Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

In re Judicial Campaign Complaint Against Karen Kopich Falter, Case no. 2020-0407

John S. O'Keeffe, (et al.) v. Jeffrey A. McClain, Tax Commissioner of Ohio, (et al.), Case no. 2020-0134

W. Randal Erickson, et al. v. Paul E. Morrison, et al., Case no. 2020-0244
Fifth District Court of Appeals (Guernsey County)

Disciplinary Counsel v. Christopher James Burchinal, Case no. 2020-1206

Former Primary Candidates Spar over Campaign Letter Statements

In re Judicial Campaign Complaint against Karen Kopich Falter,, Case No. 2020-0407
Hamilton County

Karen Kopich Falter and Curt Hartman were opponents in the 2020 primary to run as the Republican candidate for a seat on the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. Falter is appealing a public reprimand imposed by a five-judge commission for a letter she sent during the campaign. The letter claimed Hartman moved to Hamilton County in 2017 for an appointment by the governor for a vacancy on the court. The statement was incorrect.

Hartman filed a judicial campaign grievance about Falter’s letter with the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct. A probable cause panel of the board found substantial, credible evidence of judicial campaign misconduct and certified a formal complaint to the board. After a hearing, the board’s three-member panel recommended a public reprimand and a $1,000 fine. The Ohio Supreme Court appointed a commission of five judges to review the panel’s determinations, and the commission agreed with the panel’s recommendations.

Falter objected to the decision, and the Supreme Court will hear the case during oral arguments. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court will hear arguments by videoconference, which will be livestreamed.

Magistrate Runs for Judge in Hamilton County
Falter, endorsed by the Republican Party and a magistrate for 13 years in juvenile and domestic relations courts, hired the political consulting firm RedHouse Strategies to assist with her first judicial campaign. In January 2020, she texted these consultants a draft letter she and her mother wrote. The final version of the letter was mailed sometime around Feb. 13 to 202 people who had requested Republican Party absentee ballots.

The letter’s third paragraph stated, “Her opponent moved to Hamilton County 3 years ago to take a judicial appointment from Governor John Kasich in March, 2017 and lost in his first election to a Democrat.”

Hartman’s campaign treasurer and informed RedHouse that Hartman moved to Hamilton County in May 2014 and voted in the county after his move. Falter’s campaign sent a correction letter to the same group of absentee voters, stating that Hartman’s campaign informed them he had moved to Hamilton County in 2014.

Candidates Present Positions before Professional Conduct Panel
At the hearing before the professional conduct board’s panel, Hartman said he bought a condominium in Hamilton County in May 2014 with the goal of running for the Ohio House of Representatives in a different district after he lost a race in Clermont County, where he had a house and practiced law. He sold his Clermont County house in 2019. He decided not to run for the General Assembly and, after the November 2016 election, he interviewed with the county Republican Party for judicial vacancies in Hamilton County. He wasn’t recommended for an appointment at that time, but the governor later appointed him as a judge on the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. Hartman lost the election to keep that seat in November 2018.

Falter testified that she believed Hartman moved to Hamilton County in 2017 because she was told that by her consultants and others in the legal community. She said she wouldn’t have included the claim in her letter had she known it was incorrect.

One of the consulting firm owners stated that the letter was Falter’s project and the firm wasn’t hired to do fact-checking.

Panel Finds Ethical Violation
The panel found two statements in the letter to be false: that Hartman moved in 2017 to Hamilton County and the reason for that move.

“[Falter] chose to believe what was essentially courthouse and party-insider gossip or rumors without making any effort to check the truthfulness of the allegation,” the panel stated in a March 20 report.

The report notes that judicial conduct rules require judicial candidates to review and approve the content of campaign statements and materials before their dissemination. Judicial candidates “must make a bona fide good faith effort to confirm the accuracy of a statement about their opponent,” the report explains.

Judicial conduct rules also state that judicial candidates “shall not knowingly or with reckless disregard” distribute information “either knowing the information to be false or with a reckless disregard of whether or not it was false, or if true, that would be deceiving or misleading to a reasonable person.” The panel concluded that Falter should’ve recognized that the statement had to be verified, but she chose to ignore the risk that the claim was false, constituting reckless disregard for the truth.

