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Court News Ohio

Greater Cincinnati Attorney Disbarred after Practicing While Suspended

A Greater Cincinnati lawyer was disbarred by the Ohio Supreme Court today after he sought to represent a woman in a divorce while his license to practice law was under suspension, and then falsely promised her he would provide the service for free.

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court rejected the request by Rodger W. Moore of Alexandria, Kentucky, to retire or resign and instead disbarred him. The opinion noted the Board of Professional Conduct found Moore “incapable of exhibiting the trust, integrity, and candor upon which the profession is grounded.”

While Suspended, Lawyer Agrees to Represent Client
In June 2015, the Court suspended Moore for two years with the second year stayed with conditions. (See Greater Cincinnati Attorney Suspended for Repeated Shoplifting.) A year later, the Court found Moore in contempt for continuing to practice while under suspension. The stay was revoked, and he was ordered to serve the full two-year suspension. The Court added another interim suspension in 2019 when Moore failed to respond to a separate complaint that he was practicing law while suspended.

In today’s opinion, the Court addressed a complaint filed by the Cincinnati Bar Association in 2017. The bar association charged Moore with multiple violations of the rules governing the conduct of lawyers practicing in Ohio based on his representation of Shannon Marshall, who was involved in a divorce proceeding.

In 2014, Marshall qualified for legal aid, and an attorney was assigned to represent her in the Warren County case. After she expressed concern to a friend about her attorney’s ability to handle the case, the friend suggested she speak to Moore, who maintained a law office in southwest Ohio. Moore instructed Marshall to inform her legal aid attorney that he would take the case, and Moore sent the legal aid attorney an email stating that he was the attorney of a close friend of Marshall’s and would represent her at no charge.

Marshall later testified that she understood hiring a private lawyer would cause her to permanently lose the help of legal aid in this case. She said she would not have switched attorneys if Moore had not agreed to represent her for free.

Moore did not provide Marshall with any fee agreement or any documentation indicating he did not intend to charge for her services. Less than four months later, Moore sent Marshall in invoice for $9,500.

Attorney Seeks Compensation for Representation
Moore explained to Marshall that he did not intend for her to pay the $9,500, but rather would seek an award of attorney fees from her husband in the divorce proceedings. However, Moore never submitted an invoice to the court nor requested his fee be assessed against Marshall’s husband.

Marshall said Moore complained that her case “was a lot of work,”and in April 2015, he requested she sign an $11,000 promissory note. Marshall agreed to pay Moore over time, but could not recall if she signed the note or just verbally agreed to the terms. She testified that with the divorce still pending, she would have done anything to protect herself and her young son.

In June 2015, the day after the Supreme Court suspended Moore, he accompanied Marshall to the courthouse for a hearing. Marshall said Moore told him on the way to the courtroom that he was just suspended and did not know if he could continue to represent her, but that he would try. The presiding magistrate at the outset of the hearing noted that Moore was suspended and instructed him to leave the courtroom.

Affiliated Attorney Agrees to Assist
Attorney Andrew Green shared office space with Moore, and Moore suggested to Marshall that Green could help her. Green began to represent Marshall without discussing fees or providing a fee agreement. Green testified that he did not expect Marshall to pay for his services and that it was his understanding he would be compensated for his work in several other cases that Moore was transferring to him. He suggested that helping Moore with Marshall’s case was a way to compensate Moore for sharing his office.

After representing Marshall, Green filed a lawsuit against her on behalf of the “Law Office of Rodger W. Moore LLC” alleging that she agreed to be billed $225 an hour and that she agreed to pay the promissory note. The complaint noted that Marshall never signed the promissory note, and stated that Moore made multiple requests from Marshall to pay. Marshall testified that Moore had not asked her to pay the fee. The lawsuit requested compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $25,000.

Marshall hired an attorney to defend herself against the lawsuit, which the trial court dismissed without prejudice.

Board Finds Multiple Rule Violations
By agreeing to represent Marshall for free then demanding she sign the promissory note obligating her to pay, the professional conduct board found Moore violated the rule against charging a clearly excessive fee. It also found he engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation by using that “bait and switch” tactic and by knowingly making false allegations in the lawsuit against Marshall. In addition, the board found that he engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice because his false and frivolous claims forced Marshall to hire an attorney to defend herself and wasted court resources.

When the board considers a sanction to recommend to the Court, it considers aggravating circumstances that could increase the penalty and mitigating factors that could lead to a lesser sanction. The board found Moore had a prior disciplinary record, acted with a dishonest and selfish motive, engaged in a pattern of conduct, committed multiple offenses, and caused harm to a client who was “extremely vulnerable due to her financial status, the loss of her legal-aid attorney, and the circumstances of her divorce proceedings.”

The board found no mitigating factors, and Moore did not appear for his disciplinary hearing or object to the board’s recommendations.

The Court noted that Moore demonstrated his willingness to harm a vulnerable client for his personal financial advantage by persuading Marshall to drop her legal aid attorney with the promise of free services.

“Once she was entirely at his mercy, Moore demanded that she pay him for the same services he had agreed to provide for free,” the opinion stated. “And after Marshall failed to remit payment, Moore filed suit and asserted false and frivolous claims against her.”

Because Moore did not attend his disciplinary hearing and then attempted to surrender his license, the opinion stated that the board was convinced that Moore “has no intention of correcting his behavior or returning to the practice of law.”

Considering the “predatory nature” of Moore’s conduct and the “disturbing escalation of his dishonest conduct” since he was last disciplined, the Court stated that permanent disbarment is necessary to protect the public from further misconduct.

2018-1758. Cincinnati Bar Assn. v. Moore, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-2063.

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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