failed to report two other cash contributions on his campaign finance report.
The Ohio Elections Commission found Yavorcik violated campaign-finance laws and fined him $200. In 2014, Yavorcik amended his federal tax returns and attempted to pay tax on the Carfaro payment, but the federal government declined to assess any tax because of the passage of time.
The bar association and Yavorcik stipulated that his actions constituted an illegal act that reflects on Yavorcik’s honesty and trustworthiness.
Client’s Settlement Check Held Three Years
Robert E. Yambar hired Yavorcik in 2013 to pursue a personal-injury claim on behalf of himself and his minor son who were injured in an auto accident. Yambar agreed to settle his son’s claim for $10,000, but asked Yavorcik to file a lawsuit against the driver who caused the accident and his insurance company. In September 2015, the insurer sent Yavorcik a $10,000 check payable to Yambar for his son’s claim, and Yavorcik deposited it in his client trust account.
Payment to Yambar required probate court approval and Yavorcik prepared an application, but Yambar never signed it and Yavorcik never submitted it to the court. As Yavorcik prepared for his own criminal trial, he transferred Yambar’s case file to another attorney.
In 2016, Yambar filed a grievance against Yavorcik. During the investigation of the complaint, the bar association told Yavorcik the bank had closed his client trust account and that Yavorcik was issued a check for $4,552, which was less than the amount Yavorcik should have held in trust for Yambar’s son. In April 2018, Yavorcik paid Yambar $10,931.
Yavorcik admitted he failed to keep Yambar reasonably informed about the status of his legal matters and failed to follow the rules for retaining funds in a client trust account. He also acknowledged he failed to inform Yambar that he did not carry adequate professional liability insurance and did not comply with his client’s request for information in a reasonable amount of time.
Board Considers Recommended Sanction, Court Agrees
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 board found Yavorcik committed multiple offenses and noted that he “damaged the integrity of and the public’s confidence in the election system by failing to identify an actual source of his campaign funds.”
The board also found he made a good-faith attempt to rectify his misconduct by paying restitution to Yambar before his disciplinary hearing and that he demonstrated a cooperative attitude toward the disciplinary proceedings. The board also credited Yavorcik for the other penalties and sanctions he received, including the criminal sanctions he served until his sentence was vacated. Yavorcik spent one year under house arrest, was subject to continuous monitoring of his whereabouts and alcohol consumption, and performed 200 hours of community service.
As part of his community control, Yavorcik was required to attend Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and subject himself to random drug-testing. The board expressed concern about Yavorcik’s alcohol use, including his drinking the night before his disciplinary hearing.
The board proposed Yavorcik be suspended for two-years, with 18 months credited for time served under the prior suspension, and the remaining six months stayed.
The Court’s opinion stated that based on Yavorcik’s long suspension for felony convictions that were ultimately vacated, his acknowledgment of his wrongdoing, and his sincere remorse, it would adopt the board’s recommended sanction.
The Court stayed the final six months of his suspension with the conditions that he submit to an Ohio Lawyer’s Assistance Program assessment or one by a chemical-dependency professional within 90 days; comply with any recommendations from the assessment; complete one year of monitored probation focused on law-office management, including the management of his client trust account; complete six hours of continuing legal education related to managing a law office and client trust accounts; and not commit any further misconduct.