The Supreme Court of Ohio now suspended a Cuyahoga County law firm for inquiring a judge to refer an opposing lawyer for mental health screening to strain that legal professional into dismissing a contentious scenario.

In a unanimous choice, the Supreme Court docket suspended Douglas Whipple of College Heights for a single 12 months, with 6 months stayed. The Court docket discovered Whipple violated ethical policies by earning threats of submitting legal prices or qualified misconduct expenses for the sole purpose of getting an gain in a civil issue.

In 2019, Whipple filed a movement requesting that the demo choose refer attorney Roger Synenberg to the Ohio Lawyers Guidance Application (OLAP). Whipple stated in courtroom that he would drop the ask for if Synenberg and the other opposing lawyers agreed to dismiss a prolonged estate-setting up scenario.

In a for every curiam viewpoint, the Court stated that Whipple destroyed not only Synenberg’s standing with the allegations of psychological health troubles, but also the name of the legal occupation by “reinforcing one particular of the worst stereotypes of attorneys – that they will abuse the authorized approach to gain an unfair benefit for their purchasers.”

Estate Dispute Sales opportunities to Prolonged Court docket Case
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Glenn Seeley was a retired lawyer and close friend of Whipple’s. In 2010, Seeley granted his spouse, Kristina, electrical power of legal professional to take care of his funds and well being care. He also selected his wife as a co-trustee of a believe in in his name. By early 2015, Glenn was identified with Alzheimer’s condition and moved into a facility for individuals struggling from dementia.

In February 2016, Glenn signed a 2nd durable electrical power of legal professional, supplying his son, Gregory, and his grandson, Matthew, (equally attorneys), ability to handle his funds. Whipple also alleged that Glenn amended his belief to make Gregory the co-trustee of his believe in, changing Kristina.

In November 2016, Kristina, who is Gregory’s stepmother, employed Whipple to problem the validity of the documents signed early in the year. In January 2017, Whipple filed a lawsuit on behalf of Glenn and Kristina Seeley from Gregory and an additional lawyer. Synenberg and two other lawyers were being employed to stand for Gregory and the other attorney.

Following almost two a long time of contentious litigation, the events agreed to a settlement in December 2018. The subsequent thirty day period, the trial courtroom decided the settlement was sensible and directed the functions to total their remaining obligations, such as publishing a submitting to the courtroom to formally dismiss the situation.

Settlement Dispute Prompts Controversial Request from Judge
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About two months just after agreeing to the settlement, Synenberg questioned whether Kristina was mentally capable to signal the settlement settlement. Whipple asserted she was. The trial court docket tried to have the events verify the settlement and set a hearing for a Monday early morning in June 2019.

Late on the Friday right before the hearing, Whipple filed a motion requesting that the choose refer Synenberg to OLAP. In this movement, Whipple alleged Synenberg’s “performance as a attorney was impaired by a psychological or emotional condition or some other affliction.” He maintained Synenberg was making unfounded assaults on Kristina’s psychological potential and needlessly delaying the case’s dismissal.

In his movement, Whipple referred to an unrelated higher-profile circumstance involving Synenberg. Centered on media reviews of the unrelated case, Whipple accused Synenberg of retaliating towards a witness who testified versus one particular of Synenberg’s purchasers. Retaliating from a witness is a third-diploma felony. Whipple also created other claims towards Synenberg, which include that he produced misrepresentations to the court docket and defamed Whipple’s paralegal, who is also Whipple’s spouse.

At the Monday listening to, Synenberg and his colleagues objected to the movement, proclaiming it was frivolous. Whipple instructed the demo judge that he expected Synenberg and the other lawyers to sign the agreement to dismiss the situation. If not, he wanted to progress with the motion to have Synenberg referred to OLAP.

The trial judge did not act on the movement, and afterwards lifted the issue of irrespective of whether Whipple’s request violated the skilled conduct rule that prohibits threatening to demand an opposing attorney with a criminal offense or specialist misconduct only to obtain an advantage in a civil make a difference.

The Seeley scenario was dismissed, but primarily based on the movement, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Affiliation filed a complaint versus Whipple with the Board of Experienced Conduct.

Board Uncovered Rule Violations
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The trial choose in the Seeley subject testified at Whipple’s disciplinary listening to. The judge explained to a a few-member panel that Whipple was expressing his anger with the court docket for the delays and his irritation with Synenberg. The judge indicated the motion, which is a community history, was intended to stress Synenberg and the other lawyers to stop the questioning of Kristina’s competency and settle the scenario.

Whipple taken care of he did not commit any ethical violations and was expressing a accurate issue for Synenberg’s psychological wellness. The board disagreed and recommended the Supreme Courtroom suspend Whipple for 1 calendar year, with six months stayed.

Whipple objected to the board recommendation, suggesting his perform at most warranted a general public reprimand. The objection activated oral arguments just before the Court docket.

Supreme Court docket Examined Allegations
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The viewpoint mentioned the Court’s impartial critique of the document provides too much to handle proof that the sole intent of Whipple’s movement was to pressure Synenberg to halt questioning Kristina’s potential and concur to dismiss the case. The Court docket famous Whipple’s have actions at the hearing refute his claims that he had sincere problem for the opposing lawyer. Whipple only agreed to withdraw the movement if Synenberg agreed to settle.

The Court noted that by implying Synenberg was committing the crime of witness retaliation, Whipple was also alleging that Synenberg engaged in professional misconduct. The claims violate the rule of alleging a crime or qualified misconduct to achieve a lawful edge, the Court docket concluded.

Whipple also claimed that his responses did not hurt Synenberg’s status, and that Synenberg had downplayed the importance of Whipple’s accusations. The viewpoint stated an attorney’s “most valuable asset is his or her qualified reputation for competence, honesty, and integrity.”

The Court mentioned that Whipple went considerably past citing the publicized unrelated situation about likely witness retaliation by declaring Synenberg’s steps “were adversely impacted by some unknown ailment.” All those allegations in a general public submitting caused some hurt to Synenberg’s popularity, the view mentioned.

“In addition to the hurt Whipple’s allegations inflected on Synenberg’s name, his perform also triggered immeasurable damage to the community notion of the authorized career. On these facts, Whipple’s conduct warrants a sanction bigger than the community reprimand that he seeks,” the Courtroom concluded.

The 6-thirty day period remain of Whipple’s one particular-year suspension is conditioned on not committing even further misconduct. He was also requested to fork out the prices of the disciplinary proceedings.

2021-0229. Cleveland Metro Bar Assn. v. Whipple, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-510.

View oral argument online video of this case.

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