Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

NE Ohio Woman Fined $10,000 for Unauthorized Practice of Law

The Ohio Supreme Court today fined a northeastern Ohio woman $10,000 for the unauthorized practice of law, including preparing a will for a 93-year-old Navy veteran.

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Court ruled Erica Schwab represented to her then-fiancé and his family that she was an attorney, and provided legal services to them. Schwab has never been licensed or authorized to practice law in Ohio. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel brought the complaint against Schwab to the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law.

The disciplinary counsel unsuccessfully attempted to notify Schwab of their complaint throughout 2019 at an address in Twinsburg. The board reported she received the notice of the charges while in the Stark County jail, days after she was indicted on a felony charge of receiving stolen property. Schwab never responded to the unauthorized practice of law charges.

Pilot Misled, Widower Deceived
In January 2018, Schwab advised her fiancé at the time, James Gudaitis, that she was an attorney and could assist him in legal matters and serve as the attorney for his church. She prepared a “minor-flight agreement” for Gudaitis, a pilot, allowing for the waiver of the legal liability of transporting a child by airplane. On the document, she identified herself as “Erica L. Deberadinis-Schwab, Esq.” and as “Pilot’s Legal Counsel.”

In March 2018, Gudaitis introduced Schwab to his stepfather, Ray Baker, 93, of Massillon, while they were visiting Gudaitis’ mother who had recently suffered a stroke. She died that month. Schwab told Baker she was a lawyer and could prepare a living will-advanced healthcare directive, a will, and other legal documents for him. On the documents, she identified herself as “Erica L. Schwab, Esq.” Without Baker’s permission, she contacted his insurance agent to obtain a copy of his deceased wife’s life insurance policy, telling the agent she was Baker’s attorney.

Stepdaughter Becomes Suspicious
About a week after Baker signed the documents Schwab prepared, Baker’s stepdaughter reported Schwab to the Jackson Township Police Department in Stark County. Schwab was arrested for allegedly stealing jewelry, money, and prescription drugs from Baker’s home. She was later indicted by a Stark County grand jury and pleaded guilty to one felony count of receiving stolen property. She was placed on three years of community control.

The stepdaughter filed a grievance against Schwab with the disciplinary counsel, alleging Schwab was practicing law without a license.

After failing to receive a response to the charges from Schwab, the board found her actions constituted the unauthorized practice of law. The board determined, and the Court agreed, the actions were flagrant enough to warrant the maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine for each charge. The Court ordered Schwab pay the penalty and cease from engaging in any further unauthorized practice of law.

2020-0987. Disciplinary Counsel v. Schwab, Slip Opinion No. 2021-Ohio-283.

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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