Geauga County Bar Ass'n v. Haig

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Justia Opinion Summary

Richard Haig, a loan officer who was not an attorney, prepared pleadings that his customers filed in two foreclosure cases before the court of common pleas. Relator, the county bar association, charged that Haig committed the unauthorized practice of law and recommended injunctive relief. The Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law concluded that Haig's actions voilated Ohio's licensure requirements. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that Haig engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The Court enjoined Haig from any future conduct constituting the authorized practice of law, including the preparation of legal documents for others, but did not impose a civil penalty in light of Haig's cooperation with the investigation of his misconduct and his apparent lack of awareness that his conduct was improper.

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[Until this opinion appears in the Ohio Official Reports advance sheets, it may be cited as Geauga Cty. Bar Assn. v. Haig, Slip Opinion No. 2011-Ohio-4271.] NOTICE This slip opinion is subject to formal revision before it is published in an advance sheet of the Ohio Official Reports. Readers are requested to promptly notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of Ohio, 65 South Front Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215, of any typographical or other formal errors in the opinion, in order that corrections may be made before the opinion is published. SLIP OPINION NO. 2011-OHIO-4271 GEAUGA COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION v. HAIG. [Until this opinion appears in the Ohio Official Reports advance sheets, it may be cited as Geauga Cty. Bar Assn. v. Haig, Slip Opinion No. 2011-Ohio-4271.] Unauthorized practice of law Preparation of answers and motion in court cases Injunction issued. (No. 2011-0564 Submitted May 25, 2011 Decided September 1, 2011.) ON FINAL REPORT by the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law of the Supreme Court, No. UPL 10-07. __________________ Per Curiam. {¶ 1} Relator, the Geauga County Bar Association, charged that respondent, Richard Haig of Brooklyn, Ohio, committed the unauthorized practice of law. Respondent is not an attorney. In the conduct at issue here, respondent prepared pleadings that his customers filed in two foreclosure cases before the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas. The Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law concluded that these actions violated Ohio licensure requirements SUPREME COURT OF OHIO and recommended that we issue an injunction. Upon review, we agree that respondent engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, assess costs, and enjoin him from committing further illegal acts. {¶ 2} Section 2(B)(1)(g), Article IV of the Ohio Constitution allocates to this court jurisdiction over matters relating to the practice of law, including policing the unauthorized practice of law. Greenspan v. Third Fed. S. & L. Assn., 122 Ohio St.3d 455, 2009-Ohio-3508, 912 N.E.2d 567, at ¶ 16; Lorain Cty. Bar Assn. v. Kocak, 121 Ohio St.3d 396, 2009-Ohio-1430, 904 N.E.2d 885, at ¶ 16. The unauthorized practice of law occurs when a person provides legal services to another in this state without admission to the practice of law or certification for limited practice pursuant to the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar. Gov.Bar R. VII(2)(A); see also R.C. 4705.01. This includes the preparation of legal documents for others, without proper admission. Miami Cty. Bar Assn. v. Wyandt & Silvers, Inc., 107 Ohio St.3d 259, 2005-Ohio-6430, 838 N.E.2d 655, at ¶ 11. {¶ 3} Respondent is a loan officer who is not admitted to the practice of law in Ohio. However, respondent drafted documents that his customers filed with the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas in two foreclosure cases. {¶ 4} In CitiMortgage, Inc. v. Detweiler, Geauga C.P. No. 08F000143, respondent prepared the following legal instruments for Elizabeth M. and John E. Detweiler: (1) a Requrest [sic] for Additional Time in [sic] to Answer or Respond to Plaintiff s Complaint for Elizabeth M. Detweiler, filed April 9, 2008; (2) an answer for Elizabeth M. Detweiler, filed on April 25, 2008; and (3) an answer for John E. Detweiler, filed April 25, 2008. {¶ 5} In CitiMortgage, Inc. v. Miller, Geauga C.P. No. 08F000436, respondent prepared the following legal instruments for Sarah D. and Willis M. Miller: (1) a Requrest [sic] for Additional Time in [sic] to Answer or Respond to Plaintiff s Complaint for Willis M. Miller, filed May 20, 2008; (2) a Requrest 2 January Term, 2011 [sic] for Additional Time in [sic] to Answer or Respond to Plaintiff s Complaint for Sarah D. Miller, filed May 20, 2008; (3) an answer for Willis M. Miller, filed June 25, 2008; and (4) an answer for Sarah D. Miller, filed June 25, 2008. {¶ 6} It appears that respondent s misconduct did not harm his customers. The Detweilers eventually retained counsel, who obtained leave to file an amended answer and to conduct discovery. The Millers did not retain counsel, but the court of common pleas dismissed the case against them on August 28, 2008. {¶ 7} After being contacted by relator, respondent mailed relator a handwritten letter admitting the incidents described above and explaining that he was unaware that he had violated the law. Subsequently, relator filed a two-count complaint alleging that respondent had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. Relator recommended against imposing a civil penalty. Respondent did not file an answer, and the hearing panel granted a motion for default on the matter and submitted a report to the board. The hearing panel determined that respondent had committed the unauthorized practice of law and recommended injunctive relief. Additionally, after reviewing the aggravating and mitigating factors enumerated by UPL Reg. 400(F)(3) and (4), the panel concluded that a civil penalty was not appropriate in light of respondent s cooperation with the investigation of his misconduct and of his apparent lack of awareness that his conduct was improper. The Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law adopted the panel s recommendations. {¶ 8} On April 13, 2011, we gave respondent 20 days to show cause why we should not adopt the recommendations of the board. We have received no reply from respondent. {¶ 9} Based on the evidence before us, it is clear that respondent prepared legal instruments for others, which were filed in the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas. Respondent committed these violations unwittingly, and 3 SUPREME COURT OF OHIO they caused no harm to his customers. Therefore, we hereby find that respondent has engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. Respondent is enjoined from any future conduct constituting the unauthorized practice of law, including the preparation of legal documents for others. Under the circumstances, we decline to impose a civil penalty. Costs are taxed to respondent. Judgment accordingly. O CONNOR, C.J., and PFEIFER, LUNDBERG STRATTON, O DONNELL, LANZINGER, CUPP, and MCGEE BROWN, JJ., concur. __________________ Ziegler, Metzger, & Miller, L.L.P., and Stephen M. Bales, for relator. ______________________ 4