Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Court Sanctions Attorney Who Accepted Firearms in lieu of Law Firm’s Payments

The Ohio Supreme Court today sanctioned a law firm’s former managing partner for accepting $28,000 in guns in lieu of payment for legal services provided by other firm attorneys, and for not reimbursing the firm for the firearms until he was confronted four years later.

In a 6-1 per curiam decision, the Supreme Court issued Keith A. Vanderburg of Independence a one-year, fully stayed suspension with the conditions that he not violate any of the rules governing the conduct of Ohio lawyers and pay the costs of his disciplinary proceedings.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Judith L. French, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, and Melody J. Stewart joined the opinion.

Justice Sharon L. Kennedy dissented, stating she would remand  the matter to the Board of Professional Conduct for further proceedings.

Firm Serves Firearm Seller
In 2012, the law firm where Vanderburg worked began representing a company that sold firearms and related products. Vanderburg did not perform any legal services for the client. By June 2014, the client owed the firm more than $27,000 for legal services.

As the firm’s managing partner, Vanderburg knew the client was delinquent, and because Vanderburg had an interest in firearms for his personal use, he asked a law-firm partner and the attorney serving the client about making a financial arrangement with the gun seller. Under the arrangement, Vanderburg would purchase firearms and the firm would credit the cost of the guns against the client’s outstanding legal-fee balance.

From June 2014 to December 2017, the client received 13 credits against its legal bill for purchases made by Vanderburg for a total of $28,181.

Reimbursements Not Promptly Made
The parties stipulated that Vanderburg initially intended to reimburse the firm. Some of the firm’s partners knew generally of the purchase-for-credit arrangement but were not aware that Vanderburg was not reimbursing the firm.

In 2018, another lawyer became the firm’s managing partner and discovered the unreimbursed credits. He and another partner confronted Vanderburg, who admitted to improperly converting the firm’s funds, and reimbursed the firm the next day.

The new managing partner also reported Vanderburg to the Independence police to comply with R.C. 2921.22(A), but requested no further action be taken.

Vanderburg and the new managing partner reported the behavior to the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel, and the parties entered into a consent-to-discipline agreement. The disciplinary counsel charged Vanderburg with engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. The parties stipulated that none of the firm’s clients were harmed by Vanderburg’s action and that he remains a partner.

The Board of Professional Conduct accepted the consent-to-discipline agreement and recommended that the Court adopt it. The Court agreed that the fully stayed, one-year suspension was the appropriate sanction.

2019-0503. Disciplinary Counsel v. Vanderburg, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-4227.

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.

Adobe PDF PDF files may be viewed, printed, and searched using the free Acrobat® Reader
Acrobat Reader is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated.