Supreme Court Suspends Willoughby, Columbus Attorneys
Two attorneys were suspended from the practice of law today by the Ohio Supreme Court for violating professional conduct rules.
- Willoughby attorney John D. Mismas received a one-year suspension, with six months stayed on conditions, for demanding sexual favors via text message from a law student he sought to – and ultimately did – employ.
- Columbus attorney Harold L. Thompson received a two-year suspension, with 18 months stayed on conditions, for using his client trust account as a personal and operating account, for failing to timely withdraw earned fees from that account, and for misappropriating client funds.
The Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline had recommended that Mismas be publicly reprimanded for sending inappropriate, sexually explicit text messages to the law student. But having independently reviewed the record, the Supreme Court found “that Mismas did not just send sexually explicit text messages to a law student he sought to employ – he abused the power and prestige of our profession to demand sexual favors from her as a condition of employment,” the court’s per curiam opinion states. The law clerk quit 12 days after she was hired.
The court found that Mismas engaged in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law in violation of Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(h). The court, therefore, concluded that a harsher sentence than the public reprimand recommended by a hearing panel and the full board was “necessary to protect the public from future misconduct,” according to the opinion.
“Unwelcome sexual advances are unacceptable in the context of any employment, but they are particularly egregious when they are made by attorneys with the power to hire, supervise, and fire the recipient of those advances,” according to the opinion. “Here Mismas not only suggested that Ms. C perform sexual favors for him, but he also indicated that her continued employment depended on her compliance with his demands and repeatedly insisted that he was not joking. And even after being rebuffed, he continued to exert his leverage over Ms. C by pressuring her to travel out of state – and away from her support system – with him. When an attorney engages in sexually inappropriate conduct of this nature, it causes harm not only to the individual to whom the conduct is directed but also to the dignity and reputation of the professional as a whole.”
The court also rejected one of the mitigating factors used to determine his recommended sanction: the notion that Mismas had made a timely good-faith effort to rectify the consequences of his misconduct. According to the opinion, … “Ms. C testified that when she resigned her employment, Mismas became hostile, put her down for being naïve, and threatened to contact her professors to tell them what a stupid decision she had made.”
The court found that: “His brief apology to her at the panel hearing and his efforts to have her testimony placed under seal to protect her from future harm, although appropriate, do little to meliorate Ms. C’s anxiety, embarrassment, frustration, disappointment, and fear of harm to her professional reputation.”
The court also noted the importance of legal clerkships for law students just starting out in the profession and how it expects attorneys to conduct themselves “with a level of dignity and decorum befitting these professional relationships.”
In the Thompson case, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a three-count complaint. The court adopted the board’s findings of fact and conclusions of law that Thompson violated seven professional conduct rules.
The court took into account comparable discipline issued in a similar case, but noted that Thompson’s misconduct was more serious because he had been previously disciplined for the same type of misconduct in 1982. In March of that year, the court publicly reprimanded Thompson based on findings that he had withdrawn unearned funds from his client trust account to meet personal and office expenses and caused an overdraft of the account.
As a condition to his reinstatement to the practice of law, Thompson must successfully comply with and complete an 18-month period of probation with a focus on the management of his client trust account.
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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