Siblings Who Mismanaged Funds of Former Cleveland Mayor’s Spouse Suspended for One Year
Two Cuyahoga County attorneys were suspended for one year by the Ohio Supreme Court today for multiple ethical violations related to the services performed for the late wife of former Cleveland mayor and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Ralph S. Locher.
In a 4-3 per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court suspended Nancy A. Zoller of Lyndhurst and Edward J. Mamone of Cleveland. Before the attorneys seek reinstatement, the Court will require Zoller to pay $30,466 and Mamone $11,116 in restitution to Eleanor Locher’s estate.
This is the second time the Supreme Court has considered the ethical violations by the two attorney siblings. In an October 2015 opinion (Cleveland Metro. Bar Assn. v. Zoller and Mamone), the Court summarized the Board of Professional Conduct’s findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations, but did not adopt them. Instead, the case was remanded to the board for further proceedings because the Court disagreed with the board’s recommendation that neither Zoller nor Mamone should be required to make restitution to Locher’s estate.
Based on the stipulations of the parties, exhibits, and testimony, the board found Zoller and Edward Mamone committed multiple offenses and caused harm to a vulnerable client.
Financial Mismanagement Alleged
Zoller and Mamone were associates in the Gurney, Miller & Mamone law firm in which their father, Joseph A. Mamone, was a partner. In 2013, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association charged that the two violated the rules governing the behavior of Ohio attorneys based on their handling of Locher’s finances.
Locher hired Joseph Mamone and his two children in 2004 to administer her late husband’s estate, and once that was completed, she hired the firm to help her manage her money, pay bills, and handle other aspects of her financial and personal life.
Ralph Locher, who served as Cleveland mayor from 1962 to 1967, and as a justice from 1976 to 1989, left more than $1 million in his estate. After her husband died, Locher lived briefly at a nursing home, and then with help of the Mamones and Zoller, sought to live independently with around-the-clock care and to make generous gifts to family members and charitable causes.
Zoller established a special account for managing Locher’s money. Because it was not an interest-bearing trust account, it did not comply with professional rules governing the maintenance of client funds. Locher, Zoller, and Edward Mamone were the only authorized users of the account. Locher used the account to give away about $400,000 to relatives and several thousands of dollars to her charitable causes while also making cash withdrawals.
Zoller wrote most of the checks. Although Joseph Mamone was not designated to sign for the account, he wrote and signed a number of account checks. Joseph Mamone also exercised primary control of the firm’s attorney-client relationship with Locher.
As designated signatories on the account, Edward Mamone and Zoller shared responsibility to keep the account in order. But their failure to maintain complete and accurate records or to perform monthly reconciliations led the account to become overdrawn on 34 occasions, which caused the bank to assess more than $1,000 in overdraft fees.
Firm Overcharges Locher
For managing her money and arranging for her needs, Locher agreed to pay the law firm a $500 monthly account maintenance fee from 2004 through early 2010. Payment amounts sometimes varied, and she paid a total of $30,900 in fees.
Locher was also charged $329,000 in attorney fees, many of which were not fully documented or explained, and more than $258,000 was paid to Joseph Mamone over a period of two years. Many nonlegal tasks were billed at $300 per hour. The Supreme Court accepted Joseph Mamone’s resignation from the practice of law in April 2014 with disciplinary action pending.
Edward Mamone and Zoller testified they were not aware until the disciplinary investigation began that Locher had paid fees directly to their father. They acknowledged some of the attorney fees that were paid using the account should have been covered by the maintenance fee, which resulted in Locher being charged twice for the same work.
The professional conduct board found Zoller and Edward Mamone violated several rules, including the requirement that client funds be held in an interest-bearing account, that complete records must be maintained by the lawyer holding the client’s funds, and that lawyers not charge or collect excessive fees. The Court noted in its earlier opinion that Locher died at age 95 with only modest assets remaining, including approximately $289 in the special account, and the house that she had lived in until her death, which was the subject of a reverse mortgage.
Court Weighs Factors Before Imposing Sanction
The professional conduct board also considered that Zoller and Edward Mamone had not previously been disciplined, had no dishonest or selfish motive, fully cooperated in the disciplinary process, and provided evidence of good character. However, the board noted that Zoller was responsible for overcharging Locher and prepared improper after-the-fact billing statements that clearly showed Locher was charged attorney-fee rates for nonlegal services. The board also found Edward Mamone failed to oversee the account and his dereliction facilitated the misconduct by his father and sister.
The Court’s opinion stated that Zoller and her brother failed to maintain “even a modicum of oversight” of the account.
“If Zoller and Mamone had properly monitored the special account, they would have discovered obvious improprieties that would have alerted them to the fact that their father was taking advantage of Mrs. Locher—an elderly client who depended on their services to remain in her own home and out of a nursing home,” the Court wrote.
The Court concluded that the siblings’ behavior not only caused harm to their client, but also allowed Locher to be exploited by their “unscrupulous father.” The two claimed to be minor players at the firm, restrained from protecting Locher because of their father’s power. The opinion stated the claim was not credible given their authority and obligations as the signatories on the account.
“Given the magnitude of the harm that Zoller and Mamone caused to Mrs. Locher—both directly and indirectly—we believe that an actual suspension from the practice of law is necessary to protect the public from future harm,” the Court wrote.
In addition to the one-year suspensions, the Court adopted the parties’ stipulation that Zoller and Mamone each owed restitution of $11,116 based on the overdraft fees, costs of checks improperly written by their father, and excessive fees paid from the account. It also agreed that Zoller owed another $19,350 representing 64.5 hours of nonlegal tasks that were billed at attorney- rates.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, and William M. O’Neill joined the majority opinion.
Without a written dissenting opinion, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger indicated she instead would suspend the pair for two years. In a separate dissent, Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Judith L. French expressed they would suspend Zoller for one year, and Mamone for six months, with both suspensions fully stayed.
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