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Cincinnati Attorney Disbarred

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2011-0131.   Disciplinary Counsel v. Lawson,Slip Opinion No. 2011-Ohio-4673
On Certified Report by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, No. 09-098.  Kenneth L. Lawson of Cincinnati, Ohio, Attorney Registration No. 0042468, is permanently disbarred from the practice of law in Ohio. 
Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O’Donnell, Cupp, and McGee Brown, JJ., concur.
O’Connor, C.J., and Lanzinger, J., concur in judgment only.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2011/2011-Ohio-4673.pdf

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(Sept. 20, 2011) The Supreme Court of Ohio has permanently revoked the law license of Cincinnati attorney Kenneth L. Lawson for professional misconduct arising from his involvement in a criminal conspiracy with a physician and another person through which Lawson obtained hundreds of prescriptions for the pain-killing drugs Percodan, Percocet and OxyContin by deception between August 2003 and January 2007. 

Lawson, whose license has been under an indefinite suspension since 2008 for previous violations of state attorney discipline rules in his dealings with multiple clients, was convicted in 2009 on a federal felony count of  conspiracy to obtain Schedule II controlled substances by deception. He was sentenced to 24 months’ incarceration and other sanctions

In a 7-0 per curiam decision announced today, the Court adopted findings by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline that Lawson’s conduct in connection with the drug conspiracy violated, among others, the state attorney discipline rules that prohibit a lawyer from engaging in criminal conduct involving moral turpitude;  conduct involving fraud, deceit, dishonesty or misrepresentation; conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice; conduct that adversely reflects on a lawyer’s fitness to practice law; accepting employment if the lawyer’s professional judgment will be affected by the lawyer’s financial and personal interests; counseling a client in conduct the lawyer knows to be illegal; and knowingly engaging in illegal conduct.

In setting the sanction for Lawson’s most recent misconduct, the Court rejected the disciplinary board’s recommendation of a second consecutive indefinite suspension and instead voted unanimously in favor of disbarment.

In its opinion, the Court acknowledged that when it imposed an indefinite license suspension rather than disbarment as the sanction in Lawson’s 2008 discipline case, it took note that his chemical dependence was a significant contributing factor in the misconduct charged in that case. The Court noted, however, that it was not then aware of Lawson’s involvement in a 3½ year criminal conspiracy during which he provided legal services to the physician with whom he was conspiring in exchange for drugs, involved members of his law office staff and former clients in filling falsified prescriptions, and fraudulently attempted to obtain $50,000 from his physician co-conspirator, purportedly to bribe law enforcement officials that Lawson claimed were investigating the physician.

The Court concluded that: “Respondent could have been found unfit to continue to practice law in 2008. Had this court known of the full extent of respondent’s abuse of the legal system, of his deception, and of his criminal enterprise in 2008, the court likely would have disbarred him at that time. While we are sensitive to the respondent’s struggles with chemical dependency, this elaborate and felonious conspiracy to obtain prescription narcotics by exploiting current and former clients, staff, and family goes far beyond simple drug addiction.  Respondent intentionally deceived clients, family, office staff, fellow attorneys, and judges alike. Having weighed the aggravating and mitigating factors in this case as found by the board and having considered the sanctions previously imposed for comparable conduct, we reject the board’s recommendation. Accordingly, we permanently disbar Kenneth L. Lawson from the practice of law in Ohio.”

The Court’s opinion was joined by Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Terrence O’Donnell, Robert R. Cupp and Yvette McGee Brown.  Chief Justice Maureen O’connor and Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger concurred in judgment only.

Jonathan E. Coughlan, 614.461.0256, for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

David C. Greer, 937.223.3277, for Kenneth Lawson.