Two Central Ohio Attorneys Suspended
In separate disciplinary cases announced today, the Ohio Supreme Court suspended two central Ohio attorneys from the practice of law.
- The Supreme Court indefinitely suspended Dublin attorney Raymond T. Lee III.
- The Court suspended for two years, with one year stayed on conditions, Reynoldsburg attorney Daniel K. Balaloski.
Lee Claimed Immunity by Federal Law
In Disciplinary Counsel v. Lee, the Court noted that Lee has been suspended five times, four for failing to register as an attorney, and once for failure to comply with continuing legal education requirements. He has been suspended in Ohio continuously since December 2010.
Lee stated his primary practice is federal employment law on behalf of the Federal Educators Association (FEA) and its members. The FEA is a public employee union representing educators working in the Department of Defense’s school system for the children of military members. Lee has claimed that federal labor law renders him immune from state attorney disciplinary proceedings. In a unanimous per curiam decision, the Court noted the complaints against him arose from his representation of a former teacher at a military school in Fort Knox, Kentucky, and his failure to cooperate in state disciplinary investigations after the teacher filed a complaint about Lee’s representation.
Legal Representation Drew Complaints
Lee was on retainer to represent the FEA and more than 50 percent of its matters involved teacher discipline. Patricia Lee-Buhl, a teacher at the Fort Knox Community School notified the school that her husband had been transferred to the Marshall Islands and she sought a 90-day leave of absence. While on leave, she resigned her position in Fort Knox and contacted the FEA and Lee about filing a grievance in connection with a school district investigation of her. Lee advised Buhl that since she was no longer a member of the FEA, the school might be able to challenge the union’s right to bring a grievance on her behalf, and no grievance was filed. But in November 2007 Kentucky’s state teacher licensing board informed Buhl she was being accused of teacher misconduct and asked for her response. Buhl drafted a reply to the board and emailed the draft to Lee, who reviewed it and provided revisions that he recommended she submit. He indicated he and another FEA lawyer would prepare a “lawyer supplement” for Buhl to add to her reply. Lee faxed Buhl’s response to the licensing board, but didn’t submit any supplemental material.
In March 2008, the licensing board notified Buhl of a hearing regarding the misconduct complaint, and she emailed Lee and the FEA for advice. Lee told her he would review the charges and take action if any, but neither he nor the union responded to her further inquiries of the status of her case. In March 2010, a state prosecutor contacted Buhl and told her Lee never responded to any phone calls the prosecutor made regarding the complaint. The FEA was unaware of the prosecutor’s letter to Buhl and thought the matter was still under review when the formal complaint was filed with the licensing board. When the prosecutor finally reached Lee, he said he was not sure he still represented Buhl.
Lee did not respond further and the state moved for default judgment to permanently revoke Buhl’s license. That prompted Lee to eventually respond to the prosecutor telling her Buhl authorized him to represent her and that he would act to get admitted pro hac vice in Kentucky to do so, so he could seek a stay of the judgment against her. He promised to take actions to set aside the license revocation, but never did nor did he act to represent her in Kentucky. In November 2011, Buhl received a notice from Pennsylvania it also was seeking to revoke her teaching certification based on Kentucky’s action, and when she contacted Lee about it, he failed to respond. Buhl secured a new attorney who was able to negotiate a settlement limiting the sanctions, and she filed a complaint against Lee with Ohio’s Board of Professional Conduct.
A board probable cause panel found Lee abandoned Buhl and her legal matter, failed to act promptly, failed to keep her informed, ignored reasonable requests for information, failed to share information with her new attorney, and failed to tell her he could not represent her while allowing her to believe he was handling the matter.
Because the acts took place in Kentucky, the Ohio panel applied Kentucky’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which are nearly identical to Ohio’s, and found he violated a number of requirements to keep her informed and that he engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. Lee countered that federal labor law granted him immunity from state disciplinary actions citing a list of federal case rulings that found attorneys are immune from civil lawsuits in connection with their representation of unions in federal matters.
Court Rules Lawyer Not Immune
The Court stated that Buhl’s complaint against Lee did not involve a federal employee or involve a federal matter, but rather was a state action regarding a former federal employee’s teaching license. It found that Lee could not cite any provision of the federal law he cited for immunity that would “preempt a state’s inherent interest in protecting the public from attorneys who are unethical, unscrupulous, or no longer competent to practice law.”
The board also found Lee failed to cooperate by ignoring letters and subpoenas sent to him by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, and advised the Court to impose an indefinite suspension.
“Noting that we frequently impose indefinite suspensions on attorneys who neglect client matters and fail to cooperate in the ensuing disciplinary investigations, the board agreed that the sanction is appropriate in the case,” the Court wrote. “In light of Lee’s conduct, the significant aggravating factors present, and the sanctions we have imposed on comparable misconduct, we find that an indefinite suspension is warranted.”
Balaloski Concedes to Neglecting Client Matters
In Columbus Bar Assn. v Balaloski, the bar association charged Balaloski with professional misconduct, based on six separate client matters, including failing to provide competent representation, failing to act promptly, and failing to promptly deliver funds a client was entitled to receive.
Balaloski entered into a “consent-to-discipline” agreement where he agreed he violated a number of the rules of professional conduct. The parties noted that Balaloski had no prior disciplinary record, there was no dishonest or selfish motivation in his actions, and that he fully cooperated with the investigation of the complaints. The board recommended that the Court accept a proposed two-year suspension from practicing law, with one year stayed, if Balaloski engages in no further misconduct, proves, upon applying for reinstatement, that he has complied with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program, and serves a one-year period of monitored probation once he is reinstated.
Also in a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Court agreed with the board’s finding and issued the two-year suspension with one year stayed on conditions.
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