Two Ohio Attorneys With Felony Convictions Suspended
The Supreme Court today suspended Carly L. Snavely of Chagrin Falls and Arthur A. Ames of Dayton.
In separate per curiam opinions, the Court accepted recommended sanctions from the Board of Professional Conduct. In both cases, the lawyers entered “consent-to-discipline” agreements with the disciplinary bodies that brought the complaints of violating the rules governing Ohio lawyers.
In June 2013, Snavely was involved in an incident that led to criminal charges, and she was admitted to an inpatient treatment program for heroin addiction. After completing treatment, she pleaded guilty to heroin possession, a fifth-degree felony, and the trial judge granted her “intervention in lieu of conviction” and placed her on community control for two years. After one year of the program, the judge found she had complied with her sanctions and dismissed the case.
Months prior to her accident, Snavely, who was a solo practitioner, was hired by William Russell to defend him in a criminal case. He later paid her a retainer and entered a written fee agreement. Prior to solo practice, Snavely served a year as a public defender and for three years as an assistant Geauga County prosecutor. At the time she contracted with Russell, she had not maintained a required client trust account nor did she know how to properly use one. She also did not have professional liability insurance, and she did not inform Russell of that fact in writing.
Shortly after representing Russell, Snavely was hired by Alex Fisher to defend him in a criminal case, and Fisher’s mother paid Snavely an agreed portion of a flat fee. Snavely did not deposit the money into a client trust account or inform her client that he might be entitled to a refund of all or part of the flat fee if she did not complete the representation. She also failed to notify Fisher that she did not maintain malpractice insurance.
Clients File Complaints
Russell filed a grievance with the bar association, claiming that because of Snavely’s drug addiction and treatment, he was forced to retain another lawyer to represent him. Snavely also acknowledged that Fisher had to obtain another lawyer and that she was unaware of and failed to comply with the procedures to withdraw as their attorney.
The parties stipulated that Snavely has not used illegal drugs since January 2014 and that she is in full compliance with her Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP) contract. She has paid $3,500 in restitution to Russell and $2,650 to Fisher’s mother. The parties also stipulated that Snavely forged Russell’s signature on a legal-malpractice-waiver form, which Snavely says she has no memory of doing. Snavely was charged with forgery in 2015, pleaded guilty to the first-degree misdemeanor of attempted forgery, and served three days in jail.
Snavely admitted she violated several rules including requiring clients to sign a form acknowledging a lawyers does not have malpractice insurance; charging a flat fee without advising the client of a potential refund; failing to deposit client funds into interest-bearing trust accounts; failing to withdraw from representation when her condition impaired her ability to represent her clients; and committing illegal acts.
Court Weighs Crimes, Recovery Efforts
In considering a sanction for Snavely, the board found Snavely acted with a selfish or dishonest motive when she forged Russell’s name on a legal document. But it also noted she had no prior discipline, paid restitution to the clients, and is well-respected in the local legal and drug-recovery community. The parties also agreed that she served her penalties for the crimes, and made other attempts at rehabilitation, including hiring a legal-ethics expert to provide training.
The parties agreed that Snavely’s addiction was a factor in her violating the professional rules, and she was diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder. She participates in a recovery program monitored by OLAP and her chemical-dependency counselor has concluded she is capable of practicing law competently and ethically.
Based on the consent-to-discipline agreement, the Court suspended Snavely for two years with the final 18 months stayed on the condition that she continue to comply with her OLAP contract and refrain from further misconduct.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Judith L. French, and William M. O’Neill joined the majority opinion.
Dissent Questions Snavely’s Compliance
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Terrence O’Donnell questioned whether Snavely complied with her sobriety commitment based on the timing of the charge for forging Russell’s signature.
O’Donnell noted that Snavely claimed the heroin addiction contributed to her misconduct, including forging the form. She claimed she had not used drugs since January 2014. However, the grand jury indictment for forgery alleged that the offense took place in either June or July of 2014, six months after she alleged she was no longer under the influence of drugs.
When the trial court accepted her guilty plea to the lesser charge, the state asked and received the right to amend the charge to reflect that the offense occurred sometime between February 2013 and July 2014.
“Based on Snavely’s admission of guilt and the dates referenced in the amended indictment, it is possible that she committed this offense after she last used drugs in January 2014; if so, her addiction did not contribute to or mitigate her misconduct, and therefore, a more severe sanction may be appropriate,” he wrote.
Justice O’Donnell noted that Snavely initially told investigators that Russell signed the document when she presented it to him in February 2013, which is inconsistent with her later statements that she had no memory of forging the document, and that she could not recall if he signed it in her presence. It was also after Russell filed his grievance in April 2014 that she presented to investigators the forged document as being authentic.
The stipulation between the parties does not establish that Snavely’s misconduct occurred before she became sober or that there was a connection between her addiction and her attempted forgery, Justice O’Donnell wrote. He suggested the Court remand the matter to the board to determine if the attempted forgery occurred after the claim of sobriety.
Justice Sharon L. Kennedy joined Justice O’Donnell’s dissent.
Ames Misappropriates Brother’s Estate Funds
In December 2015, the Court suspended Ames on an interim basis for his conviction of theft by deception, a fifth-degree felony.
Ames admitted that as executor of his late brother’s estate, he misappropriated $8,140 from his nieces’ shares of the estate proceeds, and falsely represented in a probate court filing that the nieces’ consented to distribute the additional funds to him.
The trial court sentenced him to three years of community control and, among other things, ordered him to pay $5,640 in restitution to the estate at the rate of $160 a month. He also agreed to waive his $2,500 executor fee.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel and Ames agreed he violated attorney rules including committing an illegal act and engaging in conduct that involved in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.
The parties agreed that Ames had no prior discipline, fully cooperated in the disciplinary proceedings, acknowledged his wrongdoing, and expressed remorse for the harm he caused to his nieces and the legal system. The parties also agreed he acted with a dishonest or selfish motive and committed multiple offenses.
The Court adopted the board’s recommendation that Ames be suspended for two years with the final six months stayed and that he be given credit for the time served under the interim felony suspension that started in December 2015. The opinion stated the Court accepted the agreement, noting the misconduct was Ames’s “only ethical misstep in more than 45 years of practice.” Ames reinstatement is conditioned on his compliance with the restitution order and that he commit no further misconduct.
Justices Pfeifer, Lanzinger, French, and O’Neill concurred in the opinion.
Chief Justice O’Connor and Justices O’Donnell and Kennedy dissented, stating they would remand the case to the board to reconsider the grant of time served under the interim suspension.
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