Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Former Delaware County Judge Receives Two-Year Suspension

The Ohio Supreme Court today suspended a former Delaware County municipal court judge, who is now a practicing attorney, for two years after he was convicted of attempting to collect court-appointed counsel fees while also being paid privately by a criminal defendant’s parents.

In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court suspended Michael C. Hoague of Hilliard, who served on the bench from January 1996 through January 2001, based on the actions that led to his 2017 conviction for theft and tampering with records. Hoague has been under an interim suspension from the practice of law in Ohio since December 2017.

The Board of Professional Conduct recommended the Court give Hoague credit for the time he has served under the interim suspension.  But the Court majority rejected the idea, and required Hoague serve the additional time and complete six hours of continuing legal education focused on ethics and professionalism.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Patrick F. Fischer and Melody J. Stewart joined the lead opinion. Justice Sharon L. Kennedy concurred in judgment only.

Justices Judith L. French, R. Patrick DeWine, and Michael P. Donnelly stated they would grant Hoague credit for the time served under the interim suspension.

Suspect’s Parents Seek Legal Help
In January 2012, Shirley and Burton Hamon asked Hoague to defend their son, Timothy, in a pending criminal case. At the time, Timothy Hamon was being represented by a public defender. Hoague agreed to the representation for a $10,000 flat fee, with an initial payment of $4,000 and monthly $500 installments.

Hoague spoke briefly with the son at a pretrial hearing and sat in the gallery while the public defender handled the case. The Hamons paid Hoague $4,000, and in mid-April 2012, he filed a notice of special limited appearance to serve as co-counsel, stating he would assist the public defender in the case.

Noting Hoague’s appearance, the prosecutor in the case expressed concerns that the county was using funds to provide Timothy Hamon with legal representation.

At that time, Hoague represented that the Hamons were “trying to make arrangements to retain his services to assist in the matter,” and that he was not asking to be appointed as the suspect’s attorney. He did not reveal that the parents had already paid him $4,000.

In May 2012, the public defender asked the trial court to appoint Hoague as co-counsel, and Hoague reiterated his claim that he was not seeking a court appointment and that the Hamons were “trying to make arrangements” to hire him.  The trial court approved the appointment, and Hoague neither refused nor disclosed that he was already being privately paid by the Hamons. At that point, he became lead counsel during Timothy Hamon’s jury trial.

Lawyer Asks Court for Payment
In June 2013, at the conclusion of the representation, Hoague filed a request with the court for $6,160 in fees. As part of the process, he certified that he had received no other compensation in connection with Timothy Hamon’s case. He did not disclose at that time he had received $8,000 from the Hamons.

In July 2013, the court paid Hoague $5,000 in court-appointed counsel fees. He then received two more $500 checks from the Hamons, and he cashed one of them.

County Suspects Double Payment
Sometime after the payments, the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office learned through Timothy Hamon’s phone calls from jail that Hoague received both private and public payment for his services. The prosecutor’s office contacted the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for further investigation and prosecution.

In February 2017, Hoague was indicted on two counts of theft, and two counts of tampering with records, arising from his attempt to collect court-appointed counsel fees. After being convicted on one count of each, a trial court sentenced him to up to five years of community control and ordered him to pay $5,000 in restitution to the state. He promptly paid the restitution and the trial court terminated his community control in January 2019.

Based on the conviction, the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint with the board, claiming Hoague violated several rules governing the professional conduct of Ohio attorneys.

The parties stipulated to several charges, and the board found Hoague violated the conduct rules, including knowingly making a false statement to a court; engaging in an illegal act that reflects adversely on his honesty and trustworthiness; and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

Court Considers Sanction
When considering a sanction to recommend for Hoague, the board considered aggravating circumstances that could increase the penalty and mitigating factors that could lead to a lesser sanction.

The board noted Hoague had a prior disciplinary record, acted with a dishonest or selfish motive, and committed multiple offenses. It also found he made full restitution to the state, cooperated during the disciplinary proceedings, submitted several letters regarding his good character and reputation, and received other penalties for his misconduct.

The parties recommended a two-year suspension, with credit for time served, and the board agreed it was an appropriate sanction with the addition of six hours of continuing legal education. The board noted that Hoague’s dishonest conduct occurred in a single case and spanned about one year, and that his actions caused limited financial harm.

The Court’s lead opinion stated the circumstances did not warrant credit for time served, noting this is “his second disciplinary case involving the abuse of the public trust.” In addition to the suspension, and continuing educational requirements, Hoague must pay for the cost of the disciplinary proceedings.

2019-1371. Disciplinary Counsel v. Hoague, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-847.

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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