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Medina County Lawyer Disbarred, Two Others Suspended

In separate disciplinary actions announced today, the Supreme Court of Ohio disbarred attorney Arthur W. Wootton of Valley City in Medina County, and imposed license suspensions against attorneys Joan Allyn Kodish of Cleveland and Kevin A. Bowman of Dayton.

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2006-0802. Medina Cty. Bar Assn. v. Wootton, 2006-Ohio-4094.
On Certified Report by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, No. 05-056. Arthur William Wootton, Attorney Registration No. 0033387, is permanently disbarred from the practice of law in Ohio.
Moyer, C.J., Resnick, Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O'Connor, O'Donnell and Lanzinger, JJ., concur.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2006/2006-Ohio-4094.pdf

(Aug. 23, 2006) The Supreme Court of Ohio voted 7-0 to permanently revoke the law license of Medina County attorney Arthur W. Wootton for stealing more than $360,000 entrusted to him by clients while he was acting as escrow agent in real estate transactions. Wootton has been under an interim suspension imposed by the Court in May 2005 based on evidence that he had engaged in misconduct and posed a substantial threat of serious harm to his clients and the public.

In one case Wootton received the proceeds of a North Canton couple's home mortgage refinancing from the lender and was supposed to forward $136,000 to the holder of their original mortgage, but failed to do so. After falsely assuring the clients he would resolve the problem, Wootton eventually told them he had used the proceeds of their new loan to pay off someone else's loan. The couple was left with the obligation of paying off both the old and new mortgages.

In a second case involving the sale of property in Akron, Wootton received the proceeds of the sale on behalf of the seller but failed to forward $231,000 of those funds to pay off the seller's mortgage on the property. The seller was left with the obligation of paying off the mortgage. In a third case, Wootton misappropriated $7,000 that he was supposed to pay to a realtor as commission from the proceeds of another property sale.

The Court adopted the findings of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline that Wootton had engaged in conduct involving fraud, deceit, dishonesty or misrepresentation; intentionally caused damage to clients, failed to promptly pay funds to which clients were entitled and committed multiple other violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

Finding no mitigating factors and numerous aggravating factors, including a pattern of misconduct that caused serious harm to vulnerable clients, the Court voted unanimously for disbarment.

Alicia Hathcock, 330.725.4929, for the Medina County Bar Association.

No current contact information was available for Arthur Wootton.

2005-1585. Cleveland Bar Assn. v. Kodish, 2006-Ohio-4090.
On Certified Report by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, No. 03-100. Joan Allyn Kodish, Attorney Registration No. 0013377, is indefinitely suspended from the practice of law in Ohio.
Moyer, C.J., Resnick, Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O'Connor and Lanzinger, JJ., concur.
O'Donnell, J., dissents.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2006/2006-Ohio-4090.pdf

(Aug. 23, 2006) The license of Cleveland attorney Joan Allyn Kodish has been indefinitely suspended for engaging in a pattern of misconduct involving violations of multiple state attorney discipline rules.

In a 6-1 decision announced today, the Supreme Court of Ohio adopted findings by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline that Kodish neglected legal matters entrusted to her by a number of clients who retained her services in personal and corporate bankruptcy actions. In several of those cases, Kodish's failure to take necessary actions or to respond to clients' repeated attempts to communicate with her resulted in significant harm to the client.

In different cases, Kodish's neglect resulted in a creditor's attempt to foreclose on one client's home mortgage and caused other clients to forfeit in bankruptcy a $4,200 civil judgment award, a car, and other valuable property. In another case she failed to maintain sufficient funds in her client trust account to cover a check.

The Court also adopted the board's findings that Kodish violated disciplinary rules barring conflicts of interest when she agreed to simultaneously represent multiple individuals and business entities involved in bankruptcy actions when the financial interests of those clients were divergent; and when she engaged in this multiple representation while she was involved in an intimate relationship with an individual client who was also a principal in business entities she represented.

In setting the sanction for this and other misconduct, the Court considered the mitigating factor that Kodish had no prior record of professional discipline and the aggravating factors that she had engaged in a pattern of offenses that caused harm to a number of vulnerable clients, had not acknowledged the wrongfulness of her actions, had not fully cooperated with disciplinary authorities and had improperly negotiated with a client in an attempt to avoid disciplinary consequences and to reduce possible civil liability to that client for her neglect.

