Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Lawyer Turned Local Police Chief in Mahoning County Receives Stayed Suspension

A Mahoning County attorney who also served as the Campbell police chief received a six-month, fully stayed suspension from the Ohio Supreme Court today based on his criminal conviction for illegally accessing a law-enforcement database and other professional misconduct.

In a per curiam opinion, a Supreme Court majority suspended Andrew W. Rauzan, who agreed to resign in 2017 as the police chief as part of a plea agreement in which he also agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of unauthorized access to OHLEG, a secured electronic network that provides law-enforcement agencies with criminal-history data and other confidential information. Rauzan’s suspension was fully stayed on the condition that he not commit any further professional misconduct.

Rauzan and Carol C. Wagner, who both had solo practices in the city of Struthers, were sanctioned for their work on a personal-injury case. Wagner received a public reprimand for her role in the disputed handling of the legal matter.

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

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Patrick F. Fischer concurred in part and dissented in part. They stated they would have imposed a 12-month stayed suspension on Rauzan, which would be consistent with the Court’s 2016 Columbus Bar Assn. v. McCord decision.

Convictions, Trust Fund Violations Lead to Sanctions
The Mahoning County Bar Association filed a complaint against Rauzan with the Board of Professional Conduct, charging violations of the rules governing the conduct of Ohio lawyers based both on his law practice and actions as a police chief.

In 2016, an Ohio Attorney General’s Office investigator discovered Rauzan had conducted searches on OHLEG that were not connected to any legitimate law-enforcement purpose. A special prosecutor concluded that Rauzan had not engaged in any further inappropriate conduct, such as contacting the people he searched. He agreed to plead guilty to four misdemeanor charges of unauthorized use of property, and was sentenced to one year of community control and fined $1,000. He also agreed to resign as police chief, and surrender his Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy certificate, which permanently disqualified him from working in law enforcement.

Based on the conviction, the board found Rauzan committed an illegal act that reflects adversely on his honesty and trustworthiness.

In 2018, the bar association was alerted that Rauzan had overdrawn his client trust account. After reviewing bank records, the bar association discovered that Rauzan was commingling his personal funds with client funds and essentially using his client account to operate his law firm. During his disciplinary hearing, Rauzan admitted he failed to maintain necessary records for his client trust account, but has since corrected the discrepancies.

The board found he failed to hold client property in a trust account separate from his own money and to conduct the required bookkeeping of the account expected of lawyers.

Clients Complain about Representation
In the charge involving Wagner, a couple hired Rauzan and Wagner in 2017 to represent them in a potential personal-injury matter. The couple agreed to pay the lawyers a $5,000 retainer and a percentage of any recovery they received.

Wagner deposited the couple’s check into her client trust account, and five days later transferred $2,350 to her law firm’s operating account. At the time, she had not completed a sufficient amount of legal work for the funds to be considered earned. About 10 days later, she transferred $2,500 to Rauzan’s client trust account, which Rauzan was using to operate his law firm. This resulted in Rauzan essentially taking a fee that he had not yet earned, the Court’s opinion stated.

While the two lawyers eventually completed a significant amount of legal work, the couple terminated the attorney-client relationship, and demanded a refund of their retainer. The lawyers responded by presenting an invoice indicating they performed more than $5,000 in legal work.

The couple filed a grievance with the bar association. The bar association dismissed most of the alleged rule violations levied against Rauzan and Wagner. However, the complaint revealed that the two violated the rule requiring lawyers to deposit advanced legal fees into a client trust account and withdraw the fees only as they are earned or expenses incurred. Rauzan and Wagner each paid $2,500 to refund the couple’s retainer.

Wagner also admitted that she failed to notify the couple that she lacked malpractice insurance, which lawyers are required to do in writing.

The board found Wagner’s misconduct warranted a public reprimand, and the Court agreed.

Factors Relevant to Rauzan’s Sanction
When considering a sanction to recommend for Rauzan, the board considered aggravating circumstances that could increase the penalty and mitigating factors that could lead to a lesser sanction. The board found Rauzan had no prior disciplinary matter, no dishonest or selfish motive, made full restitution, cooperated with the disciplinary proceedings, submitted evidence of his good character, and suffered other penalties for his wrongdoing. The board also found he committed multiple rule violations.

“Considering that Rauzan has corrected the deficiencies with his client trust account, the board concluded that he was not a threat to the public and therefore an actual suspension was unnecessary,” the opinion stated.

2019-1374. Mahoning Cty. Bar Assn. v. Rauzan and Wagner, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-355.

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.