Tuesday, March 16, 2021

A Colleague's Efforts Help Save A License

A colleague's timely assistance and an attorney's progress in recovery led to a stayed suspension by the Ohio Supreme Court despite the abandonment of at least 15 clients.

He and other attorneys stepped into the breach and took over the pending matters pro bono. 

During a 24-hour period in early March 2018, emergency medical personnel twice transported Kelley to a local hospital for psychiatric evaluation. The first time, Kelley was medically cleared and discharged, but the second time, he was taken from the hospital to an inpatient mental-health-and-chemical dependency facility after acknowledging that he was suffering from suicidal ideations and had recently abused several substances, including cocaine and Adderall.

After he was admitted to the rehabilitation center, Kelley had his girlfriend place the following message on his office-telephone answering machine:

This is on behalf of Attorney Paul Kelley. He is no longer able to take on any new cases or continue with any cases that he currently has due to health reasons. He is immediately out of commission and any cases that are currently active will need to be reassigned to a new lawyer. If you have a current active case please contact the county bar association in which your case resides. If it is Stark County the phone number is 330-453-0685 and if not then please contact the prosecutor’s office to get new counsel.

A concerned colleague intervened

Patrick Cusma, a member of the Stark County Bar Association who had recently confronted Kelley with suspicions of Kelley’s substance abuse, heard rumors that Kelley was in trouble and called to check on him. Cusma heard the outgoing message on Kelley’s answering machine and left a message offering to help. Cusma arranged to obtain client files from Kelley’s girlfriend and transfer them to himself and other attorneys, all of whom had agreed to represent Kelley’s affected clients pro bono. Kelley did not assist Cusma in that effort.


In December 2018, Kelley suffered a relapse of his addiction and was again hospitalized. At that time, Kelley’s girlfriend discovered approximately 20 client files that Kelley had left in the trunk of her car (which he had abandoned at a gas station in Akron) and delivered them to relator’s counsel.

The impact of his addiction and treatment

Kelley became addicted to stimulant medication that had been prescribed to treat a disorder first diagnosed during his childhood. At his disciplinary hearing, Saraha Martincak, a licensed chemical-dependency counselor, testified that she had diagnosed Kelley with moderate opioid-use disorder, moderate sedative- and hypnotic-use disorder, and severe amphetaminetype-use disorder associated with a cycle of using stimulants to get high and opioids or sedatives to come down from that high. The evidence shows that Kelley’s addiction and subsequent admission to a drug-treatment facility in March 2018 contributed to cause his misconduct. Although Kelley did not present certification that he had successfully completed an approved treatment program, see Gov.Bar R. V(13)(C)(7)(c), Martincak reported that Kelley had completed 11 weeks of a 12-week outpatient treatment program during the summer of 2018. And according to a May 14, 2020 report from Paul A. Caimi, associate director of the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (“OLAP”), Kelley has followed Martincak’s treatment recommendations and is in compliance with the terms of a three-year OLAP contract he entered into in January 2018, although he suffered several relapses.

His efforts nonetheless were mitigating.

Although Kelley’s misconduct involved a greater number of clients than the misconduct in Allerding and Bulson, it appears that his abandonment of those clients was relatively short lived—thanks to the quick action of Cusma and his colleagues in the Stark County Bar Association. The record shows that Kelley is committed to his sobriety and mental health; in fact, he recognized that he had a problem and entered into his OLAP contract approximately six weeks before his March 2018 hospitalization. He also testified that he resumed the practice of law in the summer of 2019 and that he has hired two paralegals to assist him with his practice. Moreover, Kelley testified that he had voluntarily paid the attorneys who assisted his clients a total of $4,900, and intended to pay them a total of $12,750, the fair-market value of their services. Cusma confirmed that Kelley began making those payments several months before his disciplinary hearing.

Thus a fully-stayed suspension with conditions. (Mike Frisch)


Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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