Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Out-of-State Lawyer to Pay $25,000 for Illegally Practicing in Ohio

An out of state lawyer, who provided legal advice and services to more than six Ohioans, was fined $25,000 by the Ohio Supreme Court today for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

Donald A. Doheny Jr. was paid nearly $70,000 in legal fees for work in Ohio. In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court ordered Doheny to stop performing legal services in Ohio until he is admitted or otherwise certified to practice in the state, and to pay $2,500 for each of the 10 counts of unauthorized practice of law he committed.

Lawyer Engages in Butler County Airport Negotiations
Doheny has a law degree from the University of Notre Dame. His last listed business address in court records was in St. Louis, Missouri. He is or was licensed to practice law in Indiana, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, but was never authorized to practice in Ohio.

According to Doheny’s close friend Frederick Hogan, a serious head injury that Doheny suffered in a 1993 car accident prevented him from maintaining steady work. Doheny moved from the District of Columbia to St. Louis in 1998 to live with his mother. When his mother was admitted to a nursing home in 2006, Doheny was “essentially homeless,” Hogan stated. Doheny moved to Ohio to live with Hogan and his brother, Clifford, and lived with them until 2015.

In 2010, Hogan and another brother, Thomas, were informed by Butler County that they violated the lease of a rented hangar at the county airport by placing certain signage on the side and roof. Doheny researched the matter and met with county officials about the situation. The meetings resulted in the county dropping its demand to remove the sign.

Doheny attended a public meeting of the county commissioners where he sought to amend the Hogans’ airport lease so that they could qualify for a Small Business Administration loan to build a new hangar. Doheny provided legal advice to the Hogans regarding building permits for a new hangar, and he met with government officials regarding compliance with the permits.

Doheny advised the Hogans to file a lawsuit against the county, and told them he could not represent them in the case, but after they retained an Ohio lawyer, he asked to be part of the legal team. The attorney the Hogans hired rejected Doheny’s request.

Doheny also engaged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on behalf of the Hogans and stated that the Hogans were his “clients.” When communicating with the FAA, Doheny used the letterhead “Doheny & Doheny,” listing offices in Los Angeles, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Washington, D.C.

Frederick Hogan estimated he paid Doheny $64,000 for his services. He testified Doheny was not a member of a Doheny & Doheny law firm and that Doheny listed as the firm’s business address a piece of property Hogan owned. Hogan said he did not give Doheny permission to use the address.

Lawyer Involved in Property, Criminal Matters
Doheny prepared a purchase agreement for Clifford Hogan’s real estate, and billed him $1,150 for the services. He also charged another man $300 to prepare a deed to sell land to the man’s son. The deed stated that Doheny’s law office was in Guilford, Indiana, near the Ohio-Indiana border.

Later, when the man’s son was arrested, Doheny accompanied the father to the Butler County jail and told law enforcement officials he was the “family lawyer.” He attempted to negotiate the son’s release, and was paid $2,000 for his representation.

In another matter, Doheny prepared a deed for a property transfer by a Butler County woman, again stating that his law office was in Indiana.

Bar Association Seeks to Shut Down Lawyer
In March 2017, the Ohio State Bar Association filed a complaint with the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law, charging Doheny with 11 counts of engaging in the practice of unauthorized law.

The board recommended that the Supreme Court find that Doheny committed 10 counts of the unauthorized practice of law and fine him $2,500 for each count.

Court Adopts Penalty
The Supreme Court’s opinion noted the practice of law is not limited to handling cases in court, but pertains to “an individual who prepares legal documents or contracts that affect the legal rights of others.” The Court also stated that it has cited those not licensed to practice in the state for the unauthorized practice of law when they advised Ohio residents of their legal rights on the terms and conditions of a settlement.

Doheny’s legal advice to the Hogans and the negotiations with various government officials counted as practicing law, as did preparing real estate deeds and holding himself out to be the “family lawyer” when seeking to negotiate the release of the man from the Butler County jail.

The Court noted that Doheny initially cooperated with the bar association’s investigation, but stopped when his lawyer withdrew from representing him. He did not participate in the proceedings after the bar association filed its complaint with the board.

“The board found that Doheny flagrantly engaged in ten instances of the unauthorized practice of law. In some instances, he identified himself as a lawyer and his victims as ‘clients’ and he endeavored to legitimize or conceal his conduct by making it appear that he practiced law with a larger, multistate firm or from an office in Indiana,” the opinion stated.

Because of his action and the “significant fees” he collected for his work, the Court adopted the board’s recommendation to order Doheny not to practice law in Ohio and pay the $25,000 penalty.

2019-0245. Ohio State Bar Assn. v. Doheny, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-3326.

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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