Cleveland Attorney Disbarred
The Ohio Supreme Court today disbarred a Cleveland attorney who was caught on video representing a client in court three months after his law license was suspended.
In a 4-3 per curiam decision, the Supreme Court ruled Mark R. Pryatel continued to practice law during his suspension and engaged in dishonest conduct.
Court Video and Audio Catch Attorney Representing Client
The Court indefinitely suspended Pryatel in April 2013 for several violations of the rules governing attorneys including misappropriating a client’s settlement funds, making false statements to a court, charging an illegal or clearly excessive fee, and neglecting a client matter.
Pryatel was soon discovered in court shortly after the suspension. The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association produced for the Board of Professional Conduct video and audio tapes of Pryatel representing Richard Brazell on three different occasions starting in June 2013.
Pryatel is seen on video in Cleveland Municipal Court at Brazell’s probation-violation hearing standing with Brazell, admitting the probation violation on Brazell’s behalf, and speaking for Brazell. Brazell’s girlfriend and stepfather testified before the professional conduct board that they paid Pryatel $450 to represent Brazell, and that Pryatel did not inform them his license was suspended.
Two days after the probation hearing, Pryatel represented Brazell on unrelated charges in Rocky River Municipal Court. An audio recording of Brazell’s arraignment indicated Pryatel spoke on Brazell’s behalf. He told the magistrate that he was not Brazell’s attorney, but rather Brazell was representing himself as the two worked out their business relationship. The magistrate told the board Pryatel did not indicate his license was suspended.
At a hearing a month later in Rocky River, Pryatel stood by Brazell, answered questions on his behalf, and entered a plea for him in front of a judge. The Rocky River prosecutor and judge in the case both told the board that it was their belief Pryatel was representing Brazell.
When confronted with the allegations of representing Brazell, Pryatel in a deposition denied he appeared with Brazell at the probation-violation hearing or municipal court proceedings, said he told Brazell’s family his license was suspended, and he was not paid for his legal work.
“All of these statements were later contradicted by testimonial, video, audio, and documentary evidence presented at the disciplinary hearing,” the Court opinion stated.
Pryatel Suggests Conduct Was Not Practicing Law
Pryatel objected to the board finding that he practiced law while suspended. He argued his conduct in Rocky River did not constitute the “practice of law” because he did not advocate for Brazell, cross-examine any witnesses, cite legal authority, or handle any legal documents.
The Court rejected Pryatel arguments. Citing its 2006 Cleveland Bar Assn. v. Comp Management, Inc. decision, the Court stated the practice of law is not limited to advocacy or filing of legal documents, but includes representation before a court, preparation of legal documents, management of client actions, all advice related to law, and all actions connected with the law taken on a client’s behalf.
“Here, the evidence demonstrated that Pryatel accompanied Brazell to the court, stood with him before the bench, spoke on his behalf, waived his legal rights as a criminal defendant, and entered a plea for him,” the opinion stated. “Under any definition, Pryatel’s appearance on behalf of Brazell constituted the practice of law.”
Pryatel also claimed he was “sandbagged” by the bar association about his appearance in Cleveland Municipal Court because the case against him before the board did not originally contain the video of his appearance at the probation hearing. The bar association later supplemented its case with the video, and Pryatel had more than two weeks to review it before his disciplinary hearing. The Court ruled that Pryatel offered no explanation about how the introduction of the video prevented him from adequately defending himself against the charges.
Pryatel argued that he should not be disbarred because his actions involved a single client who benefitted from his assistance, and he helped Brazell for “sympathetic and altruistic reasons.” He also asserted that he cooperated during the disciplinary process and had a history of providing quality legal services to indigent clients. He suggested that other lawyers charged with the same conduct as his were not disbarred. The Court disagreed.
“Less than three months after our order forbidding Pryatel to appear on behalf of another before any court, he represented a client in three court proceedings. As the board found, his actions defy logic and reason, especially his insistence that his conduct at those hearings did not constitute the practice of law,” the Court concluded.
In the Court’s majority were Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, and William M. O’Neill.
Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French dissented, writing that they would continue to impose the indefinite suspension.
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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