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Daily Court Reporter - News Supreme Court of Ohio suspends two Ohio attorneys

 

Supreme Court of Ohio suspends two Ohio attorneys

Dan Trevas, Supreme Court of Ohio

The Ohio Supreme Court recently suspended two Ohio lawyers.

Robert J. Leon of Westerville was suspended for one year with six months stayed, with conditions, for mishandling a case and having sex with his client.

Thomas D. Pigott of Toledo was suspended for six months for failing to pay clients money they were due.

Leon Fails to Perform Work, Has Sex with Client

In February 2015, Leon was hired by a husband and wife to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. They paid him $1,850 in cash, which included $1,515 as an advance on his attorney fees. They promptly gave him all the documents he requested and informed him they were making payments on their home and cars in hopes of retaining those assets.

The following month, the wife inquired about the status of the matter, and Leon responded that it was taking longer than expected. When she inquired again in October, Leon told her he filed the case with the court, when he had not. In the absence of the filing, creditors were able to take collection actions against them, including foreclosing on their home and repossessing one of their cars.

In early 2016, Leon and the wife began sending text messages of a sexual nature to each other, and later engaged in consensual sexual intercourse at Leon’s law office. The husband discovered the affair in mid-2016 and confronted Leon. Leon immediately terminated the affair and stopped representing the couple.

Leon did not return the couple’s retainer or filing fee, and the wife filed a grievance against him with the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel. Leon issued a refund to the couple in December 2017, about two months after the grievance was initiated.

Actions Broke Rules

Based on the grievance, the disciplinary counsel filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Conduct against Leon for violating rules governing the conduct of Ohio attorneys.

The parties stipulated to the facts and misconduct, and the board found Leon committed four rule violations, including failing to act with reasonable diligence in representing a client, and engaging in a sexual relationship with a client that was not a consensual sexual relationship that existed prior to the lawyer-client relationship.

The board recommended Leon receive a six-month fully stayed suspension.

In a per curiam opinion, the Court majority stated that because Leon had a sexual relationship with a client who was also the spouse of another client, neglected the clients’ legal matter for 17 months, lied to the client about the status of the matter, and waited 17 months to refund their fees, he deserved a harsher sanction.

The Court suspended Leon for one year with six month stayed, with the conditions that he commit no further misconduct and pay the costs of the proceedings.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, Patrick F. Fischer and Mary DeGenaro joined the majority opinion.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Terrence O’Donnell wrote the parties and the board agreed to the fully stayed suspension, and he would support the decision. Justice R. Patrick DeWine joined Justice O’Donnell’s dissent.

2018-0536. Disciplinary Counsel v. Leon, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-5090.

Pigott Fails to Deliver Payments

In 2011, Pigott represented Private Wealth Consultants (PWC) in a civil matter against Derick Gant and Gant Investment Advisors. The two businesses agreed to a settlement in which Gant would pay PWC $28,000 in installments.

PWC agreed to pay Pigott 50 percent of any proceeds he collected from Gant, but Pigott did not put the agreement in writing as required by the professional conduct rules. By April 2013, he had collected $17,000 from Gant and distributed $8,500 to PWC. Between April 2013 and December 2014, he collected $10,500 from Gant, but he did not remit any of the money to PWC.

When PWC asked about the status of the Gant payments, Pigott replied that he would “settle up” at a later date. Instead of maintaining those funds in a client trust account, Pigott withdrew his fees and misappropriated the rest of the money, writing checks to himself, his firm, and his wife for personal and business expenses.

By March 2017, he paid PWC $3,250, still owing them $2,000, which he did not pay until the disciplinary counsel began investigating his client trust account activities. By November 2017, he paid PWC its share in full.

Client Funds Withheld

Pigott also represented Robert Falk in a civil matter that resulted in a $124,000 default judgment for Falk in 2007. Pigott agreed to help collect the judgment through wage garnishment in exchange for one-third of the proceeds — an agreement Pigott did not put in writing.

Pigott began collecting the payments every two weeks from September 2013 until August 2017, but did not disburse any money to Falk. When Falk inquired about the payments, Pigott promised to “settle up” with him at a later date.

At least $4,400 collected by Pigott through August 2017 belonged to Falk, but Falk was not paid until November 2017.

