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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Disbarment, Suspension Issued for Attorneys Engaged in Unauthorized Practice

The Ohio Supreme Court today disbarred one attorney and suspended another for engaging and assisting in the unauthorized practice of law.

In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court found Timothy R. Dougherty allowed Christopher T. Cicero to assist with Dougherty’s representation of clients while Cicero was under suspension. Cicero, of Columbus, who has been previously disciplined by the Court three times, was disbarred. Dougherty, now of Las Cruces, New Mexico, was suspended for two years, with one year stayed with conditions, including that he pay restitution totaling $6,050 to two former clients.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, and Melody J. Stewart joined the majority opinion.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Patrick F. Fischer dissented, stating they would not stay the second year of Dougherty’s suspension.

Lawyer Switches Practice Focus, Moves into Suspended Attorney’s Offices
Cicero was first suspended by the Court in 1997, then again in 2012 and 2014. He has remained under suspension since 2012. Dougherty primarily practiced civil law, mostly in the areas of contracts and healthcare, but decided to learn criminal law in late 2012. He met Cicero, who had a criminal-law background. Cicero was looking for an attorney to handle some of his cases during his suspension. Within months, Dougherty moved into the building that served as Cicero’s law office for more than 20 years.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel charged the two attorneys of violating several rules governing the conduct of Ohio lawyers, mostly around Dougherty’s reliance on Cicero to assist in the handling of criminal cases without disclosing to the clients or potential clients that Cicero was under suspension. The Board of Professional Conduct agreed with most of the charges that related to five client matters.

Clients Register Complaints
One of allegations against the pair was brought by Nick Kean, who retained Dougherty in 2016 to represent him in a murder case. Cicero helped Dougherty prepare Kean’s defense. During the trial, Dougherty and Cicero exchanged text messages about the trial’s progress. Kean stated he was never informed in writing that Cicero was suspended.

In 2017, David Kasser met with Dougherty and Cicero to discuss Kasser’s pending criminal case. Kasser proposed a potential defense theory. Dougherty persuaded a skeptical Cicero to represent Kasser and pursue the theory, and Kasser claimed Cicero quoted him a $6,000 flat fee for the representation. Kasser also stated that neither lawyer notified him that Cicero was suspended.

About 11 months into the case, Dougherty sought to withdraw as Kasser’s lawyer. The professional conduct board found that Dougherty divulged confidential information and potentially attorney-client privileged communications and “cast his client in a poor light,” when asking the court for permission to withdraw. Kasser requested a refund and Dougherty refused.

Later, Dougherty admitted he failed to complete the representation and the board found he violated the rules against revealing confidential client information without permission and not promptly refunding unearned fees when withdrawing from the case. The board concluded that Dougherty owed Kasser $3,200.

One Attorney Objected to Proposed Suspension
The board found Cicero disobeyed prior suspension orders and continued to practice law while under suspension. The board also found he engaged in deceitful conduct regarding the status of his license, and violated other rules. Cicero did not object to his disbarment.

Dougherty argued that the witnesses against him “lacked credibility,” and that he should be disciplined for only failing to maintain a client trust account.

The Court majority stated that the record contains ample evidence to support the board’s finding that Daugherty assisted Cicero in the unauthorized practice of law, engaged in other misconduct, and owes restitution to Kasser and another former client.

The board wrote Dougherty has a “substandard” understanding of the professional conduct rules and recommended that he be required to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as a condition of reinstatement.

“We agree with the board that Dougherty needs time away from the practice of law to learn or relearn the Rules of Professional Conduct and to incorporate the appropriate procedures into his practice,” the opinion stated.

Sanctions Imposed
The Court imposed several conditions that Dougherty has to meet to stay the second year of his suspension and return to practice. He must provide proof within 60 days that he paid restitution to his clients, not commit any further misconduct, and pay half the cost of the disciplinary proceedings. To be reinstated, Dougherty must pass the professional responsibility exam, and upon reinstatement, he must serve two years of monitored probation.

The Court concluded that Cicero has “proven time and time again,” that he cannot act as an ethical attorney.

“Considering Cicero’s history of misconduct, his flagrant disobedience of our prior suspension orders, the number of aggravating factors here, and the lack of any mitigating evidence, we conclude that he is not fit to practice law in Ohio. Disbarment is the only appropriate sanction,” the opinion stated.

Cicero also must pay for half of the disciplinary proceedings.

2018-1766. Disciplinary Counsel v. Dougherty and Cicero, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-4418.

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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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