March 12, 2021 Articles

Silly Lawyer Tricks XXIII

Dishonest lawyers may, in fact, leave the courtroom with charred pants.

By Tom Donlon
You probably have heard the old phrase “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” So has the Ohio Supreme Court.

You probably have heard the old phrase “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” So has the Ohio Supreme Court.

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This is the latest column in our continuing series on real mistakes and misdeeds by real lawyers in cases on appeal.

Disciplinary Counsel v. Sarver, ___ N.E.3d ___, 2020 WL 7049817 (Ohio Dec. 2, 2020)

This case arose out of a disciplinary matter in which an attorney became a two-time loser. Two years before, the supreme court had suspended the attorney for two years with 18 months stayed. See Disciplinary Counsel v. Sarver, 155 Ohio St. 100 (2018). In that case, the attorney admitted to having sexual relations with a woman he was representing on multiple felony charges. He also advised her to turn off the GPS in her phone, which allowed her to avoid arrest for a month. When rumors of their relationship surfaced, the attorney twice lied to the presiding judge. After the woman agreed to testify against him, the attorney pleaded guilty to misdemeanors—and agreed to abandon the election campaign he was contemporaneously waging for county prosecutor. Id. at 101–03.

While the first disciplinary case was pending, the attorney was retained to represent the mother of a woman killed in a motor vehicle accident. He negotiated a settlement with the insurance company for the policy limits and obtained an appointment to administer the deceased’s estate. His client also signed an application for the probate court to approve the settlement, but the attorney did not file it. He later claimed that the magistrate told him not to file, which the magistrate denied. Sarver, 2020 WL 7049817, at *1–2.

When the supreme court suspended his law license, the attorney did not inform the mother—and then filed a false affidavit with the court that he had given notice to his clients. Although suspended, he continued to pursue the mother’s claim for victims’ compensation from the state. He also signed her name to the insurance settlement check; deposited it in his account; and began to distribute funds without the probate court’s approval, including paying his own debts with what he calculated as his fee. 

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