Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Attorney Who Neglected Immigration Matter Suspended

The Ohio Supreme Court today suspended a Cleveland attorney for two years, with 18 months stayed, for neglecting the immigration matter of a Bulgarian ballroom dancer, then lying about his legal misconduct.

A divided Supreme Court suspended Harlan D. Karp and placed conditions on the stayed portion of his suspension. The Office of the Disciplinary Counsel, which charged Karp with 10 violations of the rules governing the conduct of Ohio lawyers, and Karp proposed that he receive a fully stayed suspension.

In a per curiam opinion, the Court stated it “found that an actual suspension from the practice of law is particularly appropriate when an attorney has made deliberately false statements to a client.”

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Judith L. French and R. Patrick DeWine joined the lead opinion.

Justices Patrick F. Fischer and Mary DeGenaro concurred with the opinion and stated they also would require a period of law practice monitoring following the suspension as recommended by the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct.

Justices Terrence O’Donnell and Sharon L. Kennedy dissented with separate written opinions. Justice O’Donnell would grant the fully stayed suspension, but require the practice monitoring. Justice Kennedy stated she should would grant the fully stayed suspension.

Dancer Seeks Performer Visa
In 2015, a New Jersey dance studio filed a petition seeking an O-1B Visa for Veronika Gadzheva. The United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) granted the petition for the visa, which is allocated to someone with extraordinary artistic ability or achievement in film and television. Gadzheva entered this country with a visa that expired in February 2018, and soon received an offer from Patricia West, owner of a California dance studio, to work for her.

In July 2015, Gadzheva agreed to pay Karp $750 and a $325 filing fee to transfer her O-1B visa to West’s studio, and Karp told Gadzheva she could move to California and start working with West once the visa petition was filed. Karp also told Gadzheva that West would need to sign some forms and it could take about a week to file the petition.

Later in July, Gadzheva emailed him about 500 pages of information regarding her visa and paid the filing fee. In mid-August, Karp asked West to answer questions for the visa transfer and West responded a week later. Three weeks later, Gadzheva asked Karp if he had filed for the petition, and Karp falsely responded by email, “Yes. Sent.” A few weeks later, Gadzheva sent Karp his $750 fee.

In early October 2015, Gadzheva told Karp she was moving to California with hopes the transfer would be approved soon. Karp, who had not yet filed the petition, told her confirmation should be approved within the week and that he would inform her.

Dancer’s Visa Request Revoked
Later in October, the New Jersey dance studio requested that Gadzheva’s original petition be revoked. Karp was unaware of the request and did not learn of the petition revocation until several months later.

Gadzheva continued to ask Karp what she was allowed to do while awaiting the visa approval. In December she asked if she could take a trip back to Europe “when the papers still aren’t ready.” Karp assured her it was safe to travel.

Through April 2016, Gadzheva and West continued to seek proof from Karp that the petition was filed and he consistently said it had. When West demanded Karp provide a receipt number for the petition, Karp filed the petition with USCIS the next day, seven months after he said he did. Karp also signed West’s name twice on the petition.

The USCIS sent Karp and West a common request for more information. In the document, the agency noted that Gadzheva’s original employer’s petition had been revoked. A week later, Karp emailed a complete copy of Gadzheva’s file to West with the belief that his representation of the two had ended, even though there was no evidence that they communicated such an intent to him or that the USCIS was informed. The agency sent Karp a second request for information that he did not respond to, and the USCIS denied Gadzheva’s petition, deeming it as abandoned.

Client Hires New Lawyer
Gadzheva hired a new lawyer who filed a new petition for an O-1B visa, which was granted. Because her original petition was revoked, the immigration status that allowed her to be in the country until early 2018 was not valid. Gadzheva had to leave the country to activate her new visa. But Gadzheva stated she was afraid to leave the country because the revocation of her first visa may have caused her to accumulate days of “unlawful presence” in the United States, which could result in her being banned from three to 10 years.