The disciplinary counsel charged Pigott with several rule violations, and the parties stipulated to several infractions, including failing to promptly deliver funds to a client unless the client agrees to a delay in writing, and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

Pigott testified that a medical condition in 2012 caused him to miss six months of work. Because he did not have disability insurance, he used the funds to cover family bills, he said. Both PWC’s leader and Falk told the board they were long-term clients and friends of Pigott, and they forgave him for his misconduct and had received restitution.

The parties and the board agreed to a six-month suspension, and the Court unanimously accepted it. In a per curiam opinion, the Court stated that in light of Pigott’s full acceptance of responsibility for his misconduct, his payment of restitution, and changes to the his client agreements, the six month suspension was appropriate.

2018-0815. Disciplinary Counsel v. Pigott, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-5096.

Both opinions can be found online at: http://www.courtnewsohio.gov/cases/2018/SCO/1220/disciplinary.asp#.XBzcs817mUk

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

About the Supreme Court of Ohio

The Supreme Court is established by Article IV, Section 1 of the Ohio Constitution. Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution sets the size of the Court and outlines its jurisdiction. Article IV, Section 5 of the Constitution grants rule making and other authority to the Court.

The Supreme Court is the court of last resort in Ohio. Most of its cases are appeals from the 12 district courts of appeals. The Court may grant leave to appeal felony cases from the courts of appeals and may direct a court of appeals to certify its record in any civil or misdemeanor case that the Court finds to be "of public or great general interest."

The Supreme Court also has appellate jurisdiction in cases involving questions arising under the Ohio or United States Constitutions, cases originating in the courts of appeals, and cases in which there have been conflicting opinions on the same question from two or more courts of appeals. The Supreme Court hears all cases in which the death penalty has been imposed. These cases currently include both appeals from courts of appeals affirming imposition of the death penalty by a trial court and, for capital crimes committed on or after Jan. 1, 1995, appeals taken directly from the trial courts. Finally, the Supreme Court's appellate jurisdiction extends to review of the actions of certain administrative agencies, including the Public Utilities Commission.

The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction to issue extraordinary writs. These include writs of habeas corpus (inquiring into the cause of an allegedly unlawful imprisonment or deprivation of custody), writs of mandamus (ordering a public official to perform a required act), writs of procedendo (compelling a lower court to proceed to judgment in a case), writs of prohibition (ordering a lower court to stop abusing or usurping judicial functions), and writs of quo warranto (issued against a person or corporation for usurpation, misuse, or abuse of public office or corporate office or franchise).

The Constitution grants the Supreme Court exclusive authority to regulate admission to the practice of law, the discipline of attorneys admitted to practice, and all other matters relating to the practice of law. In connection with this grant of authority, the Supreme Court has promulgated the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio. These rules address, among other things, admission to practice, attorney discipline, attorney registration, continuing legal education, and unauthorized practice of law.

The Constitution also gives the Supreme Court authority to prescribe rules governing practice and procedure in all courts of the state and to exercise general superintendence over all state courts. Procedural rules promulgated by the Supreme Court become effective unless both houses of the General Assembly adopt a concurrent resolution of disapproval. Rules of superintendence over state courts set minimum standards for court administration. Unlike procedural rules, rules of superintendence do not have to be submitted to the General Assembly to become effective.

In connection with all of the rules for which it has responsibility, the Supreme Court generally solicits public comment before adopting new rules or amendments in final form. The Court first publishes its rules and amendments in proposed form. These proposals appear in both the Ohio State Bar Association Reports and the Ohio Official Advance Sheets and indicate the period open for comment and the staff member to whom comments should be directed. The Court reviews all comments submitted before it decides whether to adopt or amend a rule.

Pursuant to the Constitution, the Chief Justice or a Justice designated by the Chief Justice is responsible for ruling on the disqualification of appellate and common pleas court judges. The procedure for obtaining review of a claim of disqualification against an appellate or common pleas judge is commenced by the filing of an affidavit of disqualification with the Clerk of the Supreme Court. The Revised Code contains specific requirements governing the filing of affidavits of disqualification.

Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution sets the size of the Court at seven -- a Chief Justice and six Justices, who are elected to six-year terms on a nonpartisan ballot. Two Justices are chosen at the general election in even-numbered years. In the year when the Chief Justice runs, voters pick three members of the Court.

A person must be an attorney with at least six years experience in the practice of law to be elected or appointed to the Supreme Court. Appointments are made by the Governor for vacancies that may occur between elections.

Date Published: January 25, 2019

 

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