Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Cleveland Attorney Suspended for Stealing from Big-Box Stores

The Ohio Supreme Court today suspended the law license of a Cleveland attorney for her role in a scheme to steal from major retailers by returning stolen goods and selling merchandise credit cards online.

In a 5-2 decision, the court suspended Dawn T. Haynes from the practice of law for two years, with six months of the suspension stayed on certain conditions.

Big-Box Stores in Summit County Targeted
In August 2011, a 41-count indictment was issued against Haynes, her husband, and 10 other people for engaging in a pattern of stealing merchandise from “big-box” retailers in Summit County. After stealing the items from the stores, the goods were returned for refunds in the form of store credit that were placed on merchandise cards. Haynes was also charged with using a cell phone to check the balances on the cards and using an eBay account to sell them. Once indicted, Haynes reported the charges against her to the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association.

“She admits that she returned merchandise that she knew or should have known had been stolen by one or more of the other parties charged in the indictment to retailers and that in exchange for the returned merchandise she received merchandise cards,” the court wrote in its per curiam decision.

License Suspensions Issued
Haynes pleaded guilty to a single count of receiving stolen property and was sentenced to 24 months of community control and ordered to pay $1,500 in restitution. In May 2013, the Supreme Court was informed of the conviction and issued an interim suspension of her law license. In November 2013, the court imposed an additional suspension based on Haynes’ failure to register with the court for the 2013-2015 biennium.

As a result of the conviction, the bar association filed a complaint with the Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct in March 2014.

A 41-count indictment was issued against Haynes, her husband, and 10 other people for stealing merchandise from “big-box” retailers in Summit County.

A 41-count indictment was issued against Haynes, her husband, and 10 other people for stealing merchandise from “big-box” retailers in Summit County.

Board Recommends Sanctions
The board found Haynes violated three rules of the code governing the behavior of Ohio lawyers. It determined she committed an illegal act that adversely reflects on a lawyer’s honesty or trustworthiness; engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; and participated in conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law. The board recommended that Haynes be suspended for two years with six months stayed and be given credit for the time served since the initial suspension issued in May 2013.

Court Disagrees with Time Served
The court considered the factors that would lead to stronger sanctions, including Haynes acting with a dishonest or selfish motive by seeking financial benefits from selling the cards, and that she had an ongoing suspension for failing to register. Mitigating circumstances the court considered included Haynes having no prior disciplinary violations, her timely effort to make restitution, her cooperation with the disciplinary proceedings, and participating in an Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program rehabilitation program.

The court issued the two-year suspension with six months stayed, but did not provide any credit for the time served for the 2013 interim suspension.

The majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French.

Justices Judith Ann Lanzinger and William M. O’Neill dissented, stating they would grant Haynes credit for time served.

2015-0277. Cleveland Metro. Bar Assn. v Haynes, Slip Opinion No. 2015-Ohio-3706.

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