Westlake Attorney Connected with Cuyahoga County Corruption Scandal Has Been Indefinitely Suspended
The Ohio Supreme Court today indefinitely suspended Westlake attorney Joseph P. O’Malley from the practice of law for concealing a felony (misprision), improperly influencing a judge, and making a materially false statement to agents conducting a federal investigation into corruption in Cuyahoga County.
In its 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court adopted the findings of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline. However, the board recommended an indefinite suspension with credit for the time O’Malley had served under a prior interim suspension imposed following his conviction on related matters. The court determined, though, that the appropriate sanction shouldn’t include credit for the earlier time served.
The court, in a per curiam (not authored by a specific justice) opinion, considered two counts of misconduct.
While working in 2008 as an independent contractor for his former boss, Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo, O’Malley had an employee of Russo’s “complete” a previously submitted employment application to demonstrate that the employee was actually qualified for the job for which he had been hired. O’Malley was convicted of misprision of a felony in this matter.
Also in 2008, O’Malley represented two homeowners in a foreclosure action in his private practice. O’Malley was attempting to settle the case, but the court hadn’t ruled on summary judgment motions, which had been pending for at least a year. He asked Russo in the spring or summer to tell the trial judge in the case to deny the motions because he wanted to go to trial for his clients. In July, the judge denied the motions as instructed by Russo. A conversation between O’Malley and Russo about this case had been recorded by federal authorities.
When FBI agents questioned O’Malley, he said he hadn’t asked Russo for any help with his private practice cases. O’Malley was convicted of making a materially false statement.
The federal court sentenced O’Malley to four months in prison, a $10,000 fine, two years of supervised release, and 250 hours of community service. He has completed his prison term, has paid his fine, and at the time of the board’s hearing was within five hours of meeting his community-service obligations.
The Supreme Court today found that O’Malley’s conduct undermined the integrity of the judicial system and, given that, he should not receive credit for the time he served under his interim suspension. O’Malley may apply for reinstatement after the two-year minimum period for an indefinite suspension and then only when he has completed all parts of his federal sentence, including his supervised release, the court said.
The majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French.
Justice William M. O’Neill dissented, stating he would grant O’Malley credit for the time he served during his interim felony suspension.
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