Two bar discipline matters will be argued tomorrow before the Ohio Supreme Court
Trumbull County Bar Association v. John H. Large, Case no. 2018-0250
A Trumbull County lawyer who has been suspended from practicing law twice since 2009 is contesting a Board of Professional Conduct recommendation for his permanent disbarment.
A three-member board hearing panel concluded that John H. Large violated several of the rules governing Ohio lawyers during his representation of two clients. The panel recommended that Large be indefinitely suspended. However, the full board is recommending the Ohio Supreme Court permanently disbar Large.
Federal Tax Conviction Led to First Suspension
The Trumbull County Bar Association brought the complaint against Large to the board and has maintained that Large has learned little from his prior sanctions by the Supreme Court. In 2009, Large was suspended for one year based on his federal conviction for failing to file personal income tax returns or report his employees’ wages to the IRS. The Court noted in its opinion that Large “demonstrated a pattern of misconduct motivated by his selfish desire to delay payment of his tax obligation,” and caused his employees harm by failing to report their wages to the IRS.
In 2012, Large was suspended for two years, with six months stayed, for violating rules related to the representation of clients, which included not keeping them informed of their cases, not acting diligently in his representation, and acting with dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. The board reported that in less than two years after his reinstatement to practice law, two clients filed grievances against him with the Trumbull County Bar Association for allegations of misconduct similar to those of his past clients.
Lawyer Fails to Appear at Trial
Susan Seargeant of Morgantown, West Virginia, contacted Large by phone in December 2015, asking him to represent her in a judgment collection effort and in a second collection case in Warren Municipal Court. Large appeared at the initial 2015 hearing and requested a continuance. At that point, Seargeant sent Large all her documents supporting her claims. She didn’t retain copies.
The day before the trial, Large asked the court to move the case because of a scheduling conflict, but he didn’t tell Seargeant the case was moved to later in the month. She called Large on the day before the original trial date for confirmation, but he didn’t respond. She drove from Morgantown to Warren only to discover the case wasn’t being heard.
Later that month, she appeared at the trial, but Large didn’t, and the magistrate required that she represent herself. Because Large had her only copy of the documents, Seargeant defended herself without the benefit of the documents. Two weeks later, the magistrate ruled in Seargeant’s favor, but for a lesser sum than Seargeant argued she had been owed.
Seargeant and Large objected to the magistrate’s decision. The trial court let the decision stand. At the board panel hearing, Large was asked if he accepted responsibility for what happened in Seargeant’s case. Large “bluntly stated he would not,” the board states in its report to the Court.
Attorney Urges Client Filed Lawsuit, then Doesn’t Pursue Case
Large represented John Baryak in legal proceedings surrounding Baryak’s candidacy for Newton Falls City Council. Large advised Baryak that he had grounds to sue two men challenging his candidacy, and Baryak hired Large and paid him a $2,500 retainer. The panel found Large gathered no evidence to make his case, and failed to respond to discovery requests from his opponent. He didn’t inform Baryak about the information requests or the opponent’s motion to have the case dismissed.
In November, 2015, Large dismissed the case and refiled it without Baryak’s knowledge. The opponents resubmitted generally the same informational requests, which Large largely ignored and didn’t report to his client. In 2017, the trial court sanctioned Baryak for more than $10,000 to pay the fees and expenses of his opponents in the first case and jointly sanctioned Baryak and Large for $15,000 for expenses in the second lawsuit.
At the disciplinary hearing, Large acknowledged he violated several professional conduct rules. The panel recommended an indefinite suspension. The full board noted the Court recently, in Toledo v. Harvey (2017), disbarred an attorney who had two prior suspensions in a five-year period, and found it similar to Large’s situation. It recommended the Court disbar Large.
Sanction Too Harsh, Lawyer Responds
Large acknowledges he should be sanctioned for his actions, but states his brief that permanent disbarment is “extreme and does not align with the allegations against” him. Large argues that his clients were left in no worse position than had he not been retained and that there were no allegations of mishandling client funds, committing an illegal act, or acting with a selfish or dishonest motive.
He argues the Court has reserved disbarment for the most egregious misconduct, and while his work was not stellar, he deserves a lesser sanction.
Bar Association Supports Disbarment
The Trumbull County Bar Association’s brief states that Large acted with a selfish and dishonest motive that negatively impacted the cases of his clients and did them harm. The association notes that it was originally in agreement with a lesser sanction until Large expressed no remorse and took no responsibility for his actions at the panel hearing.
The bar association argues that Large learned nothing from his prior suspensions and is before the Court again for even more serious disciplinary violations. The association concludes that Large’s history “demonstrates that compliance with court orders and professional standards are not priorities in his practice of law.”...