Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

‘Senior Paralegal’ Engaged in Unauthorized Practice of Law

An Ohio man received the maximum penalty – a $10,000 fine – for the unauthorized practice of law from the Ohio Supreme Court today. The man had charged a small business owner $2,100 for legal services, and took another $1,000 from her.

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court found J. Scott Spicer with engaging in the unauthorized practice of law by holding himself out as a “senior paralegal” who purportedly worked under the supervision of a number of attorneys. Spicer, who did not respond to the charges from disciplinary authorities, provided no evidence that any attorney supervised his work.

The Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law stated its panel considering Spicer’s case was troubled by the “deceit and thievery” Spicer practiced on Elishia Krauss, who hired Spicer in November 2016 to assist her with preparing documents for a new pet-food business.

Business Owner Sought Legal Advice
Spicer told Krauss he owned a business called SPI Legal Services and that his title was “senior paralegal.” He told her that he subcontracted with 26 attorneys. Spicer has never had a license to practice law in Ohio nor has he ever been admitted to practice law in the state.

He provided Krauss with a contract for legal services and agreed to prepare certain documents for a non-refundable $2,100 retainer. Spicer advised Krauss that while he would be her primary contract, Josh Waters, an attorney with the Cincinnati law firm Markesbery & Richardson, would be her lawyer. Once Krauss paid, Spicer prepared articles of incorporation for “Healthy Pooch LLC,” along with an operating agreement for the company, a non-competition and non-solicitation agreement, and another documents.

In December 2016, Krauss paid Spicer $1,000 to prepare estate-planning documents. Spicer stopped communicating with Krauss, failed to send her any estate-planning documents, and did not refund her money.

Krauss reported Spicer to the Wilmington police department. Spicer acknowledged to the police that he prepared the documents for Krauss, but denied he had acted as an attorney. Spicer stated he attempted to contact Waters about reviewing some of his work but was unable to reach him. Police also spoke with Waters and other attorneys at Markesbery & Richardson.

Paralegal Ignores Complaint
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint with the board in March 2019 charging Spicer with the unauthorized practice of law. Spicer did not respond to the complaint or a subsequent motion by the disciplinary counsel to have Spicer declared in default, meaning he was not contesting charge. A three-member board panel conducted a hearing in which Spicer did not participate. The panel found he committed the unauthorized practice of law and recommended that the Court prohibit him from engaging in similar conduct in the future and fine him $10,000.

The Court’s opinion noted the unauthorized practice of law includes the preparation of legal instruments and contracts in which legal rights are preserved. The drafting of contracts on behalf of another, even if copied from a form book or a contract previously prepared by a lawyer, constitutes the practice of law.

The Court explained that unlicensed persons may assist in providing legal services, but their actions must be closely supervised and approved by a licensed attorney.

The Court found the disciplinary counsel provided evidence that Spicer prepared legal documents and received fees for those services. While claiming he worked with attorneys, Spicer failed to submit any evidence suggesting a licensed attorney supervised the work he performed for Krauss.

The Court noted Spicer’s failure to cooperate in the investigation and lack of response to the formal complaint. The Court found he misrepresented to Krauss that his work would be reviewed by an attorney, and accepted $1,000 for work he did not perform. The Court concluded that imposing the maximum penalty is consistent with penalties placed on others found to engage in a pattern of deceit.

2020-0034. Disciplinary Counsel v. Spicer, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-3020.

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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