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Court News Ohio

Lawyer’s Suspension Extended due to Michigan Disbarment

A proposed two-year suspension for a Lorain County lawyer was extended to an indefinite suspension by the Ohio Supreme Court today after the lawyer failed to disclose to disciplinary investigators that he had been disbarred in Michigan.

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court indefinitely suspended James Lindon of Avon and imposed several conditions for Lindon to apply for reinstatement. In 2015, Lindon was a licensed pharmacist as well as an attorney licensed to practice in Ohio and Michigan.

The Court heard oral argument in September 2019 on a recommended two-year suspension, with one year stayed, arising from Lindon’s 2016 felony theft convictions. But in January 2020 the Lorain County Bar Association asked the Court to remand the case to the Board of Professional Conduct based on new information. During the additional proceedings, the board determined that Lindon lied or misled the board about the discipline he received from Michigan, and recommended the Court indefinitely suspend him.

Lawyer Convicted of Pill Theft
Lindon was working as a pharmacist at the Cleveland Clinic when the hospital began to investigate him for possible prescription drug thefts. In June 2015, security personnel reviewed video of Lindon removing a bottle of hydrocodone tablets from a basket and dumping something into his hand, then placing his hand into his pocket. As a security guard approached, he put something from his pocket into his mouth. Lindon’s pockets were searched, and three prescription pills were discovered.

Lindon was indicted in 2016 on three felony counts, including theft, drug possession, and tampering with evidence. A jury found him guilty on all three counts, and he was sentenced to two years of community control, mandatory drug testing, counseling, and treatment.

Lindon completed his community control and drug treatment, paid a $750 fine, and entered into a contractwith the Ohio Lawyer’s Assistance Program (OLAP). His pharmacist license was permanently suspended in October 2016.

Ohio, Michigan Suspensions Begin as Conviction Appeal Starts
Based on his June 2016 conviction, the Ohio Supreme Court imposed an interim suspension on Lindon. It was the second time Lindon had been sanctioned by the Court. He received a public reprimand in 2010 based on conduct that led the Michigan Supreme Court to reprimand him in 2009.

While under the interim suspension, Lindon appealed his conviction to the Eighth District Court of Appeals, arguing, among other things, that the trial judge failed to hold a hearing on his motion to suppress the evidence against him in the drug theft case. In June 2017, a year after his conviction and after his suspension started, the Eighth District reversed the trial court, and remanded the case to the trial court to conduct the suppression hearing. The trial court scheduled the hearing for 11 months later and, in June 2018, ruled against Lindon’s motion to suppress. The conviction remains in effect.

In the meantime, the Lorain County Bar Association filed a complaint in 2016 against Lindon with the Board of Professional Conduct for his violation of the rules governing the conduct of Ohio lawyers. The violations were in connection with his felony crimes.

Following its customary protocol, the board delayed hearing Lindon’s matter until his criminal appeal had been resolved. The board did not schedule a disciplinary hearing until December 2018, six months after the trial court concluded the remanded case.

But Michigan followed a different process. Michigan’s disciplinary proceedings went forward despite Lindon’s appeal. Michigan imposed an interim suspension immediately after Lindon’s conviction In June 2016 and then disbarred him in February 2017. Disbarment in Michigan is not permanent and is similar to an indefinite suspension in Ohio. Michigan allows a disbarred attorney to apply for reinstatement after five years.

Lawyer’s Recollection of Michigan Sanction Questioned
After his criminal conviction in 2018, the board proceeded with the disciplinary matter, which included a deposition of Lindon in August 2018 ahead of the December 2018 hearing. Asked at the deposition whether he faced any other disciplinary proceedings as a lawyer, Lindon responded that he knew only of Michigan’s 2009 public reprimand and the current Ohio case based on the felony conviction.

When confronted in 2020 about the 2017 Michigan disbarment, Lindon said he knew about the interim suspension but had not received or did not recall receiving correspondence from Michigan about the disbarment proceedings.

However, Lindon admitted he received a letter in April 2018, four months before his deposition, from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, notifying him that based on the Michigan disbarment, the office was launching its own investigation. Additionally, the deputy director of the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board submitted an affidavit stating she spoke to Lindon about his disbarment in June 2018.

The board concluded Lindon’s failure to disclose his Michigan discipline violated three Ohio professional conduct rules, including a requirement that a lawyer provide written notification to the Ohio Supreme Court clerk’s office within 30 days of receiving a disciplinary order from another jurisdiction.

Supreme Court Considers Additional Violations
The Court considered the new charges arising from the Michigan disbarment along with the charges based on the felony convictions. The board found that based on the felonies, Lindon violated several conduct rules, including committing an illegal act that reflected adversely on Lindon’s honesty and trustworthiness and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

Although Lindon contracted with OLAP after his criminal trial to receive treatment for substance abuse disorders, he told the Supreme Court he terminated the contract because he is an atheist and the OLAP program required he participate in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Lindon had objected to his proposed two-year suspension and also challenged the religious aspects of the requirement that he participate in OLAP and AA as a violation of his constitutional rights. He did not, however, object to the proposed indefinite suspension or renew his objection to the requirement that he participate in OLAP.

“Lindon’s wrongdoing began with misconduct in his role as a pharmacist that resulted in felony convictions for theft, drug possession, and tampering with evidence but also violated the most basic professional duty of an attorney — to act with honesty and integrity,” the Court’s opinion stated.

The Court’s indefinite suspension included nine conditions Lindon must meet for reinstatement, including entering a new two-year contract with OLAP, but without having to participate in any 12-step meetings. He also must submit a prognosis from a qualified chemical-dependency professional that he is able to return to the competent, ethical, and professional practice of law; not commit further misconduct; and pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.

2019-0216. Lorain Cty. Bar Assn. v. Lindon, Slip Opinion No. 2021-Ohio-804.

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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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