The panel recommended that Falter receive a public reprimand and pay a $1,000 fine and the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

Five-Judge Commission Reviews Case
The panel’s report was certified to the Ohio Supreme Court, which appointed five judges on March 27 to serve on a commission to consider the report, as required by judicial conduct rules. A five-judge commission “is charged with reviewing the record to determine whether it supports the findings of the hearing panel and that there has been no abuse of discretion by that panel.”

The commission considered Falter’s objections to the panel’s report and Hartman’s response. In an April 10 order, the commission unanimously determined there was no abuse of discretion by the hearing panel and that the record supported the panel’s findings. The commission agreed with the recommended sanction.

Hartman defeated Falter in the Republican primary, which was held April 28, but lost in the November general election.

Magistrate Candidate Maintains She Didn’t Act with ‘Reckless Disregard’
Falter filed objections to the commission’s order. She argues the panel used an incorrect standard for reviewing whether a false statement is a judicial conduct rule violation. Quoting the Ohio Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in In re Judicial Campaign Complaint against O’Toole, she asserts that a violation occurs if the statement was made “with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity.” That language comes from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) and requires “actual malice,” she states. Because she believed the statements were true when she wrote and sent the letter, Falter maintains that the ethical charges should be dismissed.

She also contends that judicial candidates must rely on others to confirm information during a campaign. She relied on RedHouse, which stated they “do everything” and had experience handling judicial campaigns, to check her campaign materials. The commission’s standard used in her case would “require every judicial candidate in every judicial campaign to personally research and verify every fact used in a judicial campaign publication. This is not – and cannot be – the standard,” her objections state.

Noting that the letter was sent to only 202 households, a very small share of the hundreds of thousands of registered voters in the county, Falter argues that no evidence shows she suspected the statement was false when she sent the letter. She maintains that the evidence doesn’t support a finding that she acted with reckless disregard for the truth or violated the judicial conduct rules.

Opponent Argues Judicial Campaign Violations Apply Different Standard
Hartman, who has waived his participation in the Court’s oral argument, counters that Falter wants the Court to apply precedent that doesn’t deal with the unique nature of judicial elections. Judicial election complaints must be analyzed under a different constitutional standard, however, he maintains. He states that the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t applied the Sullivan standard in the context of a judicial election. In contrast to this campaign case, the Sullivan standard addresses cases involving a request for damages or criminal liability, he adds. The judicial conduct rules, however, are designed for a different purpose – to ensure public confidence in the fairness and integrity of the judiciary, he notes.

Even if the Court applied the Sullivan standard, the evidence still supports the conclusions of the panel and the commission, Hartman argues. He states that these campaign conduct cases require weighing the evidence and assessing the credibility of witnesses. The panel found that Falter’s claim that she acted in good faith lacked credibility “and, instead, was more a product of her imagination as to what she desired or wanted the facts to be,” his brief maintains. The panel concluded that Falter chose to believe “gossip or rumors” and took no action to find out whether the statements were true or false. Falter’s clear attempt to label him a “carpetbagger” violated the judicial conduct rules, Hartman concludes.

Kathleen Maloney

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing Karen Kopich Falter: Donald Brey, 614.221.2121

Representing Curt Hartman: Christopher Finney, 513.943.6655

Return to top

Should All Ohio State Airport Property Qualify for a Tax Exemption?

John S. O’Keefe v. Jeffrey A. McClain, tax commissioner of Ohio et al., Case No. 2020-0134
Ohio Board of Tax Appeals

ISSUE: Because the operations of the Ohio State University Airport have materially changed since first being granted tax-exempt status in 1943, should the entire airport property continue to receive tax-exempt status?

James O’Keefe filed a challenge in Franklin County in 2016 to the property tax exemption for a 325-acre parcel of land that contains all the core operations of the Ohio State University Airport, also known as Don Scott Airport. A longstanding critic of the airport, O’Keefe alleges the property isn’t used for the university’s educational purposes as it was when originally granted property tax-exempt status in 1943. Under O’Keefe’s calculations, 90 percent of the property is used for private, non-university purposes, and none of the income from the airport’s business activities can be used to support the university.

The airport was constructed in the 1940s after OSU no longer was able to use the existing Columbus airport for flight instruction. Until the early 1960s, the airport operated as a private facility solely for the benefit of the university’s flight education programs. In the 1960s, the university began accepting Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funds to transform the property into a general aviation airport, open to public use by all types of aircraft except for regularly scheduled passenger airlines.

