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Court News Ohio

Lawyer Who Misled Investigators About Past Insurance Crime Has License Revoked

The Ohio Supreme Court today revoked the license of a Macedonia lawyer who concealed information from state bar exam admission officials about being under investigation for insurance fraud, which led him to plead guilty to an insurance-related crime.

The Supreme Court voted 5-2 to revoke Michael A. Callam’s license for two years. His false statements to the Board of Commissioners on Character and Fitness were investigated in 2015 after Callam passed the July 2014 bar exam. In a per curiam opinion, the Court majority announced it will permit Callam to reapply for admission to practice law in two years, rejecting a recommendation from the board that he not be allowed to reapply.

Justice Terrence O’Donnell, in a dissenting opinion joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, wrote that Callam obtained his law license by deceit and he should not be allowed to reapply.

Callam Part of Father-Son Insurance Scheme
In 2015, the Geauga County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office notified the Supreme Court’s Office of Bar Admissions that Callam had been under investigation by the Ohio Department of Insurance since 2013, had been untruthful during interviews with insurance department investigators, and surrendered his Ohio insurance license for cause. The admissions office was notified later that Callam was indicted on two counts of complicity relating to charges against his father, William Callam, for selling insurance without a license.

Callam obtained his insurance license in 2009, and at the time, co-owned a restaurant. His father began meeting prospective insurance clients at the restaurant. Callam’s father had surrendered his insurance license two years earlier, but continued to sell insurance. He sometimes completed the applications and had his son sign them as the insurance agent. Callam testified that he was unaware that his father lost his insurance license and would authorize his father to sign Callam’s name to the insurance applications to secure business.

In 2013, a customer filed a complaint with a life insurance company about a product sold to her by William Callam. She alleged she learned the father did not have a license to sell insurance and that she never discussed the policy with the son. Callam’s father drafted a response to the life insurer’s inquiry, falsely stating that his son had been the agent and personally dealt with the client. Callam adopted the response as his own and signed it. The insurer took no action, and the client complained to the insurance department, which started its own investigation.

Callam Untruthful Under Investigation
Callam told investigators that he had met the client many times and explained the insurance products, and he, not his father, was the primary contact with his clients on all insurance issues. Two months after his interview, he applied to the take the bar exam without disclosing to the character and fitness board that he spoke with the insurance department.

Two months after the bar exam, the insurance investigators interviewed Callam a second time and accused him of lying at the first interview. They told Callam they wanted him to surrender his insurance license for aiding and abetting his father in selling insurance without a license to clients Callam had never met.

A month later, Callam surrendered the license, formally acknowledging that he was under investigation for violating three provisions of Ohio insurance law. Although he was indicted on two criminal counts, Callam pleaded guilty to a single count of complicity to sell insurance without a license, which is a first-degree misdemeanor. He received a suspended 30-day jail sentence; was fined $750; and placed on monitored time for one year.

A panel of the character and fitness board conducted a hearing to address Callam’s failure to notify the board about the insurance department matters, as well as his failure to disclose that he was a defendant  in two separate  civil lawsuits—one filed by the dissatisfied insurance client, and another related to his restaurant.

At the panel hearing, Callam admitted he lied when responding to the insurance investigators and initially stated he did it to protect his father from the consequences of his crimes. He ultimately admitted he was also trying to protect himself and his anticipated admission to the practice of law.

Board Finds Violations
The panel found Callam failed to disclose critical information on his registration and bar exam applications, and did not comply with his duty to update information on his application until he was admitted to practice. The panel found his conduct was “egregious” and concluded Callam “is open and truthful when he must be so, or when it benefits him.” It noted that had Callam provided the information when the events occurred, it would have triggered a board investigation before his admission to the bar.

The panel recommended that Callam’s license be revoked, but that he be able to reapply in two years. The board agreed that his license needed to be revoked, but recommended to the Supreme Court that Callam not be allowed to reapply. Callam objected, arguing his conduct does not warrant the functional equivalent of disbarment.

Court Finds Callam Not Fit to Practice
The opinion stated the Court found Callam failed to demonstrate that he possesses the requisite character, fitness, and moral qualifications to be admitted to the bar at this time.

“Callam’s failure to provide complete and accurate information in his applications to this [C]ourt casts significant doubt on his honesty, his good judgment, and his ability to conduct himself in a manner that engenders respect for the law and the profession,” the opinion stated.

The Court wrote that it has rejected bar exam applications from those who have failed to disclose adverse information, and it is rare when information about false statements or admissions come to light after an applicant passes the bar. However, in those instances, the Court has revoked the license to practice, but allowed for later reapplication.

The Court concluded that Callam’s behavior warranted allowing him to reapply in two years.

“Although his lack of candor about these very serious matters is troubling, it appears that he has cooperated in the ensuing character and fitness investigation and has shown some remorse for his poor judgment. With time, he may be able to establish that he possesses the necessary qualifications for readmission to the practice of law in Ohio,” the opinion stated.

Callam would have to file a new application, submit to another background check by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, and undergo a full character and fitness review.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, William M. O’Neill, Patrick F. Fischer, and R. Patrick DeWine joined the majority opinion.

Dissent Would Deny Reapplication
In his dissent, Justice O’Donnell wrote that the Court has found those “whose honesty and integrity are intrinsically suspect cannot be admitted to the Ohio bar.” He noted that Callam failed to disclose critical information on his registration and failed in his duty to continue to update the information, even after he was reminded of that duty by members of the Akron Bar Association, who conducted his character and fitness interview.

“In my view, these facts demonstrate that Callam does not possess the character, fitness, and moral qualifications necessary for admission to the practice of law and that his honesty and integrity are intrinsically suspect,” he concluded.

2016-1240. In re Application of Callam, Slip Opinion No. 2017-Ohio-4361.

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