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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Lawyer Suspended for Plagiarizing, Having Sex with Client

The Ohio Supreme Court today suspended a Columbus lawyer for two years, with six months stayed, for misconduct that included lying to his client about her legal matters and having consensual sex with the client while the cases were pending.

In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that Trent R. Turner violated additional rules governing the professional conduct of Ohio lawyers when he accepted fees from a client, improperly handled those fees, neglected the clients legal matters, and then failed to respond to her communications.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Judith L. French, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, and Mary DeGenaro joined the opinion. Justice Sharon L. Kennedy concurred in judgment only.

Lawyer Hired for Judicial Release
In January 2015, a woman, identified in court documents as Jane Doe, paid Turner a $1,000 flat fee to draft a motion seeking judicial release of Lamont Howard. Another attorney sought Howard’s release in 2013, but the motion was denied.

In March and April 2015, Doe called Turner several times, and he did not return her calls. He sent text messages telling her that he was working on the judicial release motion.

In June, having not received phone calls from Turner, Doe requested a full refund. Later that day, Turner filed the motion for judicial release and a memorandum in support. Except for the signature and contact information, those documents were identical to the documents that Howard’s prior attorney had filed—and the court had denied—in 2013.

Client and Lawyer Feud after Having Sexual Relationship
Early in 2015, Doe paid Turner an additional $300 to represent her in a civil case that was pending in small-claims court.

Turner appeared at a hearing on that case. Later that evening, he invited Doe to his house where they had consensual sex. Over the next week, Turner sent Doe more than 100 text messages, many of which were sexual in nature. Shortly thereafter, Turner and Doe began arguing and stopped communicating for a couple of weeks.

About a month after the hearing, the small claims court decided Doe’s case, but Turner did not tell her about the ruling.

Doe then began to inquire about her case and Howard’s judicial release. Two weeks after the civil case ruling, Turner texted Doe, telling her that he would share any new information he had, without telling her about the court’s decision.

Client Learns of Case Outcomes
In July 2015, Doe confronted Turner when she learned he had submitted the same judicial-release motion as Howard’s prior attorney and that he had not updated her on the status of her civil case. She again requested a full refund.

Turner falsely stated that he had a meeting scheduled with the judge in Howard’s matter, and offered Doe a $500 refund. Turner never communicated again with Doe and failed to tell her or Howard that the court had denied the motion for judicial release.

Misconduct Charges Filed
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Conduct alleging that Turner had neglected two client matters, engaged in a sexual relationship with a client, and misused his client trust account.

The board found Turner violated multiple rules when representing Doe and Howard, including failing to keep his clients reasonably informed about their cases; failing to refund any unearned fees; and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. The board also determined that he violated the rule that prohibits a lawyer from having a sexual relationship with a client unless the consensual relationship existed prior to the lawyer-client relationship.

Based on Turner’s effort to mislead his clients into believing that the documents he had copied from Howard’s prior attorney were his own work, the board found that he engaged in conduct that adversely reflected on his fitness to practice law.

Turner also stipulated that he failed to put Doe’s $1,000 fee into his client trust account, and that he violated other rules by using his client trust account as his personal account and commingling client and personal funds.

The board recommended that the Court suspend Turner for two years, with six months stayed on several conditions, including paying Doe $1,000 in restitution.

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 determined that Turner acted with a dishonest and selfish motive, committed multiple offenses, and harmed his clients. It also found he cooperated during disciplinary proceedings and submitted positive evidence of his character.

The board reported that Turner had a history of abusing alcohol and that his alcohol use contributed to his misconduct. Turner attempted to engage with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP), but had failed to attend 90 consecutive days of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, which were required to enter into an OLAP contract. The board did not give any mitigating weight for a substance-abuse disorder.

“Here, Turner engaged in a consensual but improper sexual encounter with Doe and committed other serious misconduct, including plagiarizing a court filing,” the opinion stated. “But considering his cooperative approach to the disciplinary investigation and the reinstatement conditions suggested by the board, we conclude that the board’s recommended sanction adequately protects the public and gives Turner the opportunity to practice law again if he pursues treatment and avoids additional misconduct.”

The Court suspended Turner from the practice of law for two years, but stayed the final six months of his suspension based on the condition that he not commit any more misconduct. To be reinstated, Turner must prove he attended 90 consecutive days of AA meetings, and enter into an OLAP contract. He must comply with all the terms of the OLAP contract and treatment recommendations. He also must complete 12 hours of continuing legal education related to law-office management, and pay $1,000 in restitution to Jane Doe or reimburse the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection for any amount the fund awards to Doe. If reinstated, he must serve two years of monitored probation.

2018-0540. Disciplinary Counsel v. Turner, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-4202.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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