ethics

Former Juvenile Judge Jailed

In 2014, former Hamilton County Juvenile Judge Tracie Hunter was convicted of a felony for giving her brother, a juvenile court employee, confidential information.  Then Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced Ms. Hunter to 6 months in jail.  Since then, Ms. Hunter has appealed the conviction in both state and federal court.  In May 2019, federal court Judge Timothy Black found that Ms. Hunter had received a fair trial.  He refused to comment on the sentence, which he said was for the state court to decide.

On July 22, 2019, now Judge Dinkelacker ordered Ms. Hunter to begin her 6-month jail sentence.  Chaos erupted in the courthouse as Judge Dinkelacker ordered the deputies to take Ms. Hunter into custody.  Hunter went limp in a deputy’s arms, resulting in her being dragged from the courtroom.  Now retired Judge Nadel stated that Ms. Hunter was convicted by a jury, was unrepentant for her misconduct, and the sentence was a correct one. Hunter supporters claim the conviction was politically motivated due to Ms. Hunter, a Democrat, taking a seat formerly held by a Republican.

On October 21, 2014, Ms. Hunter’s Ohio law license was suspended due to her felony conviction.  A felony suspension is an interim suspension.  Now that all appeals or proceedings have been concluded, Ms. Hunter will undergo disciplinary proceedings to determine the length of her suspension from the practice of law.

ethics

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens Dies At Age 99

After living a good long life, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens passed away on July 16, 2019, at age 99.  Formerly a Republican antitrust lawyer, Stevens’s 35 years on the U.S. Supreme Court transformed him into an outspoken leader of the court’s liberal wing. Stevens joins U.S. Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and William O. Douglas as one of the longest sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court bench. Justice Stevens was appointed to the bench in 1980 by President Gerald R. Ford to replace Justice William O. Douglas.

Among his more well-known opinions was Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466 (2004). Writing for the majority, Stevens brought within the jurisdiction of the federal courts the fate of hundreds of prisoners captured during the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and held at Guantanamo Bay.

Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006) disallowing the Bush administration to put some of those detainees on trial by military commission.

In 2010, Justice Stevens retired after the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010). There the U.S. Supreme Court held that the federal government could not limit corporations from spending money to influence the outcome of elections.  The majority held that the First Amendment prohibits Congress from passing any law that would fine or jail citizens or associations for engaging in political speech.  This includes, according to the opinion, a speaker speaking on behalf of an association existing in a corporate form. The opinion expanded the rights of corporations to spend money and speak on politics.  This ruling led to the creation of super PACs.

Dissenting, Justice Stevens wrote that the opinion rejected the common-sense notion of the American public that recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government.  Justice Stevens wrote that, in the context of elections to public office, the distinction between an individual and corporate speaker is significant.  While corporations make enormous contributions to American society, they are not actually members of it.  Where the corporation is managed or controlled by nonresidents, its interests may conflict in fundamental ways with the interests of eligible voters.  The opinion was decided on January 21, 2010.  Justice Stevens announced his retirement from the bench on April 9, 2010.

After retiring, Justice Stevens had an active career as an author and public speaker.

 

ethics

Judicial Felon Suspended

On July 1, 2019, the Supreme Court of Ohio suspended the law license of former Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge Diane Vettori-Caraballo, after a federal judge sentenced her to 30 months in prison.  The prison sentence followed Ms. Vettori-Caraballo’s conviction for stealing from the estate of a deceased client. Ms. Vettori-Caraballo was convicted of mail fraud, structuring bank deposits and making false statements to law enforcement.  The Supreme Court of Ohio suspended her license for an interim period due to her felony conviction pending disciplinary proceedings.

Ms. Vettori-Caraballo was ordered to pay $328,000 in restitution, an amount both her counsel and the prosecutors agreed upon.  The theft occurred from the estate of Ms. Vettori-Caraballo’s former client, Dolores Falgiani.  Ms. Vettori-Caraballo absconded with the money when she found it in cash hidden in Ms. Falgiani’s home after her death in 2016.  Since Ms. Vettori-Caraballo has been a Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge since her election in 2002, her conduct occurred while she was a sitting judge.

The matter was referred to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel for further investigation says The Vindicator, the Youngstown paper.

 

 

ethics

Judge Suspended For Attempting To Influence Daughter’s Speeding Ticket

In February, former Scioto County Common Pleas Court Judge William Marshall was suspended for six months following attempts to influence the outcome of his daughter’s speeding ticket.

When a police officer stopped her, Judge Marshall’s daughter telephoned him.  Judge Marshall spoke with the police officer, who, thereafter, issued a speeding ticket to his daughter.  Later Judge Marshall stated:  “There used to be a code in this county — I’m a Judge and he should not have written my daughter a speeding ticket.”  Thereafter, Judge Marshall attempted to discuss the matter with an Assistant Prosecutor assigned to the case.  Feeling uncomfortable, the Assistant Prosecutor asked the City Prosecutor to handle Judge Marshall’s daughter’s case.

About a month later, Judge Marshall requested the presiding magistrate to appoint counsel to his daughter.  He confided to the Magistrate off the record that he disliked the trooper and wanted to get him in trouble.  When the trooper declined to meet with the Judge to discuss the matter as part of a settlement, the Judge called him a vulgar name.

At trial, both the trooper and Judge Marshall testified.  Judge Marshall requested to be considered an expert on the recalibration of police radar due to his employment in 1994 as a city prosecuting attorney.  He stated he went to the academy many times to be taught how the radar equipment worked. He claimed the only way the trooper could prove the accuracy of the radar was to bring the tuning forks into court. He requested that the court delay a decision until after the trooper had done so.