By 1990, the airport developed into Ohio’s fifth-busiest public airport, expanding the size of its runways and facilities to accommodate the hundreds of private planes that were stored on the property. By 2016, it was the third-busiest airport in Ohio, but had reduced the aircraft on the property from 293 to 187, with 16 planes used for student flight training. The airport also has added new hangars and a new terminal known as the Knowlton Executive Terminal & Aviation Learning Center.

Airport Operations Don’t Benefit University, Critic Contends
O’Keefe notes in his complaint that about 85 percent of the airport’s income is produced from non-university business customers who lease the aircraft hangars and storage spaces and who purchase goods and services from the airport. While OSU had historically deposited funds from the private airport users into its general fund, the FAA in 1982 required all federally funded public airports to use all income they produced to fund airport operational expenses. The FAA audited OSU in 2006 and ordered it to reimburse the airport for all money transferred to the general fund.

O’Keefe argued the airport no longer resembles the operation that was granted tax-exempt status in 1943 and, with the FAA rule change, the airport cannot assist in the university’s funding of its programs. O’Keefe maintained in his complaint that since the vast majority of the airport property doesn’t support the university’s educational purposes, the Ohio tax commissioner should order that the airport receive a “split listing,” in which the property used for university programming continues to receive an exemption while the property used by private operators is taxed.

The tax commissioner determined in 2018 that all of the airport property should retain the exemption because of the “synergistic relationship” between the income-producing aspects of the airport and the educational mission of the university. In 2019, the Board of Tax Appeals (BTA) affirmed the tax commissioner’s decision.

O’Keefe appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court will hear arguments by videoconference, which will be livestreamed.

Property No Longer Tied to Educational Mission, Challenger Asserts
The airport’s original exemption was granted 20 years before the state updated its property tax exemption laws. The parties agree that the most relevant law pertaining to the continuing exemption is R.C. 3345.17, which relates to property owned by state universities. The law grants a property tax exemption “so long as such property is used for the support of such university.”

O’Keefe argues that the Supreme Court has allowed for property tax exemptions even when “ancillary” production of income occurs on university property that is not used to benefit the university. However, the Court has indicated that ancillary production only means a small part of the property is used to generate income for non-university purposes. O’Keefe asserts the OSU airport turns the equation on its head and that 90 percent of the property is used for commercial, non-university purposes and 85 percent of the income goes directly to support the aspects of the airport that serve the private, commercial users.

Pointing to tax decisions relating to other publicly owned Ohio airports that lease space to private vendors to operate bars, lounges, and stores inside airports, O’Keefe maintains the state previously has rejected the “synergistic relationship” the tax commissioner accepted as a reason to continue OSU’s exemption. He maintains in those instances where the property’s use is mixed, split listing is appropriate to exempt some of the property from taxation.

Full Exemption Appropriate, Commissioner Asserts
The tax commissioner determined that every facet of the university airport is used as part of OSU’s educational and entrepreneurial training programs, and that the commercial use of the property does not disqualify it from exemption. The tax commissioner states the Supreme Court’s interpretation of R.C. 3345.17 focuses on the use of the property, not the use of funds derived from the property. The commissioner states that OSU officials presented evidence of the airport’s use for coursework, learning laboratories, hands-on learning, and research. By having a fully functioning airport, OSU provides students with firsthand experience for those pursuing careers related to working at airports, the commissioner argues.

The commissioner also explains that using the income from the private users to operate the airport increases, not reduces, the airport’s “support” of the university’s purposes. Because those revenues support the fully functioning airport, OSU students are able to gain from the experiences studying and working at the airport without the university having to provide resources from its general fund, the commissioner concludes.

University Supports Exemption
OSU argues that O’Keefe presents the matter as if only the small flight education program represents the university’s use of the airport. The university states that the airport supports more than 30 degree programs and that students study and work at the airport on a regular basis. The university not only uses the property for educational programs ranging from airport management to civil engineering to finance, but also states the airport houses a gas turbine lab and the school’s aerospace research center.

OSU maintains the exemption satisfies the law’s requirement that the property support the university’s purposes and nothing in the law states that the majority of the revenues from the commercial operations must go to the university. The university supports the BTA’s conclusion that the airport need not be “exclusively or primarily used for educational purposes” to qualify for the exemption.

Dan Trevas

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing John S. O’Keefe: Sandra Dickinson, 614.984.6778

Representing Jeffrey A. McClain, Ohio tax commissioner, from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office: Kimberly Allison, 614.466.2941

Representing Ohio State University: Hilary Houston, 614.464.4968

Return to top

Do Names of Those Giving and Receiving Oil and Gas Rights Need to Appear in Deed?

