Former Cleveland Attorney Suspended for One Year
The Ohio Supreme Court today suspended from the practice of law a Virginia man who worked for a Cleveland law firm and accessed his former employer’s email accounts after his termination.
In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court suspended Brandon L. Azman of Arlington, Virginia, for one year with six months stayed on conditions. The Court found Azman not only accessed the account of his former employer, but also other employees of the firm, and he deleted some email communications then lied about the deletions under oath.
Accessed Account for Weeks After Termination
Azman worked for the Piscitelli Law Firm in 2012 and 2013, but was terminated by Frank Piscitelli. Azman learned the login credentials and passwords for Piscitelli’s email and those of three other employees. The day of his termination he began accessing those accounts without authorization and continued for two-and-a-half weeks. Firm employees changed their passwords, but Azman was still able to obtain their updated information and continued to view their emails, accessing the system at least 20 times.
Azman sent two emails to Piscitelli asking if he would write a letter of recommendation, but Piscitelli did not respond. Azman then emailed Piscitelli indicating he met with one of the law firm’s clients and proposed that in exchange for the letter of recommendation, he would “be willing to negotiate a non-compete of sorts” with the firm.
Piscitelli replied that he terminated Azman for poor work performance and would not provide a letter. He told Azman he would pursue legal action against Azman if he contacted firm clients, harassed firm employees, or made additional threats to him or the firm. Piscitelli forwarded the email exchange to another employee in his office. Azman then logged into the firm’s email and deleted the communications between him and Piscitelli from both Piscitelli’s and the other employee’s accounts.
When Piscitelli discovered the emails were deleted, the firm contacted local police, who traced the unauthorized access to Azman’s residence. Piscitelli agreed not to pursue a criminal complaint against Azman if Azman reported his conduct to the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association. Azman notified the bar association of his termination and his unauthorized viewing of firm emails, but during a deposition he denied purposely deleting any firm emails. It was not until disciplinary hearings by the Board of Professional Conduct that Azman admitted he deleted the emails.
The board found Azman violated several rules governing the conduct of Ohio lawyers including unlawfully destroying or concealing material having potential evidentiary value, engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, knowingly making a false statement in connection with a disciplinary matter, and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.
Board Weighs Aggravating, Mitigating Factors
To determine a recommended sanction, the board considered the aggravating factors in Azman’s case including his selfish motive, engaging in a pattern of wrongful conduct over a two-week period, committing multiple offenses, and knowingly making a false statement. Mitigating factors the board considered included Azman having no prior discipline, ultimately acknowledging his wrongful conduct, and that the conduct did not involve the provision of legal services or negatively impact a client’s case. The board also noted that except for the false statement during his deposition, he displayed a cooperative attitude during the disciplinary process.
The Court accepted the board’s recommended sentence. Azman’s one-year suspension was stayed for six months on the conditions that he not engage in further misconduct and pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.
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