Gadzheva filed a grievance with the disciplinary counsel against Karp. During the investigation of the matter, the disciplinary counsel questioned whether Karp had West’s permission to sign her name to the visa transfer and Karp indicated he did. Karp provided versions of the form that he said he filed with notations that he had West’s approval, but those were not the copies actually sent to the government.

The disciplinary counsel charged Karp with violating multiple rules, including not acting with reasonable diligence when representing a client; not informing the client of any decision or circumstance in which the client’s informed consent is required; making a false statement in connection with a disciplinary matter; and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

Board Consider Sanction
When the professional conduct board recommends a sanction, it considers aggravating circumstances that could increase the penalty it imposes and mitigating factors that could lead to a lesser sanction.

The board noted Karp committed multiple offenses and caused harm to Gadzheva by rendering her immigration status as “extremely vulnerable.” The board also found he acted with a dishonest motive and engaged in deceptive practices with his client and during the disciplinary process.

The board also concluded that Karp had no prior discipline, made restitution, provided evidence of his good character, and presented evidence of a qualifying mental disorder. Dr. Sherif Soliman, a psychiatrist, testified that Karp suffered from hypothyroidism and major depressive disorder.

The parties recommended to the board that Karp receive a fully stayed two-year suspension with conditions that he enter into a contract with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP), comply with all treatment recommendations from OLAP and his treating professionals, and provide quarterly reports of his compliance.

The board indicated it was “troubled by his failure to appreciate the gravity of his misconduct — which included a pattern of misrepresentations to Gadzheva, West, the federal government and relator [disciplinary counsel] — and the very serious consequences that his misconduct may have on Gadzheva and her immigration status.” The board recommended suspending Karp for two years but staying 18 months of the suspension on the conditions proposed by the parties, with additional requirements that Karp not commit further misconduct, pay for the disciplinary proceedings, and serve two years of monitored probation when reinstated to practicing law.

Karp Objects to Sanction
Karp objected to the sanction, arguing a fully stayed suspension is appropriate. He maintained the board did not give sufficient weight to his mitigating evidence and that the fully stayed suspension is a comparable sanction to two other attorneys whom the Court found committed similar misconduct.

The Court rejected Karp’s arguments. It noted that he began taking medication for his depression in March 2017 and started psychotherapy in June 2017, but questioned whether Karp achieved the “sustained period of successful treatment” necessary for his mental disorder to qualify for maximum mitigating effect. It also noted the Karp exhibited dishonesty during the disciplinary investigation, and had several more aggravating factors involved in his case than the two cases Karp cited as similar.

The Court imposed the suspended sentence with the conditions recommended by the board, except it did not include the two-year period of monitored probation.

Justices Dissent
Justice O’Donnell stated in his dissent that the majority failed to accord sufficient weight to the mitigating factors in the case, including Karp’s lack of prior discipline, payment of restitution and that he would adopt the sanction agreed to by the parties: a fully stayed two year suspension on conditions of an OLAP contract and a period of monitored probation. Recognizing that the purpose of sanctions in disciplinary cases is to protect the public, Justice O’Donnell concluded that the foregoing measures would achieve that goal.

In her dissent, Justice Kennedy noted the disciplinary counsel described Karp’s behavior as “blips” in an “otherwise nearly 30-year-admirable career,” and provided ample evidence of good character and reputation.

She also maintained that the Court majority discounted the mitigating effect of Karp’s mental disorder. Contrary to the majority, she found that Karp established that he completed a sustained period of successful treatment for his depression and hypothyroidism. Further, she wrote that the expert testimony supported finding that Karp’s mental disorder caused both his neglect of the legal matter and his misrepresentations to conceal that neglect. She concluded that Karp is entitled to the full mitigating weight for his mental disorder and the appropriate sanction is the fully stayed suspension conditioned on compliance with an OLAP contract and orders from treating professionals.

2018-0254. Disciplinary Counsel v. Karp, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-5212.

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