Columbus Attorney Suspended
The Supreme Court of Ohio today suspended Columbus attorney Sterling Everard Gill II from practicing law for two years, with the second year stayed on conditions, for multiple violations of attorney disciplinary rules.
In today’s 4-3 decision, the court in a per curiam opinion (not authored by a specific justice), adopted the findings of fact and misconduct of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline but imposed a one-year effective suspension rather than the board’s recommended indefinite suspension.
Gill’s misconduct stemmed from nine grievances, a criminal conviction, and his failure to respond to inquiries from the Columbus Bar Association, which filed the charges in this case. Most of Gill’s misconduct resulted from not communicating effectively with clients, particularly about the basis of his fees and his lack of professional malpractice insurance. Also, Gill never set up a client trust account to separately handle client fees, as required by the rules.
In addition, two judges and a court administrator filed grievances against Gill for appearing hours late to court, failing to file a notice of appeal and merit briefs in a case, and being under the influence of alcohol at a hearing. The Supreme Court found that Gill engaged in conduct that adversely reflected on his fitness to practice law and that was prejudicial to the administration of justice in these matters.
In 2010, Gill also pleaded guilty to reckless operation of a motor vehicle. Gill initially failed to respond to the bar association’s inquiries about this conviction and the other grievances – though he eventually cooperated in the board’s proceedings.
A mental health professional determined that alcoholism and recently diagnosed bipolar disorder contributed to Gill’s misconduct, and the court stated that it gave considerable weight to these mitigating factors in determining Gill’s sanction. The psychologist concluded that Gill should be able to return to the practice of law, as long as he takes his recommended medication, continues psychotherapy, and keeps participating in Alcoholics Anonymous and the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program.
The court noted, however, that Gill had an earlier history of relapses, he hasn’t yet sustained a lengthy period of successful treatment, and these health issues weren’t the cause of all his professional misconduct.
Given Gill’s history of relapses, the court determined that a significant suspension is necessary to ensure that his new treatment regimen continues successfully. A two-year suspension, with the second year stayed on the board’s recommended conditions, will appropriately protect the public but allow Gill to return to practicing law if he maintains his sobriety and manages his mental illness, the court said.
At the suggestion of Gill’s attorney, the court also added a condition that Gill wear an alcohol-monitoring device during his suspension.
The court’s majority opinion was joined by Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon L. Kennedy, and William M. O’Neill.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Judith Ann Lanzinger and Judith L. French dissented, stating that they would indefinitely suspend Gill, as the board had recommended.
Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.
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