Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Dayton Attorney Suspended for Neglecting Client Matters

The Supreme Court of Ohio today suspended a Dayton attorney for one year, with six months stayed, for neglecting his clients’ matters, including failing to file a lawsuit on time.

This is the second time the Supreme Court has suspended David E. Stenson. In June 2014, he received a fully stayed, six-month suspension for neglecting a client’s case.

In the per curiam decision today, the Court found that because of Stenson’s prior discipline, refusal to acknowledge his wrongdoing, and attempts to blame his clients for the legal mishaps, “an actual suspension from the practice of law is necessary to protect the public.”

Chief Justice Sharon L. Kennedy and Justices Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, Melody Stewart, and Joseph T. Deters joined the opinion. Justice Jennifer Brunner did not participate in the case.

The Cincinnati Bar Association filed a complaint against Stenson with the Board of Professional Conduct in 2022 based on a client’s allegations that Stenson mishandled her mother’s estate. The complaint was amended in 2023 when another client complained that Stenson’s inactions cost her the right to sue for injuries she suffered from a fall.

Missed Deadline Results in Client Losing Her Case
In October 2020, Arnesta Russell met with Stenson to discuss injuries she suffered in a fall at a Macy’s department store in August 2020. Stenson instructed Russell to contact him after she completed physical therapy. Stenson then sent a letter to Macy’s telling them he represented Russell.

Russell had minimal contact with Stenson until she completed her physical therapy in August 2021. In September 2021, Stenson told Russell that Macy’s offered to settle her claim for $2,500. She rejected it.

Stenson contacted Russell in May 2022, asking her to send him $335 for the fee to file a lawsuit against Macy’s. Russell told Stenson she would need time to produce the money, and in September 2022, she brought him a check for $250.

Stenson did not attempt to file the lawsuit until December 2022 or January 2023. When he did, his online filings were rejected because the credit card number he entered to pay was invalid. Stenson testified at a Board of Professional Conduct hearing that it was not until after the fee rejections that he realized the statute of limitations to file Russell’s claim had lapsed.

The board found Stenson violated two professional conduct rules by failing to reasonably consult with Russell about her objectives and failing to keep her reasonably informed about the status of the case. The board noted that Stenson’s inaction harmed Russell, who can no longer pursue her case against Macy’s.

Lawyer Replaced to Settle Estate
Shaunice Grim hired Stenson in May 2020 to assist her in administering her deceased mother's estate. Grim paid Stenson a $1,500 retainer. Stenson filed an application to administer the estate in Hamilton County Probate Court but did not file the appropriate bond, which delayed the appointment of Grim as the estate administrator.

In August 2020, the probate court set a hearing to notify Grim that the court was going to dismiss the case. Ten days after the notice, Stenson filed the correct bond so Grim could oversee the estate.

In December 2020, the probate court began to issue multiple delinquency notices and orders, including orders for Stenson and Grim to appear in court. The lack of response led to an order compelling Stenson to appear in court in March 2021 to explain why he should not be held in contempt of court. Before the hearing, Stenson filed the documents the probate court sought.

The probate court continued to seek documentation about the estate’s overdue final account. Another citation was issued to Stenson and Grim to appear in court in May 2021 regarding the overdue account. Stenson obtained an extension until September 2021 to file the final account.

Stenson missed the deadline and two more extensions. The court granted his request to withdraw from the case. Grim hired a new lawyer who helped her complete the estate work. The probate court approved the final accounting in May 2022, nearly two years after the estate was opened.

The board found Stenson violated several rules when handling the case, including failing to inform Grim that he did not have professional liability insurance, failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness on Grim’s matter, and failing to comply with her requests for information.

Board Recommended Suspension
The board found that Stenson refused to acknowledge his wrongdoing. The board noted that Stenson attempted to blame the two clients for some of his misconduct. Each was to receive a written notice stating he did not have malpractice insurance. Stenson claimed that the clients failed to return to him signed fee agreements that would have included their acknowledgment that he was uninsured.

Stenson also waited until the morning of his disciplinary hearing to refund the payments Grim and Russell had made to him years earlier.

The board recommended, and the Court agreed, that Stenson be suspended for one year, with six months stayed with conditions. He must prove that he completed six hours of continuing legal education focused on law office management and must complete a training program on managing a client trust account. He also must submit to an assessment conducted by the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program and comply with any treatment recommendations arising from that assessment. If he is reinstated, he must serve one year of monitored probation. The Court also ordered Stenton to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.

2023-0041. Cincinnati Bar Association v. Stenson, Slip Opinion No. 2024-Ohio-995.

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