W. Randal Erickson et al. v. Paul E. Morrison et al., Case No. 2020-0244
Fifth District Court of Appeals (Guernsey County)

ISSUE: Under the Ohio Marketable Title Act, is an interest in oil and gas rights preserved if the reference in the deed doesn’t specify to whom the rights were granted?

The parties in this case are asking the Ohio Supreme Court to clarify its 2018 Blackstone v. Moore decision. In Blackstone, the Court unanimously rejected the claim that under Ohio’s Marketable Title Act (MTA) a reference to a mineral interest in a deed needed to note the volume and page number of the record where the interest was recorded or the date on which the interest was recorded. (See Specific References in Deed Sufficient to Preserve Oil and Gas Rights.) In Blackstone, the Court developed a three-part test to determine if the information about the oil and gas interest in a property deed is sufficient for the mineral rights owner to preserve it. In this case, the parties debate whether the name of the person granted the mineral rights must appear in the deed for the right be preserved.

In 1926, James and Rose Logan executed a warranty deed transferring the surface property rights of 139 acres in Guernsey County to Edward and Alta Riggs. The deed contained a reservation of the mineral rights, which stated “Excepting and reserving therefrom all coal, gas and oil with the rights of first parties, their heirs and assigns, at any time to drill and operate for oil and gas and to mine for coal…” with certain conditions, such as paying for any damages to the crops of the surface owners. The reservation didn’t specify any individual by name, but only “first parties, their heirs and assigns.”

In 1941, James Logan, then a widower, transferred the mineral rights to C.L. Ogle, his heirs, and assigns. The language in the transfer essentially repeated the language in the original 1926 reservation. W. Randal Erickson and Kathleen Erickson are C.L. Ogle’s heirs and claim the mineral interest beneath the 139 acres.

The surface real estate transferred several times, and Paul and Vesta Morrison purchased the land by warranty deed in 1978. The recorded deed contained the mineral rights reservation in its entirety. The Morrisons transformed their ownership by executing a survivorship deed in 1983, and it also contained the reservation rights. The Morrisons in 1998 conveyed the surface rights to the Paul E. Morrison Trust and made themselves the trustees of the trust. The trust deed also contained the reservation rights.

Mineral Rights Ownership Dispute Ensues
In 2015, the Morrisons filed a claim in Guernsey County Common Pleas Court to declare themselves the owners of the surface and the mineral rights. The Morrisons named the heirs to the Logan family as the defendants, believing that family owned the mineral rights. The Morrisons claimed that under both the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act and the MTA the mineral rights no longer belonged to the prior owners. The trial court granted the Morrison’s requests, citing the MTA.

In 2017, the Ericksons filed a lawsuit in Guernsey County against both the Morrisons and the Logan family. The Ericksons claimed they owned the mineral rights. The trial court agreed with the Ericksons. The Morrisons appealed to the Fifth District Court of Appeals.

In 2019, the Fifth District reversed the trial court’s decision, citing the Supreme Court’s 2018 Blackstone decision.

The Ericksons appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court will hear arguments by videoconference, which will be livestreamed.

Mineral Rights Owners Argue Deed Specific Enough to Preserve Rights
Under the MTA, oil and gas rights created more than 40 years before the creation of a landowner’s “root title” are no longer valid unless there is a “savings event” that preserves the rights. The trial court found that under a provision of the MTA, R.C. 5301.49(A), the Ericksons’ mineral rights were referenced in the “muniments” of the title with sufficient information for the landowners to ascertain that the Ericksons owned the rights.

However, the Fifth District referred to the disputed mineral rights in Blackstone and noted the Court held “a reference that includes the type of interest created and to whom the interest was granted is sufficiently specific to preserve the interest in the record title.” Because the reference in the Morrison’s title doesn’t state either the name of the person who originally reserved the mineral rights or to whom it was granted, it didn’t meet the standards in Blackstone to be specific enough to be valid, the Fifth District concluded.

The Ericksons explain that the Court in Blackstone never said a name had to be included. That case was about whether the sufficiency requirements under the MTA required the deed to note in the county recorder’s office the volume and page number of the record where the interest was recorded or the date on which the interest was recorded. The Ericksons said the Court only noted the name in the deed in Blackstone made it clear where to find the records, but that it wasn’t a requirement under the MTA. The couple asserts that neither the MTA nor the Court has directly said a name is required.

