Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Attorney Suspended for Purposely Underpaying Another Lawyer His Share of Fees

The Ohio Supreme Court today suspended a Cuyahoga County lawyer for two years, with 18 months stayed, for purposely underpaying another lawyer with whom he had a fee-sharing agreement.

In a per curiam opinion, a Supreme Court majority suspended Scott A. Rumizen of Beachwood, finding that he violated rules governing the conduct of Ohio attorneys when he underpaid Kraig & Kraig law firm owner Brian Kraig by nearly $50,000. Rumizen misrepresented settlements he received for representing clients and then underpaid Kraig for his share of the work.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, and Melody J. Stewart joined the opinion.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor concurred in part and dissented in part, stating she would impose a two-year sentence with one year stayed with conditions. Justice Michael P. Donnelly did not participate in the case.

Attorney Opens Own Firm, Agrees to Fee-Sharing
In 2010, Rumizen began working as an independent contractor with Kraig & Kraig. Three years later, he notified Brian Kraig that he intended to open his own law firm. The two agreed to divide the pending caseload by having Rumizen take more than 100 client matters, mostly personal injury cases. Rumizen agreed to pay Kraig a certain percentage of the legal fee, and the percentage varied based on the work that remained to be done in each case.

Rumizen underestimated the amount of work necessary. During disciplinary proceedings the parties stipulated that in 13 client matters transferred to Rumizen, he purposely underpaid Kraig. In one case Rumizen settled a personal injury claim for $170,000 and received $62,000 in attorney fees. He was supposed to pay Kraig $15,000. Instead, Rumizen falsely reported to Kraig that he settled for $60,000 and received $15,000 in attorney fees, and he paid Kraig $3,750.

Rumizen also failed to inform Kraig about eight settlements in which Kraig was entitled to a share of the attorney fees. The misrepresentations lasted for about two years, with Rumizen creating false settlement-disbursement sheets by changing the amount of the settlement, the amount of fees he received, and the costs for client medical expenses. In some cases, he forged client signatures so that Kraig would believe the sheets were accurate.

Tip Leads to Investigation of Wrongdong
In 2016, Kraig received an anonymous letter notifying him of Rumizen’s misconduct. Although Rumizen initially denied the allegations, he soon admitted underpaying Kraig. Rumizen hired an accounting firm to do an audit, which led him to pay $48,457 in restitution to Kraig and $2,883 in interest. Rumizen later paid Kraig $100,000 to settle a threatened lawsuit.

At his disciplinary hearing, Rumizen said after about seven months at his new law firm, he attempted to renegotiate the terms of the fee-sharing arrangement with Kraig. He said Kraig refused. Kraig testified that Rumizen never approached him about the arrangement, and if Rumizen had requested a higher percentage of fees based on his extra work, he would have agreed to the modification.

The Board of Professional Conduct’s three-member panel hearing the case found Kraig’s testimony to be more credible.

The board determined that Rumizen engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, and that his behavior was egregious enough to find that he engaged in conduct that adversely reflects on his ability to practice law.

Board Recommends Suspension
When recommending a sanction to the Supreme Court, the board considers several factors including aggravating circumstances that could enhance a penalty and mitigating factors that could lead to a less-severe punishment.

The board found Rumizen acted with a dishonest and selfish motive, engaged in a pattern of misconduct, and committed multiple offenses. It also found he had no prior disciplinary record, made restitution to Kraig and paid him an additional $100,000, displayed a cooperative attitude during disciplinary proceedings, and submitted 44 reference letters attesting to his good character and reputation.

The board also found that Rumizen took full responsibility for his actions and expressed remorse. The board acknowledged that Rumizen self-reported his misconduct to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, but evidence suggested he did it because he believed someone else was going to report him if he failed to do so.

The parties stipulated that Rumizen was diagnosed with a mental health disorder, but found little evidence that the disorder was connected to his misconduct. The board noted that Rumizen has contracted with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP) and has demonstrated a commitment to continuing his treatment.

Rumizen sought a fully stayed two-year suspension, but the board concluded that his behavior was more consistent with attorneys who have received actual timeout for their misconduct.

The majority opinion stated that the primary purpose of a disciplinary sanction is to protect the public, not to punish the attorney, which is why a two-year suspension with 18 months stayed with conditions was appropriate.

The Court also ordered Rumizen to remain compliant with his three-year OLAP contract, remain in counseling, follow his treatment recommendations, and not commit any further misconduct.

2019-0217. Disciplinary Counsel v. Rumizen, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-2518.

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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