Citing the number and severity of Kodish's rule violations and her “chronic indifference to her clients' interests,” the Court rejected a less severe penalty recommended by the disciplinary board and voted 6-1 to impose an indefinite license suspension. The majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer and Justices Alice Robie Resnick, Paul E. Pfeifer, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Maureen O'Connor and Judith Ann Lanzinger. Justice Terrence O'Donnell entered a dissent, stating that he would impose the sanction recommended by the board of commissioners, a one-year suspension with six months of that term stayed on conditions.

Darrell A. Clay, 216.928.2896, for the Cleveland Bar Association.

Lester S. Potash, 216.771.8400, for Joan Allyn Kodish.

2006-0444. Disciplinary Counsel v. Bowman, 2006-Ohio-4333.
On Certified Report by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, No. 05-063. Kevin Arthur Bowman, Attorney Registration No. 0068223, is suspended from the practice of law in Ohio for two years.
Moyer, C.J., Resnick, Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O'Connor, O'Donnell and Lanzinger, JJ., concur.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2006/2006-Ohio-4333.pdf

(Aug. 23, 2006) The law license of Dayton attorney Kevin A. Bowman has been suspended for two years by the Supreme Court of Ohio for multiple incidents of professional misconduct.

Bowman admitted in written pleadings and hearing testimony before the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline that in three separate cases he failed to promptly and effectively pursue a client's legal objectives, resulting in unfavorable outcomes for the client. To cover up the consequences of his ineffective performance, including financial harm to clients, Bowman further admitted that he made misleading statements to clients and members of his law firm and provided them with falsified legal documents, including some bearing fraudulent or unauthorized signatures of clients and other attorneys.

When his false statements and other improper actions were discovered, Bowman was fired by the law firm that had employed him.

The Court adopted the board's findings that Bowman had violated multiple state disciplinary rules including, among others, those that prohibit an attorney from failing to carry out a contract of employment; failing to seek the lawful objectives of his clients; engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice; concealing or failing to disclose information an attorney is required by law to reveal; making false statements of law or fact; and knowingly engaging in illegal conduct that is contrary to a disciplinary rule.

In recommending a sanction for his misconduct, the board took note of the mitigating factors that Bowman had no prior disciplinary violations, made timely efforts to pay restitution and rectify other negative consequences to the affected clients, expressed remorse for his wrongdoing, and cooperated fully with disciplinary authorities. The board also noted extensive medical evidence that Bowman had been suffering from clinical depression during the period when his offenses took place, and had since entered into an ongoing course of psychiatric treatment and signed a contract with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP). Finding that these factors outweighed aggravating factors in the case, the board recommended that Bowman's license be suspended for two years with the second year stayed on conditions including certification of his mental health and continuing compliance with the OLAP contract.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which prosecuted the complaint before the board, objected to the board's recommended sanction and asked the Court to impose an indefinite license suspension. In today's 7-0 decision, authored by Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, the Supreme Court held that the penalty proposed by the board was “inadequate” in light of the number and seriousness of Bowman's ethical violations, but the Court declined to indefinitely suspend Bowman.

“The panel concluded that relator (disciplinary counsel) did not provide clear and convincing evidence that any of the clients suffered actual prejudice or damage. We disagree,” wrote Justice Stratton. “(Bowman) intentionally damaged his clients by lying, forging their signatures, neglecting their legal matters, dismissing their cases, and fostering the retraction of an offer to pay a client's attorney fees. In all three counts, respondent treated clients, counsel, and his own colleagues with deceit and dishonesty. He also violated his duty to the legal system, the profession, and the community.”

The Court agreed with the finding of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline that Bowman's depressive condition was a significant mitigating factor in his misconduct. It held, however, that aggravating factors in the case including Bowman's pattern of wrongdoing, harm to multiple clients, false statements, falsification of documents, and forgery of signatures of clients and other attorneys merited an actual two-year suspension from the practice of law. The Court was also concerned about Bowman allowing a nine-month period to pass in 2005 without his contacting the OLAP office daily, contrary to his contract with OLAP.

The court commended Bowman's acknowledgment of his need for mental health services, but concluded that a two-year suspension was warranted to protect the public and to ensure that Bowman is able to successfully manage his illness. The Court set as a condition for Bowman's future reinstatement the requirement that he must “supply to (disciplinary counsel) a letter from his qualified treating psychologist, indicating his adherence to the treatment plan and the recommendations of the psychologist and including a statement that respondent will be able to return to the competent, ethical, and professional practice of law under specified conditions.”

Stacy Solochek Beckman, 614.461.0256, for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Alvin E. Mathews Jr., 614.228.6885, for Kevin Bowman.