Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Attorney Convicted of Forgery and Theft Indefinitely Suspended

A Northwest Ohio bankruptcy attorney was indefinitely suspended by the Ohio Supreme Court today based on wrongful acts while representing bankruptcy clients, his felony conviction for theft, and another felony conviction for forgery that related in part to his altering a check from $6.56 to $2,344.44 and cashing it.

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court found Christopher W. Striff Jr. violated several of the rules governing the conduct of Ohio attorneys in conjunction with his misconduct. The Court noted Striff’s “candid testimony and sincere remorse” expressed at his disciplinary hearing justified an indefinite suspension instead of permanent disbarment.

Lawyer Initially Fails to Cooperate
The Columbus Bar Association began to investigate Striff based on complaints from his clients. Striff did not respond to charges made by the bar association, and the Court in July 2017 issued an interim default suspension. In September 2017, Striff responded to the Court, indicating he had closed his law office in April 2016.

While his disciplinary case was pending before the Board of Professional Conduct, the Supreme Court issued a second interim suspension in August 2018 when it was notified that Striff was convicted of two counts of felony forgery for altering checks sent from a bankruptcy trustee, and one count of felony theft.

Bankruptcy Filing Fees Not Paid, Paperwork Not Submitted
In 2016, Striff agreed to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions for three clients, and requested $310 filing fees from each. He received permission from the bankruptcy court to pay the filing fees in installments, but then failed to pay the court. Failure to pay the fees resulted in the cases being dismissed.

In one case, a client paid the fee directly after receiving a delinquency notice, and then found her case was dismissed when Striff failed to file a suitable bankruptcy plan. In each case, the clients hired new lawyers.

The bankruptcy court issued an order to Striff to explain why he should not be suspended from practicing in bankruptcy court, and he did not respond or appear at a hearing. The bankruptcy court suspended him in October 2016.

Striff also accepted $1,000 from a client along with a $310 filing fee, and $900 from another client to file bankruptcy petitions, but did not submit petitions.

The board found that Striff violated several rules by not following through with the cases, including making a false statement to a court; committing an illegal act that reflects adversely on his honesty and trustworthiness; and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

Crimes Committed While Representing Clients
For representing clients in bankruptcy court, Striff was to be paid incrementally through monthly checks issued by a court-appointed trustee after his clients made periodic payments to the trustee as part of their bankruptcy cases. In July 2016, Striff altered two checks he received and cashed them at cash-checking businesses. He altered one check from $304.87 to $1,304.87 and one from $6.56 to $2,344.44. Striff also used the banking information of a trustee to fabricate a $2,900 check and attempted to cash it.

Striff was arrested in September 2016 and pleaded guilty to two fifth-degree felony forgery counts. He was ordered to pay restitution to the cash-checking companies for the full amount and was placed on community control.

A month after attempting to forge the checks, Striff was charged with allegedly stealing property from an occupied structure, and pleaded guilty to third-degree felony theft. In 2018, he pleaded guilty to one count of possession of methamphetamine, after narcotics and paraphernalia were found in his hotel room.

Lawyer Sought Substance Abuse Treatment
Striff testified at his disciplinary hearing that he was a heavy alcohol drinker and began to use the prescription drug Adderall in law school. After law school, when he could not get Adderall, he began using meth, testified

Striff produced a letter from his substance abuse counselor indicating he has made significant progress in abstaining from drug and alcohol use, is taking responsibility for his actions, and is experiencing remorse for his transgressions. Striff entered into a four-year contract with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP), and agreed to substance abuse treatment and participation in Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Court imposed an indefinite suspension with conditions Striff must meet to be reinstated. He was ordered: to pay restitution within 90 days to the bankruptcy clients from whom he accepted payments without completing the work; remain in compliance with his OLAP contract; participate in substance-abuse counseling; comply with the terms of his criminal probation; not commit further misconduct; and complete 12 hours of continuing legal education in law office management.

2017-0770. Columbus Bar Assn. v. Striff, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-5285.

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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