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Trumbull County Attorney Permanently Disbarred

The Ohio Supreme Court today disbarred a Warren attorney for this “third significant breach of misconduct,” including conduct that led to his client being sanctioned for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

A Supreme Court majority voted to permanently disbar John H. Large, who was first suspended by the Court for one year in 2009, then suspended for two years with six months stayed, in 2012. In a  per curiam opinion, the Court found Large violated several rules governing the conduct of Ohio lawyers, stemming from his representation of two client matters in which he failed to communicate with them about their cases and follow through with legal proceedings.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Patrick F. Fischer, and Mary DeGenaro joined the majority opinion. Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, and R. Patrick DeWine dissented, stating they would indefinitely suspend Large.

Couple Forced to Represent Themselves
In December 2015, West Virginia resident Susan Seargeant hired Large to assist her and her husband in collecting funds they loaned to another couple. The Seargeants had already filed a case in Warren Municipal Court when they hired large.

Seargeant sent Large her only copies of the documents that she believed supported her case. The matter was set for a March 2016 hearing. Large requested that the court continue the case because he had a conflict. The hearing was moved, but Large did not tell Seargeant about the change, and the Seargeants drove six hours round trip from their home only to discover the case was not going to be heard. She stated she called Large several times before and after the hearing, but he did not return her calls.

When the matter was scheduled again, Large did not appear and later claimed he made a scheduling error. Seargeant represented herself in the case and received a judgment for some of the money she was owed. However, she stated she would have recovered more if Large had appeared with the documents supporting her case.

Client Sued After Attorney Fails to Follow Through
In a second matter, John Baryak hired Large and paid him $2,500 to file a lawsuit against two men. In Baryak’s complaint, Large alleged Baryak suffered in excess of $100,000 in damages from several claims, including libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress. After filing the suit, Large did not investigate his client’s claims or gather any information to prove if Baryak suffered any emotional, financial, or business-related damages.

Large did not issue any discovery requests to the two defendants and did not respond to, or notify, Baryak of discovery requests from them. After the men sought summary judgment, Large voluntarily dismissed the case without telling Baryak. When Baryak found out about the dismissal, he said he tried several times to contact Large. Large eventually responded, telling Baryak he intended to refile the case.

After refiling, Large again repeatedly failed to respond to discovery requests. One of the defendants requested that the court sanction Baryak for filing a frivolous lawsuit, and Large failed to oppose the request or notify Baryak of it. Instead, he urged Baryak to dismiss the lawsuit.

The court ultimately ordered Baryak to pay about $10,300 to the defendants for attorney fees and expenses related to the first frivolous lawsuit. The court also found that at the time Large refiled the case, Baryak and Large should have known the case was frivolous and jointly sanctioned them for about $15,100 in attorney fees and expenses related to the second frivolous lawsuit.

Large appealed the decision, but the Eleventh District Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s judgment in 2017.

Bar Association Files Complaint
Based on Large’s representation of Baryak and the Seargeants, the Trumbull County Bar Association filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Conduct alleging that Large acted unethically in the two matters. Large and the clients testified at a hearing of a three-member board panel.

The panel found in the Seargeants’ case that Large violated the rules requiring a lawyer act with reasonable diligence and to reasonably communicate with a client. In Baryak’s case, the panel found Large failed to act with reasonable diligence, did not promptly inform a client of a decision that required the client’s consent, did not reasonably consult with the client or keep him informed, and filed a frivolous lawsuit.

The panel recommended Large be indefinitely suspended and pay restitution. The board increased the recommended suspension to permanent disbarment. Large objected, arguing disbarment was unjustified.

Court Considers Sanction
When considering a proposed sanction, the Court examines aggravating circumstances that could increase the punishment for a lawyer and mitigating factors, which could lead to a reduced penalty. The Court found no mitigating factors, but did note that Large had prior disciplinary offenses, displayed a dishonest or selfish motive, engaged in a pattern of misconduct, and committed multiple offenses.

“His misconduct harmed his clients,” the opinion stated. “And he refused to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his misconduct.”

In his arguments for a lesser sanction, Large acknowledged that he neglected the client matters and that he should be sanctioned. However, because his conduct did not involve criminal behavior, misuse of client funds, or intentional deception, he argued he should not be disbarred.

Considering his record, the number of aggravating factors, and the lack of any mitigating factors, the Court found Large  no longer was fit to practice law.

“Disbarment is the only appropriate sanction,” the opinion stated.

Large also was ordered to pay Baryak $2,500 in restitution and to reimburse him for any payment he is required to make because of filing the frivolous lawsuits.

2018-0250. Trumbull Cty. Bar Assn. v. Large, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-4074.

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