Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Medina County Attorney Suspended for Neglecting Client Matters

The Ohio Supreme Court today indefinitely suspended a Medina County lawyer for neglecting several client matters, lying to her clients about their cases, and lying to the disciplinary investigators to conceal her misconduct.

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Court suspended Jennifer Petracci of Wadsworth with conditions that include paying more than $9,200 in restitution to clients and a judgment in a case where the judge found that Petracci engaged in “frivolous conduct.”

At her hearing before a three-member panel of the Board of Professional Conduct, Petracci testified
that her actions were due in part to previously undiagnosed mental disorders. The board recommended that the Court impose an indefinite suspension, noting Petracci’s conduct was comparable to that of other attorneys who received indefinite suspensions when evidence from an assessment conducted by the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP) suggested that a mental disorder may have contributed to the misconduct.

Lawyer Misses Filing Deadline, Deceives Client
In March 2020, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint against Petracci with the Board of Professional Conduct based on her conduct in five client matters, including her representation of Katelyn Quick in a civil lawsuit, and her failure to cooperate during disciplinary proceedings.

In June 2016, Quick hired Petracci on a contingent fee basis to file a lawsuit arising from an assault. In October 2016, Petracci falsely informed Quick she had filed the complaint in Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court. Petracci actually waited until May 2018 to file the complaint.

The defendant asked the court to dismiss Quick’s complaints, asserting the suit was filed long after the applicable one-year statute of limitations for her assault, civil battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims.

Petracci asked the trial court for permission to amend her complaint by arguing — without her client’s knowledge or consent — that the statute of limitations should be extended because her client was of unsound mind following the assault. The court granted the additional time, but the opposing attorney asked the court to dismiss the complaint and award attorney fees to the defendant. The court dismissed the case and set a hearing to determine the attorney fees award.

After Quick received notice from the court that the case was dismissed, she sent a text message to Petracci. Petracci told her the defendant had asked for the case to be dismissed but that the judge denied the request. When Quick replied that the case had been dismissed because the statute of limitations expired, Petracci did not respond.

Fees Go Unpaid
After a January 2019 hearing, the trial court found that Petracci had engaged in frivolous conduct and ordered her and Quick to jointly pay $1,627.50 of the defendant’s attorney fees. Petracci did not notify Quick of the court’s decision and did not respond to her inquiries about the court’s entry.

Petracci did not pay the attorney fees and, in June 2019, the defendant asked the court to hold Petracci and Quick in contempt. The hearing was continued at least four times as notices to Petracci were not retrieved by her. It was not until December 2019 when the court — through delivery to her in Wadsworth by the Medina County Sheriff’s Office — was able to serve Petracci with a contempt order requiring her to respond. At the time of Petracci’s disciplinary hearing, the contempt request remained pending and court costs for Quick’s case not been paid. The court relieved Quick of any responsibility to pay the attorney fees.

Based on her actions in the Quick matter, the board found Petracci violated several rules governing the professional conduct of Ohio attorneys, including: failing to comply with reasonable requests for information from her client; bringing a case that is unsupported by law; and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

Client Complaints Go Unanswered
The board’s report noted that Petracci made false statements and ignored requests for information from the Akron Bar Association and the Medina County Bar Association based on grievances filed by other clients whose matters she neglected.

At her first deposition conducted by disciplinary counsel, Petracci failed to bring all of the requested client documentation. At a second deposition a month later, she still did not produce all the information disciplinary counsel sought. She failed to appear at a third scheduled deposition, but weeks later mailed the requested information. Based on her actions, the board found she violated the rules requiring attorney cooperation in a disciplinary matter.

Supreme Court Considered Sanction
At her disciplinary hearing, Petracci testified she had undiagnosed mental disorders that were exacerbated by marital and financial problems following a motorcycle accident. The board found she did not submit sufficient evidence for the disorders to qualify as a mitigating factor.

However, the disciplinary counsel acknowledged that Petracci’s mental health and other extenuating circumstances played a role in her serious misconduct, and recommended that she be indefinitely suspended from the practice of law, with strict conditions for reinstatement, rather than disbarred.

The Court agreed with the board’s recommendation that Petracci be indefinitely suspended. To be considered for reinstatement to the practice of law, she must not commit further misconduct, pay about $7,500 in restitution to four clients, and satisfy the $1,627.50 attorney-fee judgment in the Quick case. She must also submit to an OLAP assessment and comply with all recommendations arising from that assessment, and receive a prognosis from a qualified professional that she is capable of returning to the competent, ethical, and professional practice of law.

2020-0974. Disciplinary Counsel v. Petracci, Slip Opinion No. 2021-Ohio-249.

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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