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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Two Attorneys Suspended from Practice of Law

The Ohio Supreme Court has suspended two attorneys, both barred from practicing law for six months and each facing an additional 18 months of suspension if they fail to abide by specific conditions including paying restitution to former clients.

In per curiam decisions, the Supreme Court today sanctioned Joseph D. Reed of Columbus and Orlando J. Williams of Cincinnati with two-year suspensions with 18 months stayed.

Reed Neglected Client Matters
This was Reed’s fourth suspension by the Supreme Court since 2000. That year he received a six-month stayed suspension for neglecting a client matter. He was briefly suspended in 2006 and 2015 for not complying with his continuing legal education requirements. In June 2014, the Columbus Bar Association filed a complaint against Reed with the Court’s Board of Professional Conduct, which found he violated the rules for practicing law in Ohio in three client matters.

Reed accepted $525 from Toni Gravely in April 2012 to represent her in a divorce, but he had no further contact with her and did not file the divorce complaint. Gravely had to litigate in West Virginia where her husband had filed for divorce. When Gravely filed a grievance against Reed with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Reed did not respond to two letters from the disciplinary authority and failed to comply with a subpoena to appear at a deposition in the matter.

Reed participated in a fee-dispute arbitration with former client R. Thomas Pierce. In January 2013, the arbitrator required Reed to refund Pierce $1,125 within 10 days, but Reed did not pay. Pierce hired another attorney who was able to get Reed to pay $1,400, of which Pierce received $1,011, about $114 less than what the arbitrator ordered. Reed was involved in a second fee-dispute in October 2013 with an incarcerated man. The man’s girlfriend paid Reed $1,000 to seek the judicial release of Joshua Smith and represent him in subsequent hearings. Reed never contacted Smith or did any work on the case. Smith’s father filed a grievance with the bar association, and Smith filed a request with the bar association to arbitrate the fee dispute with Reed. Reed, however, failed to respond to the bar association’s inquiries about the grievance or the request to arbitrate the fee dispute.

The board found Reed violated several professional conduct rules including failing to provide competent representation to a client, not keeping clients reasonably informed about the status of their matters, and knowingly failing to respond to disciplinary authorities during an investigation. The board recommended Reed pay all three of those clients restitution, and that he be suspended for two years with sixth months stayed.

Reed Admits Clients ‘Fell Through the Cracks”
While the board found Reed acted with a dishonest and selfish motive, Reed disputed that claim, arguing he is a solo practitioner who suffered from serious health issues during the time when he represented the clients that complained. He suggested some cases “fell through the cracks” after he injured his hip and needed hip replacement surgery. He acknowledged he was taking prescription painkillers at the time, and then was injured in an automobile accident. He claimed the health problems and prescription medication affected his representation of clients.

The Court found there was not sufficient evidence to conclude Reed acted with dishonest or selfish motives. Instead of imposing 18 months of actual time without the ability to practice, the Court concluded it would be best to suspend Reed for six months, with 18 months stayed. In addition, Reed must pay restitution to Gravely, Pierce, and Smith; comply with a contract with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP); not commit any further misconduct; and serve 18 months of monitored probation.

In the Court’s majority were 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, writing that they would impose a two-year suspension with six months stayed.

2015-0587. Columbus Bar Assn. v. Reed, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-834.

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Williams Had Sexual Relationship With Party in Case
Williams was appointed judge in the Akron Municipal Court in March 2009 and lost a bid to retain the seat in the November 2009 general election. The municipal court judges then hired him as a magistrate, and part of his duties was to oversee eviction cases.

While presiding over a case where a landlord sought to evict a woman identified in court documents as A.B., Williams began a sexual relationship with A.B. and failed to recuse himself from the case. Weeks later, municipal court judges learned A.B. had been arrested for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and was referring to Williams as her boyfriend. Williams admitted the relationship to the judges, recused himself from A.B.’s case, and resigned.

After leaving the court, Williams worked at a Columbus law firm, but was terminated in May 2013. Days after losing his job, he and A.B. purchased a used car by listing an address where he had not lived for more than a year and falsely stating a salary with the law firm he just left. With Williams’ consent, A.B altered one of his paystubs to get the car loan, and Williams later defaulted on the loan.

Williams also represented a woman seeking to be appointed to manage the financial affairs of an estate in Summit County Probate Court. The probate court approved a $25,000 wrongful-death settlement to the estate, and the money was deposited in Williams’ client trust account. Williams made several payments on behalf of the estate but failed to comply with a court order to pay about $10,800 for an annuity to benefit the dead man’s three children.

In April 2011, the probate court ordered Williams to close the estate assuming the annuity had been purchased, but Williams informed the court he kept the money in his client trust account and was going to invest in a money-market account to benefit the children. More than a year later, the money had not been transferred, and Williams had taken nearly all the funds from it. In May 2013, he transferred $10,000 of personal funds back into the account. He then depleted the account again and secured personal funds to replenish it. However, while the account still had $10,800, financial experts estimated the children lost about $9,000 by not having the annuity.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed complaints with the professional conduct board that included violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct for Williams’ failure to disqualify himself in cases where his impartiality could be questioned, and for violations of the rules governing attorneys including engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; not acting with reasonable diligence when representing a client; and engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Williams told the board he had no intention of continuing to serve as the magistrate in A.B.’s eviction case but did not know how to recuse himself. He also said A.B. began abusing him and that he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by their relationship. He entered into a five-year contract with OLAP.

The Court found Williams failed to establish that PTSD played a role in the causing his misconduct as an attorney, but acknowledged “he practiced law without incident for more than 20 years before he commenced his improper relationship with A.B.” The Court found a two-year suspension with 18 months stayed was appropriate as long as Williams complies with his OLAP contract, continues counseling for PTSD, does not engage in further misconduct, and makes full restitution to the children from the mishandled estate.

In the Court’s majority were Chief Justice O’Connor and Justices Pfeifer, Kennedy, French, and O’Neill.

Justices O’Donnell and Lanzinger dissented, writing that they would impose a two-year suspension without a stay.

2015-0293. Disciplinary Counsel v. Williams, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-827.

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