The Ericksons assert their deed, which the Morrisons rewrote twice, contained specific language reserving the mineral rights and the Morrisons knew, by virtue of trying to sue the Logan family, that someone else owned the mineral rights. The Ericksons maintain that the Blackstone decision requires the specifics of the “interest” created, and the title to the surface property in this case has repeatedly contained the specific reservation of oil and mineral rights throughout the time the Morrisons have owned the land.

Landowners Maintain Mineral Rights Expired
The Morrisons question whether the Ericksons own the mineral rights, noting their names haven’t appeared in the land records since Ogle acquired the rights from Logan in 1941. They also note Ogle and his descendants did nothing with the interest from 1941 until 2017, when they asked the trial court to affirm they owned the mineral rights. The Morrisons maintain that under the MTA, the mere restatement of a mineral interest when a deed is transferred doesn’t mean the language is specific enough to preserve the interest.

The Morrisons note that none of the deeds, including the original, mention the names of the original owners or the person who later obtained the interest. By referring only to “said first parties,” the deed contains just a “general reference,” Morrisons’ brief states. Under the Blackstone test, a general reference to an interest in a deed can be preserved only if the general reference “contains a specific identification of a recorded title transaction,” the couple notes. Because there is no specific identification that indicates the Ericksons are the owners of the rights, the mineral rights were not preserved and had expired, the Morrisons conclude.

Logan Heir Not Participating in Oral Argument
Susan George, a descendant of James and Rose Logan, was named in the lawsuit, but didn’t file a brief and can’t argue before the Court.

Friend-of-the Court Brief
An amicus curiae brief asking the Court to clarify the Blackstone test has been submitted by 13 individuals who are parties to a similar lawsuit, Stephens et al. v Craig et al, which is pending in Monroe County Common Pleas Court.

Dan Trevas

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing W. Randall Erickson et al.: John Brody. 614.462.5400

Representing Paul E. Morrison et al.: Gregory Watts, 330.497.0700

Return to top

Disbarment Sought: Attorney Took Mentally Incompetent Client’s Money

Disciplinary Counsel v. Christopher J. Burchinal, Case No. 2020-1206
Delaware County

The Board of Professional Conduct recommends that the Ohio Supreme Court disbar a Delaware County lawyer who was convicted of felony theft for misappropriating funds from a mentally incompetent client and continued to practice law after agreeing to cease during his pending criminal proceedings.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which filed the complaint against Christopher Burchinal, notes that the lawyer admitted to 37 violations of the rules governing the professional conduct of Ohio lawyers. In addition to committing theft, Burchinal repeatedly failed to provide services for which clients paid him to complete. He also lied to clients, their families, judges, and disciplinary investigators, the office states. Because Burchinal was suspended previously for two years with 18 months stayed in 2012, the disciplinary counsel contends that disbarment is the appropriate sanction for Burchinal.

Burchinal maintains he has expressed remorse for his actions, fully paid restitution to his clients, and has been engaged with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP) to address mental disorders that impacted his practice. He asks the Supreme Court to impose an indefinite suspension. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court will hear arguments in the case by videoconference, which will be livestreamed.

Lawyer Borrows, Bilks Money from Client
The disciplinary counsel initially filed its complaint against Burchinal in October 2018, but proceedings were delayed because Burchinal was under criminal investigation for his conduct with one of his clients, Bradley Collins. In January 2019, the disciplinary counsel amended its complaint, which included allegations of misconduct dealing with Collins and six other clients that Burchinal engaged between 2016 and 2019.

Collins was first charged with misdemeanor crimes in 2016 in Delaware Municipal Court, and Burchinal was appointed to represent him. The misdemeanor charges were dismissed when Collins indicted by a grand jury for a felony. Burchinal was again appointed to represent him.

At Burchinal’s request, the common pleas court approved a psychiatric evaluation of Collins to determine his competency to stand trial. A day before Collins’ competency hearing, Burchinal asked to borrow $8,000 from Collins, telling his client he was short on funds after incurring significant medical expenses. Collins lent him the money.

The next day, the court ruled Collins incompetent to stand trial. In the following month, Burchinal asked to borrow money from Collins four more times, requesting $11,200 for a total loan amount of $19,200. In the meantime, Collins was arrested again on a separate felony drug possession charge. He was released from jail on bond, and Burchinal was appointed to represent him.

