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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Attorney Suspended for Mishandling Foreclosures, Lying to Courts

The Supreme Court of Ohio today suspended a Toledo attorney whose neglect of clients in foreclosure cases contributed to four of them losing their homes.

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court suspended Omar Fahmi Shaaban for two years, with one year stayed on the condition that he not commit further misconduct. In addition to committing several ethical violations while representing foreclosure clients, Shaaban broke ethics rules while representing a client in a criminal matter and by sharing fees with a nonlawyer.

Shaaban admittedly allowed the owner of a company that offered to defend against foreclosure actions to take on the legal work on the matters with little to no oversight. The Board of Professional Conduct recommended the partially stayed two-year suspension, finding that not only did Shaaban fail to adequately represent his clients, he also lied to judges and opposing attorneys, and refused to cooperate with the disciplinary proceedings.

Lawyer Connects With Foreclosure Firm
Since 2011, Shaaban has been solo practitioner with no support staff. For most of his career, he had no office management software to assist him in keeping track of his cases. In 2010, Shaaban met James Warsing, president of Ohio Mortgage Review. The company advertised itself as helping to defend homeowners against foreclosures.

Warsing referred legal clients to Shaaban. The arrangement lasted on and off again until Warsing’s death in 2020.

Warsing would sign written agreements with individuals whose properties were in foreclosure and state that Ohio Mortgage Review would retain a competent attorney to represent the client and pay all attorney fees. Warsing would obtain power of attorney from the clients and interact with Shaaban on their behalf.

There were no written fee agreements between Warsing and Shaaban. Shaaban would receive recurring monthly payments from Warsing. Warsing deposited money in Shaaban’s bank account, but Shaaban did not maintain any records of the transactions.

During his disciplinary hearing, Shaaban indicated that Warsing conducted the legal research and drafted legal documents for the clients and would share them with Shaaban. Shaaban would review and either he or Warsing would file documents with the courts using Shaaban’s e-filing information. Shaaban admitted he often failed to review the documents before Warsing filed them and admitted in some cases Warsing filed documents using Shaaban’s information without his knowledge.

Shaaban stated that “Warsing essentially took over his role as a lawyer.” Warsing has never been licensed to practice law in Ohio. The arrangement violated Rule 5.4(a) which prohibits a lawyer from sharing fees with a nonlawyer.

Lack of Action Leads to Foreclosures
In 2022, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint against Shaaban with the Board of Professional Conduct, largely based on Shaaban’s failures to act on cases brought to him by Warsing. The board found in several instances Shaaban would make an appearance in court for the clients, but then not act diligently on the cases, fail to appear at hearings, and not keep clients informed about their cases. Shaaban failed to provide clients with copies of court orders or offers of settlements from their lenders. The board found in some instances, Shaaban would lie to judges or the opposing attorneys as to why he was unable to take required actions.

In four cases that were part of the disciplinary complaint against Shaaban, the clients’ loans were foreclosed, and their homes were sold. Two clients were able to reach agreements with their lenders after obtaining new lawyers.

The opinion noted the May 2019 foreclosure proceedings filed by U.S. Bank against Rachel and Douglas Smith in Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court. The Smiths met with Warsing, who told them Shaaban would represent them.

A motion to dismiss the case was filed on the Smiths’ behalf, but the documents were not provided to the bank’s lawyer. The documents contained Shaaban’s information, but Shaaban denied filing them, and later testified that Warsing drafted and filed the documents without his knowledge.

The trial court provided Shaaban a notice of a hearing, but he did not appear. He did not respond to calls from the bank’s lawyer about the hearing. Rachel Smith tried to reach Shaaban by phone during the duration of the case, but he never communicated with her. The Smiths did not know about the hearing and did not appear.

The court ultimately granted the bank the right to foreclose and issued an order for the sale of the Smiths’ home. The case was appealed to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals with Shaaban listed as the Smiths’ attorney, but he denied filing it. Shaaban took no further action in the case. In February 2020, the Smiths hired a new lawyer, and the Eleventh District reversed the trial court’s judgment. The Smiths and the bank reached a settlement.

Supreme Court Considered Sanction
The disciplinary counsel and Shaaban stipulated that Shaaban violated multiple ethics rules. However, Shaaban objected to a proposed sanction that would prevent him from practicing law. He argued for a fully stayed two-year suspension.

In determining a sanction to recommend to the Supreme Court, the board analyzed five other cases of attorneys committing misconduct similar to Shaaban’s. Two of the cases involved attorneys who had also been involved with Warsing in another foreclosure prevention business.

The board found Shaaban’s misconduct far exceeded that of the other two foreclosure lawyers and noted that Shaaban admitted to allowing Warsing to do all the work while he essentially “rubber stamped them.” He admitted that Warsing filed documents in many cases in his name without his knowledge and that he ignored court notices in those cases, assuming that Warsing was going to find another lawyer to take over the case.

Shaaban explained that most of his misconduct was based on “feeling overwhelmed” as related to his lack of support and his own longstanding immigration issue. He testified that he had not used case management software because it was expensive, and the main reason he took cases from Warsing was for the income. He said he saw the fees from the cases, which represented about half his caseload, as “extra money” because Warsing was doing most of the work.

Shaaban stated he had obtained case management software and explained he was not likely to engage in similar misconduct because Warsing had died.

The board recommended a two-year suspension with one year conditionally stayed. In his objections to that sanction Shaaban denied engaging in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, and portrayed himself as fully cooperating with the disciplinary investigation. The Court noted that he made those assertions despite having stipulated among the several rule violations that he did not cooperate with the disciplinary investigation and that he engaged in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

“Those actions do not inspire confidence that Shaaban has learned from his misconduct or that he is fully committed to conducting himself in an ethical and professional manner going forward,” the Court stated.

If Shaaban is reinstated to the practice of law, the Court ordered him to serve 18 months of monitored probation. The Court also ordered Shaaban to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.

2023-0179. Disciplinary Counsel v. Shaaban, Slip Opinion No. 2023-Ohio-3671.

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