Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Toledo Lawyer Suspended for Ethics Violations

The Supreme Court of Ohio today suspended a Toledo lawyer for one year for multiple ethical violations, including knowingly making a false statement in a municipal court proceeding and failing to comply with a disciplinary investigation.

This is the second time, the Supreme Court suspended Sarah A. Miller Driftmyer. In 2018, Driftmyer was suspended for six months with the entire suspension stayed with conditions. In today’s per curiam opinion, the Court also ordered Driftmyer to pay restitution to one of her clients and complete additional continuing legal education focused on criminal law and law-office management.

Chief Justice Sharon L. Kennedy and Justices Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, Melody Stewart, and Joseph T. Deters joined the opinion. Justice Jennifer Brunner did not participate in the case.

Client Disputed Lawyer’s Fee
In January 2021, Ralpheal Reynolds, who was serving a prison term, asked Driftmyer to file a motion for judicial release, and she verbally agreed to represent him. Reynolds maintained that Driftmyer agreed to represent him for a flat $250 fee, which he paid. Driftmyer stated the agreed fee was $500, with an initial payment of $250 and a second $250 payment when the motion was filed.

The fee agreement was never in writing, and Driftmyer did not follow the rule requiring that she inform Reynolds in writing that he may be entitled to a refund of all or part of his fee if she failed to complete the representation.

Driftmyer drafted the motion and told Reynolds she required an additional $250 payment to file it. He did not pay her, and she did not file the motion. Reynolds filed a grievance against Driftmyer with the Toledo Bar Association. The bar association sent Driftmyer a letter in May 2021 about the grievance and instructed her to reply in 15 days. Driftmyer ignored the bar association’s efforts to reach her and waited nearly three months to  file a written response to its inquiries.

Driftmyer agreed to provide information requested by the bar association but did not follow up until after the association filed a complaint against her with the Board of Professional Conduct. Driftmyer also told the bar association she would refund $250 to Reynolds, but at the time the board conducted her disciplinary hearing in May 2023, she had not issued a refund.

The board found Driftmyer violated several ethical rules.  Among other things, she charged a nonrefundable fee without advising the client that the client may be entitled to a refund, and knowingly failed to respond to a disciplinary authority’s demands for information.

Lawyer Misleads Court About Home Ownership
A second complaint against Driftmyer was filed by the parties in a disputed home sale. In 2020, Diana Dunsmore wanted to sell her home without a realtor and was contacted by potential buyers, April Ross and her husband. Driftmyer had previously represented Ross in another legal matter, and the Rosses asked Driftmyer to accompany them to the inspection of Dunsmore’s home.

During the inspection, Dunsmore and the Rosses agreed on the terms of sale and Driftmyer agreed to draft the necessary documents. Driftmyer did not use a standard purchase form agreement made available free online by the local bar association and board of realtors, but instead drafted a half-page handwritten agreement.

The agreement called for the Rosses to pay off Dunsmore’s $59,000 home equity loan and pay Dunsmore $88,500 in cash. Driftmyer prepared a deed for the sale.

In October 2020, six days before the sale was to close, the Rosses paid Dunsmore’s loan in full, and Dunsmore signed over the deed. Driftmyer also gave Dunsmore an $88,500 check from the Rosses.

The parties disputed some of the terms of the sale and, when Dunsmore went to cash the Rosses check the next day, the bank informed her it would take 10 days for the check to clear. Dunsmore said she would not deliver possession of the property until the check cleared.

The Rosses responded by stopping payment on the check. The couple requested that Driftmyer record the deed. April Ross then served Dunsmore with an eviction notice.

After recording the deed, Driftmyer learned the Rosses had stopped payment on the check. Despite knowing the Rosses had not fully paid for the house, Driftmyer filed the eviction complaint against Dunsmore in Toledo Municipal Court.

At the court hearing, Driftmyer presented the recorded deed and argued the Rosses were entitled to possess the home and evict Dunsmore. Driftmyer also held up two envelopes that purportedly contained two checks from the Rosses to Dunsmore that represented the balance of what was owed. She did not give the checks to Dunsmore or to the court that day. Because the Rosses had not paid for the house at the time they filed the eviction, the court dismissed the lawsuit.

The board found Driftmyer failed to provide competent representation to the Rosses and made a knowingly false statement to the court regarding the couple’s actual ownership of the property.

Supreme Court Decides Sanction
In determining a sanction for Driftmyer, the Court considered that she violated 12 rules in this case and had a previous suspension. As part of her 2018 suspension, Driftmyer was required to submit to an assessment by the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP) and comply with all recommendations arising from that assessment.

If Driftmyer is reinstated to practicing law, she must also serve one year of monitored probation focused primarily on her use of her client trust account and compliance with any OLAP treatment recommendations. She was also ordered to make restitution to Reynolds and to pay the cost of the disciplinary proceedings.

2023-0978. Toledo Bar Assn. v. Driftmyer, Slip Opinion No. 2024-Ohio-540.

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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