Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Court Accepts One, Rejects Three Requests to Practice Law

The Ohio Supreme Court today considered four requests for permission to practice law in Ohio.

In unanimous per curiam opinions, the Supreme Court:

  • Allowed  a Strongsville man to seek admission pending his graduation from law school and passage of the bar exam.
  • Permanently barred a Mayfield Heights man from practicing law in Ohio because he lied about his criminal past and other dishonest conduct on multiple law-school applications and applications to take the bar exam in Ohio and Florida.
  • Rejected admission of a Wayne, Pennsylvania, man because of misrepresentations about his past, including termination from a law firm after admittedly sending “pretty graphic” text messages to a secretary at the firm.
  • Rejected admission of a former Warren, Ohio, resident who is licensed to practice law in Texas, because of several inconsistencies about her prior employment, financial matters, and others matters.

Commissioners Review Applicant’s Criminal Past
In 2018, Robert Morris of Strongsville applied to be a candidate for admission to practice law after he completed law school. Morris is expected to graduate from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in May 2021.

Two members of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association interviewed Morris and recommended that his character and fitness to practice law be approved. But because Morris as a child had been adjudicated as delinquent for conduct that would be a felony if he were an adult, the Board of Commissioners on Character and Fitness was required to review his application.

Morris testified before a board panel about the felony incident, which occurred when he was 15 years old. He also explained a citation he received when he was 18 for underage alcohol possession.

Morris works as a law clerk for the Cleveland Municipal Court. The court’s chief magistrate testified on Morris’ behalf, as did an attorney who ran a legal clinic at a homeless shelter where Morris volunteers.

The board found that Morris was forthright about his run-ins with the law and fully cooperated with the character-and-fitness investigation. The Court adopted the board recommendation that Morris proved he has the “requisite character, fitness, and moral qualifications for admission to the practice of law.”

2020-1177. In re Application of Morris, Slip Opinion No. 2021-Ohio-779.

Misrepresentations Lead to Permanent Denial
A board investigation into the character and fitness of Alexander Hale of Mayfield Heights discovered an “unsettling history” and raised concerns about the multiple accounts he gave about his discharge from the U.S. Navy and his failure to report he actually served jail time for a domestic-violence conviction .

Hale testified at board hearing in December 2018. After determining further investigation was required, the board recommended he not be approved to take the February 2019 bar exam. A second hearing on his admission request was scheduled for May 2020 via videoconference, but Hale did not participate.

The board noted Hale disclosed he served in the Navy in 2002 and 2003 and received an other-than-honorable discharge “for failing a random toxicology screening.” He told the board he failed the screening because smoked marijuana. The official Navy report charged Hale with use and possession of cocaine and amphetamines while on duty. The board noted that in his application to Cleveland-Marshall College of Law he falsely answered “no” to a question of whether he received a discharge that was other than honorable.

Hale also explained that in a January 2008 domestic dispute he overreacted in a confrontation with his mother and police responded to a “noise complaint.” He did not disclose that the incident led to a 14-day jail sentence, or that he served four days in jail, for the offense.

Regarding these incidents and others, the Court stated that Hale’s conduct as a young adult might have been characterized as youthful indiscretions had they been properly disclosed.

“But instead of owning up to his mistakes and showing he has learned from them, he has engaged in a pattern of dishonest conduct for more than five years in an attempt to conceal them,” the opinion stated.

The Court stated his ongoing pattern of deception and evasiveness demonstrated he did not possess the qualifications to practice law in Ohio and forever barred him from reapplying.

2020-1076. In re Application of Hale, Slip Opinion No. 2021-Ohio-772.

Lawyer’s Shading of Truth Leads to Admission Rejection
William Componovo is licensed to practice in Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. He applied in 2019 to practice in Ohio. The board found “significant discrepancies” in Componovo’s 2008 departure from a Delaware law firm. He stated he left the firm following a “disagreement over staffing issues.”

Investigators received a written response from a firm’s partner that Componovo was fired for sexual harassment. And after leaving the firm, he convinced a staff member to help him transfer proprietary case management software to his new firm, which resulted in a lawsuit. The case was settled , and Componovo agreed to pay restitution.

The partner said a secretary in the firm complained that Componovo was sending her sexually suggestive text messages, and when confronted, Componovo admitted to sending the messages. However, he argued that he and the secretary were engaging in a series of flirtatious messages. He then admitted the messages were “pretty graphic” and “vile.” The board charged that Componovo exhibited “a clear attempt to avoid or shade the truth regarding what happened.”

Componovo also failed to disclose he was sued in a civil case in 2001 by a plaintiff that had provided expert witness testimony in cases Componovo had tried. Componovo testified that he did not recall the litigation, which the board did not find credible.

The Court adopted the board’s recommendation to reject Componovo’s admission application, but will allow him to reapply in one year.

2020-1176. In re Application of Componovo, Slip Opinion No. 2021-Ohio-773.

Texas Lawyer Provides Inconsistent Answers to Investigators
Bridgett Brumbaugh began practicing law in Texas in 2008. In May 2018, she applied for admission to practice law in Ohio without having to take the bar exam, and noted that in 2016 she spent two years living temporarily with her parents in Warren. After a January 2020 character-and-fitness hearing, the board found eight areas of concern with her application, including her indication that she failed to accurately explain that she provided legal services to a Texas resident while living in Ohio.

The board also found she failed to cooperate with the investigation by not producing financial records nor identifying legal cases in which she was involved. She admitted that she defaulted on a debt, which she described as “junk debt” and “old debt.”  But the board discovered that a creditor
obtained a 2013 judgment against her for $7,800 plus $1,500 in attorney fees. The debt was assigned to a new creditor in 2017. The board concluded that a judgment in which she “appears to be making no effort to attend to the debt cannot be countenanced.”

The Court adopted the board’s recommendation to reject Brumbaugh’s application, but will allow her to reapply in one year.

In a concurring opinion, Justice R. Patrick DeWine disagreed with the concerns raised by the board that Brumbaugh may have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by performing legal work for a Texas client while physically present in Ohio. 

Pointing to his 2018 opinion in In re Application of Jones, he stated he does not believe that a lawyer who practices law in another jurisdiction in which the lawyer is licensed is engaging in the unauthorized practice of law by simply working remotely from Ohio.

“It is past time for this court to change its rules to make clear that an out-of-state lawyer who happens to be working remotely in Ohio is not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law,” he wrote.

Justice Sharon L. Kennedy joined Justice DeWine’s opinion.

2020-1079. In re Application of Brumbaugh, Slip Opinion No. 2021-Ohio-780.

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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