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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Dayton Attorney Receives 18-Month Suspension

The Ohio Supreme Court suspended today the law license of a Dayton attorney who has not paid a nearly $6,000 judgment against him for court-ordered sanctions.

In a per curiam decision, the Supreme Court suspended John J. Scaccia, noting this is his third disciplinary case in the past two years. The Court suspended him for 18 months, with the final six months stayed on the condition that he not engage in further misconduct and pay V.H. Cooper & Co. $5,980 plus interest.

The Court first suspended Scaccia’s law license in October 2014 for failing to competently manage a case and other violations of the rules governing Ohio lawyers. That suspension was followed by a June 2015 one-year suspension issued by the Court when the Dayton Bar Association complained that Scaccia engaged in professional misconduct with two other client matters.

Van Wert County Case Subject of Third Complaint
The bar association filed another complaint against him in January 2015 related to his representation of a client in 2012 and 2013. Scaccia filed an administrative appeal in Van Wert County Common Pleas Court on behalf of a client who was denied certain workers’ compensation benefits. Scaccia, who stated he had difficulty connecting with the client, failed to respond in a timely manner to discovery requests from V.H. Cooper & Co., which was a defendant in the case. Cooper filed a motion to compel the trial court to force Scaccia to comply with the discovery requests, and the judge granted Scaccia five days to comply or face dismissal of the case. The judge also ordered Scaccia or his client to pay Cooper about $2,700 to reimburse the company for the legal expenses incurred by bringing the motion to compel.

Scaccia sent emails to Cooper’s attorney attempting to respond to Cooper’s discovery requests, but the trial court found his responses were incomplete and dismissed the case. Scaccia appealed, but the court of appeals dismissed the case because he did not file it on time.

He then failed to pay the court-ordered sanction to Cooper on time, and after the company set up a payment plan with him, he made two payments and then stopped. It was not until eight months after the deadline that Scaccia finally paid Cooper what he owed. Consequently, Cooper sought additional fees to cover the expenses of attempting to collect from Scaccia and the court ordered him to pay Cooper $5,980 in attorney fees.

Board Finds Rules Violations
A three-member panel of the Board of Professional Conduct conducted a hearing based on the charges related to the Van Wert County matter and found Scaccia violated four rules of professional conduct including failing to act with reasonable diligence in representing a client, knowingly disobeying an obligation from a court, and “intentionally or habitually” failing to make reasonably diligent efforts to comply with a proper discovery request by an opposing party.

Scaccia objected to the findings, arguing that he had not consciously ignored the trial court’s order to comply with discovery, however, the Supreme Court affirmed the board’s finding that there was clear and convincing evidence of Scaccia knowingly disobeying three court orders.

“The board specifically determined Scaccia violated the rule by knowingly (1) failing to comply with the trial court’s deadline to respond to discovery, (2) failing for eight months to comply with the court order to pay Cooper $2,669.04 in attorney fees, and (3) continuing to fail to pay the court-ordered sanction of $5,980 in additional attorney fees,” the opinion stated.

Court Considers Violation of Updated Rule
Scaccia also challenged the finding that he violated Prof.Cond.R 3.4(d), and the Court noted this is the first time it has had to interpret if the board must find an attorney “intentionally or habitually” failed to make a reasonable effort to comply with a discovery request. The “intentionally or habitually” requirement was added to the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct in 2007.

The Court found it does apply to compliance with a discovery request and noted the board concluded Scaccia’s conduct was intentional when he failed to respond to Cooper’s motion to compel and the trial court’s discovery order. The Court stated the three-member hearing panel was best positioned to assess Scaccia’s conduct and it accepted the board’s finding that he acted intentionally in violating the rule.

Scaccia Claims Vitamin Deficiency Contributed to Errors
The board weighed aggravating and mitigating factors before recommending a sanction. Scaccia’s prior discipline, the commitment of multiple offenses, and his refusal to acknowledge his wrongful conduct were aggravating factors considered by the board. In addition, the board found his misconduct harmed his client and the opposing party, and that he had not yet paid the court-ordered $5,980.

Mitigating factors the board considered included Scaccia’s lack of a dishonest or selfish motive, his cooperative attitude with the board, other sanctions have been imposed on him for some of the misconduct, and evidence he submitted of a good character and reputation. Scaccia objected to the board not giving him credit for health issues, including a claim that he suffered from a vitamin-D deficiency that led to absentmindedness.

The board found it could not recognize the health issue as a significant mitigating factor because Scaccia failed to provide any medical evidence to support his claim. The Court overruled Scaccia’s objections and accepted the board’s recommended 18-month suspension with the final six months stayed on the conditions that he pay the fee to Cooper plus interest and not violate professional conduct rules.

Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, and William M. O’Neill, joined the majority opinion.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell and Judith Ann Lanzinger dissented, stating they would not stay any portion of the suspension and would order the suspension to be served consecutively with Scaccia’s other suspensions.

2015-1628. Dayton Bar Assn. v. Scaccia, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-3299.

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