In February 2017, Burchinal wrote a $5,000 check to Collins as a partial repayment of the loan, but on that date, he had only about $1,000 in his bank account. When Collins tried to cash the check in May 2017, the Burchinal’s account was closed, and he wasn’t able to receive the funds.

Lawyer Takes More Money from Client
Later in February, Collins was arrested for failing to abide by the terms of his bond and was ordered to confinement in a Columbus mental health institution. While institutionalized, Collins asked Burchinal to assist in paying his bills. Burchinal asked Collins to sign several blank checks to pay the bills.

Burchinal then wrote three of the pre-signed checks to himself for $10,000, which were for his personal use. He then told Collins he needed to hire an investigator to work on Collins’ criminal case and used three checks for a total of $11,100 to pay the “investigator.” Burchinal actually took the money for his personal use. By May 2017, Burchinal had borrowed or taken $41,300 from Collins.

In May 2017, Collins’ competency was restored, and he was released from the institution. He discovered Burchinal took more than the money he loaned him, believing he was owed $7,300 in addition to the loan. Burchinal promised to pay Collins $26,500 in monthly installments of $2,500. Collins soon found out that Burchinal had taken $14,800 more than he believed, and when confronted, Burchinal agreed to pay Collins the full $41,300 he owed.

Burchinal made one full monthly payment and one partial payment. Six months later, he borrowed $17,000 from his parents to pay half of what he still owed Collins, and 10 months later, he paid the balance.

In August 2019, a Delaware County grand jury indicted Burchinal on one count of felony theft and one count of passing bad checks based on his misappropriation of Collins’ money. He agreed to plead guilty to the theft charge in January 2020 in exchange for dismissal of the passing bad checks charge.

Lawyer Lies about Suspension
During his representation of Collins, and when facing his own criminal charges, Burchinal continued to represent clients. The disciplinary counsel charged him with several rule violations based on those matters, including failing to follow through with matters for which the clients paid, lying to the clients about his failure to act, and using client fees for personal use.

While under criminal investigation, the professional conduct board delayed Burchinal’s disciplinary proceedings and asked him to consider registering as inactive until there was a resolution to his criminal charges. Burchinal agreed in June 2019 to go into inactive status in September 2019, giving him time to “wind down” his practice.

But in September and December 2019, Burchinal twice appeared in courts to represent clients, and was confronted by the judges about his status. Burchinal admitted he misrepresented his status to the judges in those cases.

Escalating Pattern of Deceit Warrants Disbarment, Authorities Maintain
The board and the disciplinary counsel present similar arguments for Burchinal’s disbarment, stating that Burchinal was given a second chance to prove he could continue to practice law after his first suspension in 2012. The board states that Burchinal’s conduct parallels the “multiple acts of dishonesty” for which he was initially suspended. The disciplinary counsel argues that Burchinal’s level of dishonesty only increased after he was reinstated from his first suspension and that he ceased compliance with an OLAP program in 2014.

While facing the pending disciplinary charges, Burchinal again contracted with OLAP for assistance, noting that he was suffering from depression and anxiety while practicing law. The board notes that Burchinal minimally complied with his most recent OLAP agreement and that he failed to demonstrate that any mental disorder contributed to his professional misconduct.

The board and the disciplinary counsel maintain that Burchinal failed to cooperate with the disciplinary proceedings until after the complaints were filed, and that disbarment has been an appropriate sanction for a lawyer who steals clients funds and fails to cooperate with disciplinary proceedings.

Indefinite Suspension Sufficient, Attorney Asserts
Burchinal acknowledges his wrongdoing and maintains that the board fails to adequately account for him taking full responsibility for his conduct, paying restitution to his former clients, and expressing significant remorse.

Burchinal presented evidence that he still engages in therapy through his OLAP contract and he has the capability of being rehabilitated. He maintains that lawyers who have engaged in rule violations similar to his have been indefinitely suspended and given an opportunity for reinstatement. Burchinal argues the board is wrong to conclude the only way to protect the public is disbarment, and he should be given the chance to demonstrate he can return to the competent ethical and professional practice of law.

Dan Trevas

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing the Office of Disciplinary Counsel: Joseph Caligiuri, 614.387.9700

Representing Christopher J. Burchinal: Alvin Mathews, 614.229.0034

Return to top