Willoughby Lawyer Disbarred
The Ohio Supreme Court has permanently prohibited David H. Davies from practicing law in Ohio for mishandling cases. Davies’ misconduct included settling a case without his clients’ approval, not distributing the funds to the clients, and failing to disclose a conflict of interest.
Lawyer Takes Client Money, Neglects Aspects of Cases
A couple hired Davies to represent them in a personal injury lawsuit. In 2009, Davies dismissed the case, and later refiled, settled, and dismissed the suit again. He did not inform his clients about the settlement. The attorney disciplinary board concluded that Davies forged the couple’s signatures on a $14,500 check from their insurance company and did not distribute any of the money to them. The couple eventually sued Davies and won a $100,000 default judgment against him, though he has not paid the judgment.
Another client, Raymond Griffith, retained Davies for several legal matters, and they agreed to a contingent-fee arrangement. After Griffith inherited property from his father, he and Davies instead negotiated a flat fee of $50,000 for Davies’ legal services.
When Griffith died in 2007, though, he had not paid Davies. Davies then represented Griffith’s daughter in handling the estate. In doing so, however, he created a conflict of interest because he was the attorney taking care of the probate matter and also was the largest creditor to which the estate owed money. When the property was sold, Davies took $50,000 for his fees without telling the daughter.
During this time, the daughter told Davies about her half-sister, also Griffith’s daughter. Davies did not find out whether the half-sister was an heir to the estate. A few years later, the half-sister learned of her father’s death and asked the court to reopen the estate, but Davies did not respond and never attended hearings on the matter. Davies was later ordered to return the money he had taken from Griffith’s estate and to pay more than $17,000 in attorney fees. He has not paid either.
In a dental malpractice case, Davies neglected to timely file a required affidavit, an expert report, and a response to a motion from the other side. He also did not follow court rules when filing an appellate brief and then missed a deadline.
Professional Conduct Rule Violations Are Alleged
The Lake County Bar Association filed charges against Davies in February 2014. At the disciplinary hearing, Davies discussed the difficulties he had experienced since his son’s death in 1999, his father’s death in 2001, and the deaths of three other close family members between 2009 and 2012. He testified that it took years for him to admit that he was suffering from depression, and he eventually began seeing a mental-health professional for treatment.
However, Davies did not dispute that he violated multiple professional conduct rules and stated that his depression was not an excuse for his actions. The professional conduct board, and the panel that reviewed the charges, did not consider Davies’ depression as a mitigating factor because there were inaccuracies and inconsistencies in a letter from his psychiatrist. While the panel had suggested that Davies be indefinitely suspended with certain conditions, the board recommended disbarment.
Court Weighs Issues
In a 4-3 decision, the Court noted that even if Davies had wanted to have his depression considered as a mitigating factor, he had not met the burden required to prove that was the case. The Court explained that misappropriation of client funds is misconduct that warrants disbarment unless extensive mitigating evidence justifies a lesser sanction. That evidence does not exist in this case, and Davies violated several other conduct rules and harmed his clients, the Court pointed out.
“The compelling interest of protecting the public requires that the strictest discipline be imposed under these circumstances,” the Court concluded in the per curiam opinion.
The majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, and Judith Ann Lanzinger.
Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, and William M. O’Neill dissented and would have imposed an indefinite suspension with conditions.
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