Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Attorney Not Admitted to the Practice of Law in Ohio Is Not Subject to Ohio Disciplinary Rules

A Sandusky attorney not admitted to the practice of law in Ohio but admitted to the practice of law in the District of Columbia and federal bankruptcy courts in this state is not subject to Ohio disciplinary rules, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today.

The unanimous decision, authored by Justice Terrence O’Donnell, rejects the recommendation of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline to indefinitely suspend Donald Harris from representing Ohio citizens in the state of Ohio.

Donald Harris is not admitted to the practice of law in the state of Ohio, but as a member of the District of Columbia bar and of the bars of the United States District Court for the Northern and Southern Districts of Ohio, he practices bankruptcy law before federal courts geographically located in this state.

In August 2011, disciplinary counsel filed a complaint against Harris relating to his representation of an Ohio client in bankruptcy proceedings before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, his establishment of a limited-liability company on behalf of an Ohio client, his assistance to an Ohio client in a mortgage modification, and representations regarding the relationship between an Ohio-licensed attorney and the Donald Harris Law Firm.

The Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline found that Harris had violated the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct and recommended that he be indefinitely suspended from the practice of law in Ohio. 

The Supreme Court, however, determined that the alleged misconduct relating to a client Harris represented in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio did not constitute the unauthorized practice of law because he was authorized to practice before that court. The Supreme Court dismissed this matter in deference to the disciplinary authority of the bankruptcy court.

Further, the court held that the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, which regulate the conduct of attorneys admitted to the practice of law in Ohio, do not apply to Harris, because he is not admitted to the Ohio bar and never took an oath to abide by the disciplinary rules. As Justice O’Donnell explained: “Harris never took that oath and never agreed to abide by our rules, and we are reluctant to impose our rules of conduct on him and other such attorneys who engage in the practice of law in our state.”

Therefore, the court dismissed the matters relating to his participation in the formation of a limited liability company, his involvement in a modification of a mortgage, and his representations regarding the relationship between himself and other attorneys in the Donald Harris Law Firm and referred them to the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law.

2012-1698. Disciplinary Counsel v. Harris, Slip Opinion No. 2013-Ohio-4026.

Video clip View oral argument video of this case.

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