Tuesday, September 26, 2023
Dan Trevas reports on a decision of the Ohio Supreme Court
A Columbus attorney was suspended by the Supreme Court of Ohio today for two years, with 18 months stayed, for accepting fees for an adoption case but not following through with the work.
Ric Daniell was also found to have violated rules governing the use of client trust accounts and rules requiring attorneys to cooperate with disciplinary proceedings. This is the second time Daniell has been suspended from the practice of law for these types of ethics violations.
In 2014, Daniell received a fully stayed one-year suspension for similar misconduct. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel brought the current complaint against Daniell and recommended a fully stayed two-year suspension with conditions. The Board of Professional Conduct recommended that the Supreme Court impose a more severe sanction “because the prior sanction failed to serve the desired deterrent effect.”
Chief Justice Sharon L. Kennedy and Justices R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, Melody Stewart, and Joseph T. Deters joined the per curiam opinion. Justices Patrick F. Fischer and Jennifer Brunner stated they would impose the fully stayed suspension recommended by the disciplinary counsel.
Attorney Accepts Fee for Adoption Case
In November 2020, Joseph Camp hired Daniell to represent him and his spouse in an effort to adopt two children. Daniell was paid a $1,000 flat fee for legal services and $140 for a filing fee. The same day he deposited the check in his client trust account, he wrote himself a $1,000 check from that account even though he had only completed 1.2 hours of work on Camp’s case.
Other than reviewing two notices related to the case, Daniell did not perform any additional work on the adoption case during the six months leading up to the hearing. In late April 2021, Camp emailed Daniell several times with questions about the hearing and other matters in the case. Daniell did not respond to Camp until May 26, less than a week before the hearing.
Just before the hearing, Daniell told Camp the hearing had been postponed, but he did not tell his client the probate court would conduct a pretrial conference in lieu of the originally scheduled hearing. Daniell told Camp that there were several forms Camp would need to complete for the next hearing and that he would need to be fingerprinted for a background check.
Camp again emailed Daniell to let him know he had been fingerprinted but had never received the forms Daniell promised to send. After several failed attempts to reach Daniell, Camp sent Daniell an email terminating his representation. Camp also requested a copy of his file, an itemized billing statement, and a refund of any fees Daniell had not earned.
Camp’s new attorney received the file from Daniell and noticed several required documents were missing. Daniell later admitted that he failed to obtain many of those documents. Despite multiple attempts, Camp never received an itemized bill, only a statement that Daniell performed 5.2 hours of work on his case.
Attorney Ignores Disciplinary Counsel’s Information Requests
In February 2022, the disciplinary counsel sent a letter to Daniell inquiring about his representation of Camp. Daniell responded three weeks later but failed to answer questions about his fees and his lack of response to Camp’s emails. Over the next several weeks, the disciplinary counsel made additional attempts to contact Daniell, but he did not respond.
The office cautioned Daniell that his failure to timely respond to its inquiries would be deemed as a failure to cooperate with a disciplinary investigation. Daniell was sent a subpoena by certified mail to appear for a deposition in June 2022, but he failed to appear at that deposition and a second one scheduled by the disciplinary counsel.
In October 2022, the disciplinary counsel filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Conduct, charging Daniell with several ethics violations. The board found that Daniell knowingly failed to respond to a demand for information during a disciplinary investigation.
Daniell and the disciplinary counsel stipulated, and the board agreed, that Daniell violated several rules while representing Camp, including one that required him to keep his client reasonably informed about the status of the client’s legal matter. He also violated a rule that required him to place a client’s fees paid in advance into his client trust account and only withdraw those fees for work that he performed on the case.
The board also found additional violations related to Daniell’s use of his client trust account. For example, the board found that by commingling personal and client funds in his client trust account and using that account as his personal checking account, Daniell violated a rule requiring clients' property to be held in a trust account separate from an attorney’s personal funds.
Supreme Court Considers Sanction for Violations
The disciplinary counsel recommended that Daniell be suspended from the practice of law for two years, that the entire suspension be stayed on conditions including a requirement that Daniell work with a monitoring attorney focused on the management of his client trust account. But the board recommended that he be suspended from the practice of law for two years with just 18 months stayed on conditions—and the Court majority agreed.
The board expressed concerns about Daniell’s wellbeing, noting that in his previous suspension, he admitted he suffered depression from his wife’s sudden death. The board also noted Daniell’s isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and his acknowledgment that he did not read all the emails from Camp or correspondence from the disciplinary counsel because he “might have been a little depressed during that period.”
Consistent with the board’s recommendation, the Court imposed, several conditions on the stay of Daniell’s suspension and his reinstatement to the profession. He must commit no further misconduct and, within 60 days, he must pay Camp $500 in restitution minus any amount spent on filing fees. He must also complete three hours of continuing legal education focused on law office management; submit to an evaluation by the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program or a qualified healthcare professional; and comply with any treatment recommendations that arise from the evaluation. If Daniell is reinstated to practice of law, he must serve 18 months of monitored probation and allow the monitoring attorney access to his business and client trust accounts. He also must pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.