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Cincinnati Attorney Suspended

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2011-1774.  Cincinnati Bar Association v. Hartke, Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-2443.
On Certified Report of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, No. 11-003.  James R. Hartke, Attorney Registration No. 0011584, is suspended from the practice law in Ohio for a period of six months.
O'Connor, C.J., and Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O'Donnell, Cupp, and
McGee Brown, JJ., concur.
Lanzinger, J., dissents and would impose a six-month stayed suspension.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2012/2012-Ohio-2443.pdf

(June 6, 2012) The Supreme Court of Ohio today suspended the law license of Cincinnati attorney James R. Hartke for six months for violating  the Rules of Professional Conduct in his dealings with a client who reneged on an agreement to pay Hartke’s bill for legal services in a divorce case.

Hartke admitted that after the client received a distribution from her former spouse’s 401(k) account but failed to make a promised payment to him from the proceeds, then failed to return his phone calls and changed her cell phone number to avoid him, Hartke went to the client’s apartment to demand payment.  In the confrontation that ensued, Hartke admitted that in front of the client’s six-year-old daughter he angrily threatened to file criminal charges against her unless she immediately went to her bank and withdrew funds to pay his bill. The client went to the bank but was so visibly upset that bank employees called police.  Hartke subsequently agreed to accept payment of a reduced amount.

In a 6-1 per curiam opinion, the court adopted findings by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline that Hartke’s actions violated the state disciplinary rules that prohibit an attorney from filing or threatening to file criminal charges to gain an advantage in a civil dispute, and from engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on the attorney’s fitness to practice law.

In rejecting the disciplinary board’s recommendation of a stayed license suspension as the appropriate sanction for Hartke’s misconduct, the court found that Hartke’s prior suspension for a previous disciplinary infraction, the vulnerability of his client, and the emotional harm she suffered outweighed mitigating factors in the case and merited an actual six-month suspension from practice.

The court’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Terrence O’Donnell, Robert R. Cupp and Yvette McGee Brown. Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger dissented, stating that she would impose a six-month suspension with all six months stayed on conditions.

Cincinnati Bar Association, 513.381.8213.

James Hartke, 513.997.4210.