Tuesday, February 25, 2020
The Ohio Supreme Court has sanctioned an attorney as reported by Dan Trevas
The Ohio Supreme Court today suspended an Olmsted Falls attorney who repeatedly violated a protection order, lied to police about violating the order, and tested positive for cocaine use, which violated the terms of his probation.
In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court suspended Anthony M. Piazza for two years, with one year stayed with conditions, based on repeated violations of court orders between July 2017 and March 2019, as well as failing to comply with the rules for operating his client trust account. The second year of Piazza’s suspension was stayed as long as he does not commit further professional misconduct and obtains an assessment from the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP).
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, and Melody J. Stewart joined the opinion.
Justice Patrick F. Fischer stated that he would also require Piazza to participate in monitored probation during his stayed year of suspension.
Assault Charge Leads to Multiple Court Appearances
Piazza was arrested and charged in Berea Municipal Court with assault and disorderly conduct in July 2017. The court issued a protection order that prohibited Piazza from having any contact with the female victim.
Later that month, Piazza went to the victim’s home. When questioned by police, he initially denied it, but admitted the claim was true after police advised him a witness spotted him at the home. He was charged in Rocky River Municipal Court for violating the protection order.
The Rocky River court was scheduled to hear the protection order violation case in February 2018, but dismissed it after the victim failed to appear at the trial. The victim advised the prosecutor that Piazza told her not to go to court because it was closed that day. The prosecutor then refiled the charge, and Piazza pleaded no contest to violating the order.
Lawyer Incurs Additional Violations
Between the issuance of the protection order and his plea in Rocky River, Piazza also had improper contact with the victim while both were at the Berea Municipal Court. As part of his sentence for violating the protection order in Berea, Piazza was ordered to complete a domestic-violence program and serve two years of probation, which included random drug and alcohol testing.
Piazza repeatedly tested positive for cocaine and benzoylecgonine, a byproduct of cocaine that indicates recent use of the drug. Piazza admitted he used cocaine about 20 times in 2018, including during the times he was on probation.
Based on the criminal violations, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel charged Piazza with multiple violations of the rules governing the conduct of Ohio attorneys. The office also charged Piazza with violating the rule for client trust accounts, even after the disciplinary counsel had agreed to cease four prior investigations between 2010 and 2016 of Piazza’s client account.
The parties stipulated to the charged conduct, and the Board of Professional Conduct found Piazza violated several rules including knowingly disobeying court orders; engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; and conduct that adversely reflects on his ability to practice law.
Board Recommends Stayed Suspension
The board noted Piazza had no prior discipline in his 42-year legal career, cooperated with the disciplinary process, acknowledged certain wrongdoing, submitted evidence of his competence as an attorney and good reputation in the community, and received other penalties for his misconduct.
As aggravating factors, the board found Piazza engaged in a pattern of misconduct and committed multiple offenses.
“The board also noted that although Piazza offered a ‘veneer of good faith cooperation and contrition’ at his disciplinary hearing, he was ‘not sincere regarding his continuous and egregious flaunting of the Rules of Professional Conduct,” the opinion stated.
The opinion noted that the disciplinary counsel had dropped the four previous client-account investigations after Piazza signed an affidavit swearing he understood the rule regulating client trust account and would comply with the rule. But in 2018, the disciplinary counsel found several more violations.The board found that Piazza merely “feigned understanding and a willingness toward compliance,” and ultimately refused to comply with that rule.
The opinion stated the Court imposes discipline not to punish the attorneys, but to protect the public by demonstrating misconduct will not be tolerated.
“Piazza needs time away from the practice of law to appreciate the importance of the Rules of Professional Conduct and to ensure that he will incorporate the appropriate procedures into his practice,” the Court stated.
As part of the suspension, Piazza was ordered to obtain an OLAP assessment within 60 days. To be reinstated, he must prove he complied with any OLAP contract requirements and treatment recommendations. He also must submit an opinion from a qualified health professional stating that he is capable of returning to the competent, ethical, and professional practice of law, the Court concluded.