Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Corrective Measures Lead To Stayed Suspension

An attorney's decades-long practice of placing advanced fees in her operating account in violation of escrow obligations drew a stayed six-month suspension from the Ohio Supreme Court

Sabol is a solo practitioner focusing in domestic-relations law. She stipulated that from 1983 through 2019, she failed to comply with Ohio’s ethical rules regulating the safekeeping of client funds and client trust accounts. Specifically, she routinely deposited and held client retainers in her law firm’s operating account. Although she maintained a client trust account, she deposited client funds into that account only on certain occasions. For example, she would deposit the proceeds from the sale of a home into her trust account before distributing the money. Or she would transfer a client’s unused retainer from her operating account into her trust account before refunding the money to the client. Sabol admitted that because she deposited advanced legal fees into her operating account and regularly paid personal expenses from that account, she may have paid personal expenses with client funds before they were earned.

No actual suspension is necessary

Here, the board expressed concerns about the extended period of time during which Sabol engaged in misconduct and her failure to take corrective action after she questioned her own handling of client retainers. But because of the significant mitigating evidence and the fact that Sabol has taken concrete steps to prevent recurrence of her misconduct, the board recommends that she serve a six-month suspension stayed on conditions, including that she complete CLE and a one-year term of monitored probation focused on law-office management and compliance with client-trust-account regulations.

We adopt the board’s recommendation. The circumstances here are similar to those in Fletcher, and in mitigation, Sabol has no prior discipline in a lengthy and otherwise unblemished legal career, she lacked a dishonest or selfish motive, she cooperated in the disciplinary process, there is no evidence that her actions harmed any of her clients, and she has instituted corrective measures to ensure the proper safekeeping of client funds in the future. We therefore agree that a conditionally stayed six-month suspension is the appropriate sanction in this case.

(Mike Frisch)


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