The magistrate was prepared to issue an order; however, the prosecuting attorney requested that she write it but delay releasing it as he had a felony trial before Judge Marshall the following week and he did not want it to be influenced by an adverse decision in his daughter’s traffic case.  The magistrate delayed issuing the opinion.  She found Judge Marshall’s daughter to be a juvenile traffic offender and set a disposition hearing.

Judge Marshall then called the magistrate indicating that she could not rule against his daughter unless there was an expert testifying to the accuracy of the radar equipment. Ultimately, the Judge accused her of questioning his credibility before ending the telephone call. The magistrate announced the decision and imposed court costs and points.

After the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed the Complaint against Judge Marshall, he resigned from office.  Entering into a consent to discipline, Mr. Marshall agreed to violations of several judicial rules, including failing to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary, abusing the prestige of judicial office, and exhibiting bias or prejudice in the performance of his judicial duties.  The Supreme Court of Ohio issued a six-month suspension.

 

ethics

Judge Reprimanded For Presiding Over Former Client’s Case

Mahoning County Probate Judge Robert Rusu, Jr. was publicly reprimanded for presiding over several cases in which he formerly represented a party.  Appointed to the bench in July, 2014, Rusu was elected into office later that year.  Upon taking judicial office, Judge Rusu neglected to inform some of his clients that he would no longer be representing them in the legal matters.

In one matter, Mr. Rusu represented an executor of an estate.  When he took judicial office, he informed his client he could no longer represent her but referred her to his law office associate who assumed her representation.  Judge Rusu ultimately adopted a Magistrate’s Decision regarding the matter.  He indicated that he did not believe his presiding over the matter would be a problem because all parties were represented by counsel, they resolved the matter and they never formally appeared before him.  According to the disciplinary case, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel identified approximately 170 cases in which Mr. Rusu represented a client and later took some action in their case while a Judge in Probate Court.  Approximately 120 of those cases involved a deputy clerk issuing form letters using a stamp to place the Judge’s signature on the letter.

Additionally, the disciplinary complaint alleged that Judge Rusu failed to notify many of his clients with dormant cases that he had been appointed to the bench, thereby denying them the opportunity to be advised to obtain replacement counsel or to request the return of their files.

Because there was no evidence that Mr. Rusu’s former clients were harmed or that their cases resulted in anything less than evenhanded justice, Judge Rusu was given a public reprimand for this misconduct.

ethics

Judge Exceeds Authority

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Nancy Russo “patently and unambiguously” lacked jurisdiction over a dispute between the Cleveland Firefighters Union and the State Employment Relations Board regarding a shift change announced in December 2018.

The City of Cleveland sought to change shift start times from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. to take effect in February 2019.  Within days of the announcement, the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 93, responded to the fire chief that the change violated the current contract and that contract negotiations were ensuing.  In January, the Chief, nevertheless, issued the formal shift-change notification.  In response, the Union filed a declaratory judgment action requesting a temporary restraining order and seeking an injunction with the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

Stating that, because the Union claimed the changes could impact custody orders and family-care arrangements, she had authority to consider the matter as it fell outside of unfair labor practices claims.  Although the City requested that Judge Russo dismiss the matter for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, Judge Russo denied the request, issued a temporary restraining order and set the matter for further hearing.  In response, the City filed a Writ of Prohibition with the Supreme Court of Ohio requesting that Judge Russo’s Order be vacated and that Judge Russo be prohibited from taking any further action in the matter.

The Supreme Court ruled that SERB had exclusive jurisdiction over the matter. It ruled that any arguments that the arrangements are affecting child custody and family-care arrangements fall within the Union’s allegations that the City committed unfair labor practices.  Because none of the arguments falls outside of SERB, the Supreme Court ruled that the Common Pleas Court lacked jurisdiction.  It vacated Judge Russo’s order and issued an Order preventing her from taking any further action.

 

ethics

Attorney’s Oversight Failure Leads to Discipline

Attorney D. William Davis was publicly reprimanded after his secretary embezzled $185,000 from his solo practice over 11 years.  Ultimately, the funds stolen were funds that would have been paid to Davis.  However, some of the funds were unearned retainers in Davis’s IOLTA account.  His secretary pleaded guilty to theft by deception and was sentenced to three years in prison. Davis reimbursed his IOLTA account for the client funds that had yet to be unearned.  Although Davis reviewed his bank accounts every month, he did not perform the required monthly reconciliation of the client ledgers.

The Supreme Court of Ohio determined that Davis violated “Prof.Cond.R. 1.15(a)(5) (requiring a lawyer to perform and retain a monthly reconciliation of the records of funds being held on a client’s behalf) and former DR 9-102(B)(3) (requiring a lawyer to maintain complete records of all client property coming into the lawyer’s possession and render appropriate accounts to each client). In addition, the parties stipulated and the board found that Davis failed to adequately supervise Sliva in violation of Prof.Cond.R. 5.3(b) (requiring a lawyer to make reasonable efforts to ensure that a nonlawyer employee’s conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer) and former DR 1- 102(A)(6) (prohibiting a lawyer from engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law).”

Because it found no aggravating but several mitigating circumstances, the Supreme Court of Ohio publicly reprimanded Davis.  Among the mitigating circumstances were Davis’s full and free disclosure to relator and the Board and his extremely cooperative behavior during the disciplinary process. Davis’s clients lost no money in the theft and he and his partner have implemented protocols to ensure that such conduct does not recur.

The lesson to be learned is that monthly IOLTA reconciliations are crucial to an attorney’s duties under the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct.