Two Ohio Attorneys Indefinitely Suspended
In separate disciplinary cases announced today, the Ohio Supreme Court indefinitely suspended from the practice of law two Ohio attorneys convicted of felonies.
- The Supreme Court indefinitely suspended Eaton attorney James W. Thomas Jr.
- The Court indefinitely suspended former South Euclid attorney Ronald L. Rosenfield.
Thomas Stole from Clients
The Court first suspended Thomas’ license in July 2014 when he was convicted of two counts of theft and one count of theft from the elderly, which were felonies he committed while serving as a court-appointed guardian. He also was convicted of three misdemeanor counts of falsification.
Thomas, who served as the guardian for four individuals, pleaded no contest to the theft of thousands of dollars from them and for attempting to conceal the thefts by filing false inventories with the Preble County Probate Court. He was sentenced to 4½ years in prison and ordered to make $208,095 in restitution, the largest award being $115,112 to one of the clients.
Based on the crime, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel charged Thomas with multiple violations of the rules governing attorneys, and the Board of Professional Conduct conducted hearings based on the claims. The board found Thomas, who was first admitted to practice in 2001, violated several rules including the prohibition of a lawyer committing illegal acts; engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; knowingly making a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal; and knowingly offering evidence that the lawyer knows to be false.
In considering the sanctions, the board found Thomas acted with a dishonest or selfish motive by using the money he misappropriated from his clients to maintain an addiction to ephedrine and to compensate for the loss of legal practice income as a result of his addiction. The board also noted that he engaged in stealing client money and trying to conceal it with false filings for more than six years.
The board learned that one client owed more than $115,000 settled for $89,000 paid by Thomas’ professional-liability insurer and that Thomas’ father agreed to pay the other clients up to $18,000 over the next two years. In its unanimous per curiam opinion, the Court noted that Thomas owes those other clients more than $90,000, and that he has made no effort to compensate the victims.
The Court imposed the indefinite suspension with six conditions that Thomas would have to meet to be considered for reinstatement that include: completing his incarceration; paying full restitution to all clients; complying with the terms of his probation; completing an Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP) substance-abuse program and addiction-treatment program; signing an OLAP recovery contract for a term determined by OLAP; and being in full compliance with all treatment recommendations.
Rosenfield Failed to Pay Taxes
Rosenfield, who was admitted to practice law in 1970, was suspended on an interim basis in August 2014 when he was convicted of willfully failing to account for federal income taxes and Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) taxes that he was obligated to withhold from the wages of his employees and pay to the Internal Revenue Service.
Rosenfield was a partner in the law firm S & R Co. L.P.A., but in 1998 the state revoked his firm’s corporate charter for failing to pay state franchise taxes. Rosenfield did not inform his partner of the revocation and continued to operate under the corporate name until 2003 when he became sole owner and the partner insisted the firm change its name.
Rosenfield hired a separate payroll firm to provide payroll and employment tax-return services, but after changing the firm’s name, he never obtained a new federal identification number and continued to file documents with the IRS under the former company’s name. In 2008, he stopped funding the payroll account.
In February 2014, he pleaded guilty to charges of failing to collect, account for, and pay federal income and FICA taxes for his employees from October 2006 to March 2011, and failing to file any corporate or business income-tax return from at least 1998 until 2011.
He was sentenced to six months home detention, five years of probation, and ordered to pay $523,253 in restitution to the IRS.
Based on the crime, the disciplinary counsel charged Rosenfield with multiple violations of the rules governing attorneys including engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; engaging in illegal conduct; and committing an illegal act that reflects adversely on a lawyer’s honesty or trustworthiness.
The Court’s unanimous per curiam decision noted that Rosenfield engaged in a pattern of misconduct for about 10 years, and acted with a selfish and dishonest motive because he failed to pay taxes and kept the money for himself.
Rosenfield, who now lives in California, offered as mitigating factors that he had no prior disciplinary records, cooperated with the board during disciplinary proceedings and with the federal investigation, and did not cause harm to his clients or employees by his actions.
The Court indefinitely suspended Rosenfield and conditioned any application for reinstatement by requiring he comply with his criminal probation and repayment plan he made with the IRS. If he is reinstated, he must serve three years of monitored probation to ensure he is complying with the IRS restitution plan and paying all employment and unemployment taxes going forward.
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