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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Middletown Lawyer Who Asked Client for Painkillers Indefinitely Suspended

The Ohio Supreme Court today indefinitely suspended a Middletown attorney for ethical violations that resulted from two criminal convictions and misusing client funds.

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court suspended William M. Tinch and gave him no credit for the time served under interim suspensions imposed in 2017 and 2018. The opinion noted the Court’s presumed sanction for misappropriating client funds is disbarment, but the Board of Professional Conduct often recommends indefinite suspension “when an attorney’s conduct was motivated by addiction and the attorney has demonstrated a commitment to recovery.”

Tinch has been undergoing substance abuse treatment since 2017, and part of his misconduct included asking a client to give him 10 prescription painkillers. The client refused.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel charged Tinch with 71 rule violations related to his criminal charges and neglecting the matters of 12 clients. The board reported that Tinch failed to cooperate with the disciplinary proceedings for more than two years, and the Court has deemed Tinch’s failure to promptly respond to the charges as an admission to the violations.

Court Alerted to Threat of Harm to Public
In September 2017, the Court placed Tinch on an interim suspension after receiving “substantial, credible evidence ” that he posed a threat of serious harm to the public. The disciplinary counsel filed a complaint with the board in 2018. Tinch did not respond to the disciplinary counsel’s complaint, nor to an order from the Court directing him to respond. Therefore, the Court issued an interim default suspension. Tinch then responded to the second suspension, and the Court directed the board to proceed with a disciplinary hearing to consider any mitigating evidence Tinch could provide to explain his conduct.

Lawyer Neglected Matters, Displayed Erratic Behavior at Courthouse
The board reported that Tinch engaged in a pattern of neglect from 2015 through 2017, during which he failed to diligently pursue his clients’ legal objectives, and missed client meetings and court appearances. He also failed to deposit unearned fees into client trust accounts; took fees he did not earn from the accounts; failed to  respond to clients’ attempts to communicate with him; and failed to respond to his clients’ attempts to obtain refunds or the return of their files.

The board also described Tinch’s behavior as becoming increasingly erratic. In a meeting with a client who Tinch knew had received prescribed painkillers, Tinch asked the client to provide him with 10 Percocet or Vicodin pills. The client told Tinch he could not give him any pills.

In May 2017, Tinch requested a continuance in a case in the Warren County Domestic Relations Court, which was denied. Shortly after the hearing began, the presiding magistrate adjourned the matter, and asked the court’s judge to speak privately with Tinch.

The judge was so concerned about Tinch’s behavior that he would not let Tinch leave the courthouse without securing a ride or submitting to a urine sample. Sheriff’s deputies escorted  Tinch into the courthouse’s probation office, describing him as “out of control, yelling obscenities, and creating a scene.” Tinch slapped an empty urine sample cup from a deputy’s hand, and was escorted back to the courtroom in handcuffs. After securing a ride home, he posted derogatory comments about the court on his personal and law firm’s Facebook pages.

Lawyer Ordered to Jail, Treatment Programs for Crimes
The month following his courthouse outburst, Tinch was indicted on forgery and petty theft charges for accepting a $10,500 personal injury settlement check written to the law firm where he was employed. The indictment alleged that he forged the firm’s endorsement to make the check payable to him, and he took the $312.50 share of the settlement that the firm was entitled to receive.

He pleaded guilty to forgery and one count of petty theft. He was granted intervention in lieu of conviction, and completed a substance abuse treatment program.

While the check-cashing charges were pending, Tinch was charged with felony burglary in July 2017 for breaking into his mother-in-law’s home and leaving her a message on her computer. He pleaded  guilty to misdemeanor attempted trespass, and was sentenced to 180 days in jail. He received credit for serving 11 days, with the rest of the jail time suspended. He also was ordered to participate in the court’s intensive drug program for five years.

Board Considers Recovery Efforts
The board found Tinch’s handling of cases and criminal convictions violated several rules, including committing an illegal act that reflects adversely on his honesty or trustworthiness; engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law; and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

The board noted that Tinch testified at his disciplinary hearing that he accepted full responsibility for his wrongdoing. The board stated Tinch also made several excuses and justifications for his misconduct, including blaming some of it on his law firm’s management. He admitted that his substance abuse began before he joined the law firm and continued after he left. He also acknowledged that his misconduct continued after leaving the firm.

Tinch attributed his chemical dependency to being “heavily overprescribed” narcotics for arthritis and back pain. The board noted he completed a 28-day in-patient drug treatment program and 52-weeks of an aftercare program. The board found he has been sober since his July 2017 arrest, and that he entered into a three-year contract in 2019 with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP).

Court Sets Conditions for Return to Practice
The opinion noted that Tinch has paid more than $14,000 in restitution to former clients and agreed to pay $1,000 in restitution to another. The Court ordered Tinch to provide proof within 60 days that he paid the restitution.

To be reinstated, the Court will require Tinch to maintain his sobriety; comply with his OLAP contract; and provide proof from a qualified professional that he is capable of returning to the competent, ethical, and professional practice of law.

2018-1178. Disciplinary Counsel v. Tinch, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-2991.

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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