Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Lawyer Disbarred for Stealing From Clients

A Parma attorney who was indefinitely suspended from the practice of law for stealing from clients was disbarred by the Supreme Court of Ohio today.

The Supreme Court disbarred Gary A. Vick Jr. for committing several ethics rule violations while neglecting the legal matters of three clients and failing to cooperate in disciplinary investigations. The Court found that Vick engaged in some of the same behaviors that led to his July 2022 indefinite suspension—primarily accepting client fees, failing to follow through on the work, and failing to cooperate in the subsequent disciplinary investigations.

Today’s per curiam opinion noted that in December 2022, Vick was convicted of grand theft based on his representation of six clients. Vick’s criminal actions mostly occurred between 2018 and 2020 and resulted in a trial court order that he pay $19,000 in restitution to his former clients. The Court stated a lawyer’s acceptance of payment and then failing to carry out the work “is tantamount to theft of the fee from the client.”

The opinion noted that the Office of Disciplinary Counsel had initiated efforts with the Board of Professional Conduct to discipline Vick prior to his felony conviction, and the court had imposed an interim suspension based on his failure to participate in any of the disciplinary proceedings.  Following Vick’s conviction, disciplinary counsel sought to have Vick permanently disbarred.

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.

Lawyer Repeatedly Disciplined for Client Neglect
The Court stated that Vick’s disbarment is justified by the misconduct he committed in this case and his prior disciplinary case as well as his criminal conviction. Two of his former clients who are part of this disciplinary case were victims in his criminal case. The Court noted that as part of his criminal sentence, Vick had been ordered to pay Leah Lupica $3,500 and Reginald Campbell $2,500.

In 2020, Vick agreed to represent Lupica in a child-support matter for a flat fee of $3,500. He did not ask her to sign a written agreement. When she paid him the fee, he reviewed some paperwork with her, promised he would file her matter with the court, and told her that she would get notice of her court date in the mail. Vick then took no further action on Lupica’s behalf.

Lupica began texting Vick about a month after the meeting, inquiring about the status of her case. Vick failed to respond to her first two text messages and responded to her third, saying he had to deal with a family emergency and promised to “touch base” with her. After a week without a response, Lupica texted him again, and he responded with a promise to meet but did not follow through. She sent at least nine more text messages and requested her $3,500 be refunded. Vick never contacted her again nor issued a refund.

Campbell had a similar experience. In 2021, he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and paid Vick a $2,500 flat fee to represent him. Vick entered not guilty pleas for Campbell in Shaker Heights Municipal Court. Campbell called Vick numerous times to inquire about his case, and Vick often did not respond. In some of the responses, he falsely told Campbell the case was delayed because “the prosecutor keeps asking for a continuance.” The docket showed that only Vick requested a continuance.

Vick took no further action on Campbell’s behalf, and Campbell hired a new lawyer. Vick did not respond to Campbell’s request for a return of his fee.

The Board of Professional Conduct found that Vick violated several ethics rules in Lupica’s and Campbell’s cases, including rules that require lawyers  to act with reasonable diligence and prohibited them from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

Auto Accident Case Dismissed After Lawyer’s Inaction
In another matter, Dan Rector hired Vick to represent him after Rector was injured in an automobile accident. Vick filed a lawsuit on Rector’s behalf in August 2017. As deadlines for discovery and pretrial hearings approached, Vick voluntarily dismissed the case and refiled it the same day.

Vick then failed to comply with discovery requests from the defendant and did not inform Rector that the trial court had ordered Rector to appear for a deposition. Neither Rector nor Vick attended the scheduled deposition, and the defendant requested the court dismiss the case. Vick failed to challenge the dismissal and did not tell Rector that the court had dismissed his case.

Vick refiled the case again in 2019, and the defendant objected to the refiling. The trial court dismissed the case on procedural grounds. Vick appealed the decision, and an appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal. Vick did not respond to a message from Rector, who asked if they lost the appeal. Rector later sent a letter to Vick to fire him and requested a copy of his case file. Vick did not respond.

The board found Vick violated several rules, including rules that require lawyers to reasonably consult with a client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished and to make reasonable efforts to comply with a proper discovery request.

Supreme Court Considered Sanction
The Court noted that not only did Vick commit multiple offenses, but he also failed to cooperate with disciplinary proceedings. The opinion stated that Vick was already under a court order to pay restitution to Lupica and Campbell, but the Court was informed that Vick had not paid restitution to a client who was part of his first disciplinary case. Instead, the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection paid Allison Rerko $5,000.

Vick’s misconduct combined with his “complete failure to cooperate in the resulting disciplinary proceedings” led the Court to impose the “ultimate sanction of permanent disbarment,” the opinion stated. The Court also ordered Vick to reimburse the Lawyer’s Fund for Client Protection $5,000 and required him to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.

2022-0939. Disciplinary Counsel v. Vick, Slip Opinion No. 2024-Ohio-557.

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