Supreme Court Suspends Cleveland, Minford Attorneys
Two attorneys from opposite ends of the state were suspended from the practice of law today by the Ohio Supreme Court for violating professional conduct rules.
Cleveland attorney Vincent F. Gonzalez and Minford (Scioto County) attorney Eric A. Wrage both received two-year suspensions, with one year stayed on conditions.
The disciplinary complaint brought against Gonzalez concerned alleged commingling of personal and client funds in his client trust account, failing to maintain records of client-related expenditures, misappropriating a portion of a client’s settlement award, and abandoning another client on the final day of trial. The court’s per curiam (not assigned to a specific justice) decision in Disciplinary Counsel v. Gonzalez covered seven counts of misconduct.
In one of the counts, Gonzalez represented Fernando Perez in a personal-injury case and deposited a $20,000 settlement check in his trust account in 2010. Gonzalez disbursed funds to Perez, to himself for attorney fees, and to a doctor. However, he failed to account for $1,302.27. The Ohio Disciplinary Counsel charged Gonzalez with misappropriating the money. Gonzalez claimed that he used the amount for expenses and fees related to the case.
The Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline determined that Gonzalez committed the misconduct alleged by the Disciplinary Counsel. However, the court sustained in part and overruled in part Gonzalez’s objections to the board’s findings. The opinion notes that “Gonzalez flagrantly violated the disciplinary rules requiring that he maintain detailed records of the money held and disbursed on behalf of clients, and that conduct adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law.” However, the court disagreed with the board’s conclusion that the Ohio Disciplinary Counsel proved that Gonzalez misappropriated client funds.
“Although the evidence does not clearly and convincingly show that Gonzalez dishonestly converted the $1,302.27 to his own use, Perez’s money remains unaccounted for,” according to the opinion. “And Gonzalez was either unable or unwilling to produce any receipts or any other records demonstrating how he expended those client funds. Without any evidence showing the proper disbursement of the missing funds, we must assume that the money belongs to Perez, and therefore Gonzalez must make restitution to Perez in the amount of $1,302.27.”
Ultimately, the court found that “a two-year suspension with the second year stayed, along with payment of restitution to Perez as a condition of reinstatement, is the appropriate sanction in this case.”
In the other disciplinary case announced today, Wrage defaulted on his child-support obligation in 2009 and consequently had his license to practice law in Ohio suspended on an interim basis. In a per curiam opinion in Disciplinary Counsel v. Wrage, the court found that his child-support default, contempt orders arising from that default, a 2006 misdemeanor conviction for aggravated menacing, and his failure to cooperate in the resulting disciplinary investigation adversely reflect on his fitness to practice law and are prejudicial to the administration of justice.
In reaching a determination on the appropriate sanction, the court also noted that during the time that Wrage defaulted on his child-support obligation, he was twice convicted of DUI in Pennsylvania and violated his probation by drinking alcohol. At the time of his hearing, he had not achieved a sustained period of successful treatment of his alcoholism and depression.
“Based on the foregoing, we agree that a two-year suspension with one year stayed on conditions and no credit for time served under the interim child-support suspension is the proper sanction for Wrage’s misconduct,” the opinion states.
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