Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Suspended Attorney Failed to Notify, Serve Clients While in He Was in Jail

The Ohio Supreme Court today indefinitely suspended a Toledo attorney based on his criminal conduct that led to incarceration and his subsequent failure to inform his clients that he was in jail or to provide legal services to them.

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Court suspended Mark A. Deters and conditioned his reinstatement on his successful treatment of substance-use and mental health disorders and payment of restitution to his former clients.

Deters testified at his Board of Professional Conduct disciplinary hearing that he began abusing alcohol in 2013 as a reaction to a personal loss. The reaction escalated into additional family-related difficulties, the demise of his marriage, and criminal conduct. The Court’s opinion stated he was diagnosed with “severe alcohol and methamphetamine-specific-stimulant-use disorders and an underlying mental disorder.”

Attorney Commits Crimes
Deters’s first legal sanctions resulted from his failure to appear in Fairborn Municipal Court in June 2015 to represent a client. A week later, he was late for a bench trial in the same court. Deters pleaded guilty to contempt of court in July 2015, and paid $730 in fines and court costs.

The same month he resolved the contempt cases, he was arrested in Xenia for operating a motor vehicle under the influence and other traffic-related misdemeanors. During the stop, police found a loaded handgun, and Deters was additionally charged with improperly handling a firearm in a motor vehicle.

Deters pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on bond. In October 2015, he pleaded guilty to eight misdemeanor charges. His bond was revoked, and he was ordered to the Greene County Detention Center.

Periods of Detention Follow
Deters was ultimately sentenced to 180 days in the Greene County jail and placed on three years of probation.

While facing the charges in Xenia, but before his incarceration, Deters violated a civil protection order (CPO) that prohibited him from contacting his estranged wife. Deters was charged with CPO violations in Sylvania Municipal Court in Lucas County, and was unable to appear at a hearing on the matter because he was in the Greene County jail. When he was released from jail in March 2016, he pleaded guilty to the CPO violation and spent 10 days in the Correction Center for Northwest Ohio in March 2016.

Deters was free from jail between March 2016 and March 2017. He was returned to the Greene County Detention Center after his March 2017 arrest in Montgomery County. He was charged with disorderly conduct/public intoxication and pleaded guilty to an amended disorderly conduct charge in Kettering Municipal Court.

Deters did not notify his probation officer of his arrest and was arrested in Greene County for the probation violation. The Xenia Municipal Court revoked his three-year probation and sentenced him to 389 days in jail. At Deters’s request, the court ordered him into a residential treatment program housed at the detention center.

Clients Not Served During Incarceration
During his first rounds of incarceration from October 2015 to March 2016, Deters received flat-fee payments from eight clients to represent them in criminal matters. While he performed some work on the cases, his office staff sought continuances in most matters while Deters was in jail. Deters did not timely inform many of his clients about his incarceration and failed to return phone calls from some of his clients.

Deters waited more than a year after his representation was terminated to provide refunds to two of his clients. At the time of his disciplinary hearing, he had not refunded four former clients who paid between $1,500 and $3,500 for representation.

His time in jail also led Deters to neglect two clients seeking appeals. Deters filed notices of appeals for two clients, but did not file appellate briefs or respond to court orders. One of the cases was dismissed for his lack of work and, in the second case, the court appointed another attorney to represent the client.

Clients Not Served When Attorney Was Freed
Between the time Deters was released from jail in March 2016 and his return in March 2017, he accepted thousands of dollars in flat-fee payments from 10 additional clients. He did not perform the contracted legal work, spent the unearned fees on personal and business expenses, and failed to refund any portion of the fees.

Several of his clients filed grievances against Deters. In November 2016, the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint with the professional conduct board. Disciplinary counsel alleged Deters violated several conduct rules based on his criminal conduct and his handling of client matters during that time.

Attorney Concedes Rule Violations
In September 2017, the Supreme Court placed Deters on an interim remedial suspension, which prevented him from representing clients during the disciplinary proceedings. Deters and the disciplinary counsel stipulated to the charged misconduct.

Based on his contempt and criminal convictions, the board found Deters engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice and conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law.

Regarding his conduct with his clients while he was in jail, the board found that he violated multiple rules, including failing to act with reasonable diligence in representing clients, failing to keep clients reasonably informed of their legal matters, and failing to return unearned fees. The board found many of the same violations occurred during the time Deters was not in jail when he accepted fees from clients, but failed to perform work and return their money.

The board recommended to the Supreme Court that Deters be indefinitely suspended with conditions on his reinstatement to the practice of law, and neither party objected.

Court Considers Sanction
When the Court imposes a sanction, it considers aggravating circumstances that could increase the penalty it imposes and mitigating factors that could lead to a lesser sanction.

The Court found Deters engaged in a pattern of misconduct, committing multiple offenses that in some cases harmed vulnerable clients. His delay in some legal matters triggered arrest warrants for at least two clients and the dismissal of an appeal. His failure to return unearned fees deprived multiple clients of their funds for substantial amounts of time, the opinion stated.

The Court noted that Deters made full disclosure to the board and displayed a cooperative attitude during disciplinary proceedings, even when in jail. Despite his substance-use and mental health disorders, and having a contract with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP), the Court noted Deters did not claim that his disorders qualify as a mitigating factor.

The Court conditioned Deters’s potential reinstatement on his presentation of proof that he complied with all of his treatment recommendations from OLAP; that a qualified mental-health professional has found that he is capable to returning to the “competent, ethical, and professional practice of law”; and that he has paid more than $29,000 in restitution to 14 clients or reimburse the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection for any awards to his former clients.

2018-0535. Disciplinary Counsel v. Deters, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-5025.

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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