On February 23, 2018, the Supreme Court of Ohio suspended Rebecca Jo Austin of Lakewood for failing to answer a Complaint that the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association filed against her with the Board of Professional Conduct. The suspension was an interim default suspension. This is an immediate suspension from the practice of law for failing to respond to the formal complaint. When this occurs, an attorney is not permitted to practice law.
On May 4, 2018, the Supreme Court of Ohio found Ms. Austin to be in contempt for failing to comply with its default suspension Order. On August 22, 2018, Ms. Austin moved for leave to file an answer, which the Supreme Court of Ohio granted. It then remanded the matter to the Board of Professional Conduct.
On remand, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association amended its complaint to add practicing while under suspension. After hearing, the Board recommended that Ms. Austin be indefinitely suspended with credit for time served. The Supreme Court of Ohio ordered an indefinite suspension but declined to give Ms. Austin credit for time served. An indefinite suspension is a suspension for a minimum of two (2) years. Prior to being reinstated, however, the attorney must demonstrate the requisite character and fitness that the attorney was required to show when she originally applied for a license to practice law.
Ms. Austin was disciplined for neglecting two matters, failing to return a retainer upon being discharged, failing to appear at court hearings, for practicing law while under suspension, and for misrepresenting to clients and courts about her suspension.
Interestingly, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association opposed Ms. Austin’s disbarment, indicating that it believed that Ms. Austin was likely to establish in the future her ability to be readmitted to the practice of law.
Although it seems axiomatic, the importance of responding to disciplinary investigations and prosecutions is most important. The matter will not go away. It will just compound the ethics charges and the sanction.