Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Ohio High Court's Attorney Ripoff Reimbursement Fund Shells Out $750K+ In 2015 Due To Conduct Of 41 Lawyers; Two Victims Each Score $75K Maximum Payout

In Youngstown, Ohio, the Daily Legal News reports:
  • The 2015 Client Protection Fund annual report is more than just a collection of numbers, said Janet Green Marbley, administrator/secretary of the fund.

    “We are required by rule to publish this report every year,” said Marbley, who has headed up the program for the last 22 years. “But,” she said, “we really use it as a publicity tool, to make the public aware of our program.”

    Ohio’s Client Protection Fund, originally known as the Clients’ Security Fund, was established by the Ohio Supreme Court in 1985 as Rule VIII of the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio (Gov. Bar. R.).

    Marbley said the fund, “was established by the Supreme Court of Ohio to restore public confidence in the legal profession by providing financial reimbursement to victims of dishonest lawyers.”

    The fund, which is funded solely by attorney registration fees, has reimbursed more than $19 million to 2,680 former law clients, represented by just under 600 attorneys.

    In 2015, the fund disbursed about $767,000 to 141 law clients (out of 257 new applications) who sustained financial losses due to the conduct of 41 lawyers admitted to the practice of law in Ohio, according to the report. Two former clients received the $75,000 maximum award.

    Funds are awarded at quarterly meetings of a six-member board of commissioners, currently chaired by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John J. Russo.

    The vast majority of reimbursements arise from unearned funds, according to the report, with outright theft only accounting for 15 cases.

    One attorney accounted for over $150,000 of the total, and another individual attorney accounted for over $180,000. Over the years, the largest total amount reimbursed from the actions of one attorney was for almost $1.25 million for 33 clients (Youngstown’s Richard Goldberg, representing an amount more than double the next closest award).

    Although proud of the fund’s success during her tenure, Marbley says she is far more interested in the human stories, both clients’ and attorneys’, than she is in just the finances of the program.

    When I first came on board here, there were only a few attorneys who even knew that the fund existed,” she said. She has spent the last two decades on a mission to publicize the fund to attorneys, law students and, in particular, to the public.

    Marbley, a Columbus native, received her undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati and her law degree from Capitol University. She spent some time teaching justice studies in Chicago, and then relocated to Chicago.

    When she was offered her current position, she said, she was not sure what it was, but a second interview, this time with then-Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer, convinced her to take it.

    It was an opportunity, she said, “to help people who had become victims because they trusted their lawyer.”

    Marbley had a steep learning curve at the beginning, she said. In traveling around the state at the beginning of her tenure, it became obvious very early on that lawyers were not interested in any sort of negative approach toward the topic.

    “It was evident that we needed to put a positive spin on the topic,” she said.

    The positive message developed by Marbley and her dedicated staff then is the same theme that they present to attorneys and the public today: the very few attorneys who trigger these awards are a small percentage of the total number of attorneys in the state.

    “That proves that lawyers are not all crooks,” she said. After creating that message, Marbley said that her presentations found far more acceptance in lawyers’ groups.

    At the same time, she also saw the need to tell the public about the fund. If nobody knew about it, she said, nobody could take advantage of it.

    So, she said, she spends a considerable amount of time speaking to groups in all segments of society, in addition to putting considerable effort into electronic communication.

    She also speaks to law students, warning them especially about the perils inherent in small and solo practices of new attorneys “getting in over their heads” by over-promising and extending themselves into situations that they are not prepared for.

    Marbley credits both the fund’s staff, board, and the Supreme Court for the program’s success. “Every state has a similar fund,”(1) she said. “But there are states where these programs are not funded by the courts, and they have a very hard time.”

    After 22 years on the job, Marbley said that “I love what I do on a daily basis. I think that we continue to meet our goals and I am happy to be helping.”
Source: Client Protection Fund paid out more than $750K in 2015.
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(1) For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that sometimes help cover the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc.

See generally:
  • N.Y. fund for cheated clients wants thieving lawyers disbarred, a July, 2015 Associated Press story on this Fund reporting that the Fund's executive director, among other things, is calling for prompt referral to the local district attorney when the disciplinary committee has uncontested evidence of theft by a lawyer injuring a client or an admission of culpability;

    When Lawyers Steal the Escrow, a June, 2005 New York Times story describing some cases of client reimbursements ("With real estate business surging and down-payment amounts rising with home prices, the temptation for a lawyer to filch money from a bulging escrow account and later repay it with other clients' money has never been greater, said lawyers who monitor the thefts."),

    Thieving Lawyers Draining Client Security Funds, a December, 1991 New York Times story that gives some-real life examples of how client security funds deal with claims and the pressures the administrators of those funds may feel when left insufficiently financed as a result of the misconduct of a handful of lawyer/scoundrels.

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