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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Cincinnati Attorney Who Impersonated Colleague Disbarred

The Ohio Supreme Court today permanently disbarred a Cincinnati attorney for multiple professional conduct violations, including impersonating a former colleague during his suspension so that he could continue to represent a client in court.

The Supreme Court voted 6-0, with one justice not participating, to disbar Robert H. Hoskins, who had been suspended since April 2015 for other matters. In a per curiam opinion, the Court concluded that Hoskins violated multiple rules governing Ohio attorneys and noted that disbarment  customarily is imposed on those who continue to practice law while under suspension and fail to cooperate in disciplinary investigations.

Ohio Reacts to Kentucky Suspension
Hoskins was suspended by the Kentucky Supreme Court in February 2015 for 60 days, and the Ohio Supreme Court responded in April by suspending Hoskins from practicing in Ohio for 60 days and conditioning his reinstatement on several factors, including his reinstatement in Kentucky.

Hoskins never met the conditions to lift the Ohio suspension. In March 2016, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint charging Hoskins with violating ethical rules while representing six clients, which included practicing while under suspension and lying to clients, opposing attorneys, and courts about the status of his license.

In a separate and unrelated complaint, the Cincinnati Bar Association  already had charged Hoskins with violations regarding six other clients based on incidents dating to 2010. The court followed his initial 60-day suspension with an indefinite suspension in that case. In its June 2016 opinion, the Court stated that Hoskins engaged in “a disturbing pattern of neglect and an ongoing failure to comply with established rules and procedures—not to mention a flagrant disobedience of court orders and a troubling propensity to engage in dishonesty when his actions are questioned.”

Hoskins has admitted to some of the charges brought by the disciplinary counsel.  He did not appear at a hearing conducted by a three-member Board of Professional Conduct panel. The panel found he committed multiple violations and recommended his permanent disbarment, which the board adopted and the Court imposed.

Hoskins Impersonates Former Colleague
Among the charges against Hoskins are that he continued to represent Bertke Electric Company while suspended, made a knowingly false statement, and engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. In the weeks before his Kentucky suspension, Hoskins filed a civil lawsuit for Bertke Electric, a family business partly owned by Kevin Bertke.

Following the April 2015 Ohio suspension, Hoskins continued to represent Bertke in the case by impersonating his former colleague, Thomas Mayes. Hoskins responded to a discovery request by the opposing attorney in the Bertke case from an email address bearing Mayes’ name. The attorney attempted to notify Mayes of the deficiencies in the response by sending a letter to the mailing address Mayes listed with the Office of Attorney Services.

In a subsequent phone conversation, Mayes told the attorney he had not participated in the case and had not created or used the email address that was used to send the discovery response. When asked if he knew Hoskins, Mayes stated that they previously worked together. The attorney reviewed his records and discovered that the person who identified himself as Mayes during a status conference with the court had called from a phone number that Hoskins registered with the Office of Attorney Services.

Hoskins withdrew from the case in September 2015 without notifying his client. After the court informed Bertke that he needed to obtain a new lawyer, Bertke called Hoskins, who failed to disclose that he had been practicing without a law license for about six months. In addition, Hoskins did not respond to the disciplinary counsel’s inquiries about Bertke’s grievance.

Judge Stops Proceedings Once Hoskins’ Status Revealed
Another series of rule violations occurred in mid-2015 when Hoskins continued to represent Preferred Interiors Drywall Systems LLC in a lawsuit filed in Clermont County Common Pleas Court. At a scheduling conference, Hoskins identified himself as an attorney and did not mention he was under suspension. He appeared at a deposition about two weeks later, where the opposing attorney asked Hoskins if he had been reinstated to practice in Ohio. Hoskins claimed that he had spoken with the disciplinary counsel the day before and that he was informed his license was reinstated.

Another attorney called the board of professional conduct while the deposition was occurring and confirmed that Hoskins had not been reinstated. During a break, the opposing attorney called the judge to inform him that Hoskins was deposing a witness despite his ongoing suspension. The judge confirmed Hoskins’ status and then issued a stay, prohibited Hoskins from participating in the case, and directed him to immediately advise his client of the suspension.

Hoskins also continued to represent four additional clients after his suspension without notifying them of his suspension.

Few Mitigating Factors Found to Benefit Hoskins
The opinion stated that when imposing a sanction, the Court considers several factors including aggravating circumstances that could enhance a penalty and mitigating factors that could lead to a less-severe punishment.

It found eight aggravating factors including:

  • Hoskins’s prior disciplinary record that included Kentucky and Ohio suspensions
  • Acting with a selfish and dishonest motive by practicing in multiple cases while suspended
  • Repeatedly lying to clients, courts and other attorneys, and impersonating another attorney
  • Engaging in a pattern of misconduct involving multiple offenses
  • Failing to cooperate in disciplinary investigations
  • Submitting false statements during the disciplinary process
  • Failing to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his misconduct
  • Harming his clients.

Although Hoskins attempted to submit a psychologist’s letter in mitigation, the board rejected it, not only because he failed to comply with hearing rules, but  because it was insufficient to establish the existence of a mitigating disorder.

The Court considered the prior penalties imposed on Hoskins, including a $600 fine for practicing in three cases during his first Ohio suspension, as a mitigating factor, but one that had little impact on its decision to disbar him.

“In light of Hoskins’s extensive pattern of deliberately and repeatedly violating this court’s prior orders, the presence of numerous aggravating factors, and the absence of significant mitigating factors, we find that permanent disbarment is the only appropriate sanction in this case,” the Court stated.

In addition to disbarment, the Court ordered him to pay $1,500 in restitution to one of his former clients and pay for the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, William M. O’Neill, and R. Patrick DeWine joined the opinion.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer did not participate.

2016-1496. Disciplinary Counsel v. Hoskins, Slip Opinion No. 2017-Ohio-2924.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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