Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Attorney Suspended for Charging Excessive Fee

The Supreme Court of Ohio today issued a six-month suspension to a former Lake County attorney now residing in a Florida assisted living community. The attorney charged an excessive fee and misused his client trust account.

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court suspended Albert Purola, who in 2021 registered an as inactive attorney. The Court ruled that the suspension would begin if Purola attempted to return to active status. He would not be allowed to practice until he reimbursed the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection $7,500, which was the amount the fund awarded to Purola’s former client.

Purola, formerly of Willoughby, has been under suspension since March 2022 when he failed to respond to an Office of Disciplinary Counsel complaint sent to the Board of Professional Conduct charging Purola with violating ethics rules.

Attorney Accepted Advance Cash Fee 
In October 2020, Ronnie Dykes was charged with felonious assault and other offenses in Lake County Common Pleas Court. A week after the assault charges were filed, Dykes faced additional charges of drug possession and trafficking.

Dykes was previously represented by another attorney but in mid-October hired Purola. Purola agreed to represent Dykes in the assault case, including defending him in a trial, for a flat fee of $10,000. Lakeisha Jackson, a friend of Dykes, paid the fee in cash. The day after receiving the cash, Purola deposited only $7,950 into his client trust account, keeping $2,050.

Under the rules governing the conduct of Ohio attorneys, client money is to be placed in a trust account that is separate from an attorney’s personal bank account. The money is not to be withdrawn from the client trust account until legal work is performed for the client.

Purola also agreed to represent Dykes in the drug case. However, he agreed to represent Dykes only for the purpose of filing a motion to suppress the evidence used against Dykes. Jackson paid Purola $2,500 in cash for the limited representation on the motion. Purola only deposited $1,700 of it in the client trust account. He did not give Jackson any receipts for the payments.

Frustrated Clients Seek Refund
Nearly two months after Purola agreed to represent Dykes, Jackson sent Purola a text message stating that Purola had “done nothing” for Dykes and she wanted to fire him from representing Dykes. Jackson requested a refund.

“Since your unilateral decision to prevent me from performing my part of the agreement you are entitled to no refund and will get none from me,” Purola wrote to Jackson.

The disciplinary counsel’s complaint to the Board of Professional Conduct alleged that Purola did little work for Dykes between October and December. The board found that Purola did not document the tasks he performed for Dykes or the time he spent on matters related to Dykes’ case.

The board noted that in November 2020, Purola asked the trial court to continue both the assault case and the drug case, asserting he did not have enough time to prepare. A trial for the assault case was scheduled for January 2021.

Also in November 2020, an assistant Lake County prosecutor emailed Purola a plea offer for both of Dykes’ cases. Three weeks later, Dykes responded to the assistant prosecutor, stating the assault case should be dismissed. A week later, Jackson fired Purola, claiming he had done nothing for Dykes.

The board noted that between October and December, Purola met with Dykes six times in the county jail. Dykes told Purola he wanted the assault charges dismissed or to be heard by a jury. The board found that while Purola agreed to represent Dykes if the case went to trial, he never interviewed witnesses , requested additional discovery , or engaged in any investigative activities.

In the drug case, Purola had not filed the motion to suppress by the time he was fired, even though that was the one act he agreed to do in Dykes’ drug case, the board noted.

The board found that Purola charged a clearly excessive fee based on minimal work. He also violated the rule requiring that an advanced fee not be withdrawn from the client trust account until the fee is earned, and he did not promptly return an unearned fee.

Jackson and Dykes requested that the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection pay them $12,500 based on Purola’s failure to provide any representation to Dykes. The protection fund determined that the two were entitled to a $7,500 refund, and that Purola was responsible for reimbursing the fund.

The disciplinary counsel also alleged that Purola failed to comply with federal tax law by accepting $12,500 in cash from Jackson without reporting the transactions to the IRS. That board found that Purola’s failure to report constituted engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law.

Court Considered Sanction Recommendation
When considering the sanction in a disciplinary case, the Court considers aggravating circumstances that could increase the penalty and mitigating factors that could lead to a lesser sanction.

The board found Purola acted with a selfish motive, committed multiple offenses, engaged in a pattern of misconduct, did not cooperate in the disciplinary process, refused to acknowledge his wrongful conduct, failed to pay restitution, and harmed a vulnerable client.

The board noted that even after arranging for Purola to conduct his disciplinary hearing via a teleconference from Florida, the attorney did not participate. When assessing the risk Purola posed to the public, the board noted Purola was 79 years old at the time of the board completed its report, and that his registration to practice law was inactive. The board suggested, and the Court adopted, the six-month suspension.

The Court also required Purola to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.

2022-0350. Disciplinary Counsel v. Purola, Slip Opinion No. 2023-Ohio-1768.

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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