Submitted August 29, 2017
Certified Report by the Board of Professional Conduct of the
Supreme Court, No. 2016-056.
Dettmer Slye; Nicholas A. Zingarelli; and Edwin W. Patterson
III, for relator.
Alvertis W. Bishop Jr., for respondent.
1} Respondent, William Douglass Bell Sr., of
Cincinnati, Ohio, Attorney Registration No. 0027596, was
admitted to the practice of law in Ohio in 1977. In 2016,
relator, Cincinnati Bar Association, charged him with
violating several professional-conduct rules while
representing a landlord in two eviction cases. After a
hearing, the Board of Professional Conduct issued a report
finding that Bell engaged in the charged misconduct and
recommending that we sanction him with a public reprimand.
For the reasons explained below, we accept the board's
recommendation and publicly reprimand Bell for his
2} In 2014, Bell represented Levie Smith and his
property-management company in the Hamilton County Municipal
Court in two eviction cases involving one of Smith's
former tenants. Bell's representation of Smith, however,
led to a fee dispute between the lawyer and his client, and
in the fee-dispute case, the municipal court determined that
Bell owed Smith damages for settling the eviction cases
without Smith's consent.
3} Specifically, the court found that although Bell
testified that he thought he had authority from Smith to
settle the cases, Smith had not consented to the terms of any
settlement agreement. Nevertheless, Bell settled the matters
and agreed that $560 of the tenant's escrowed rent would
be returned to the tenant and the remaining balance of $2,
507 would be paid to Smith. When Bell attempted to deliver
the settlement check to Smith, Smith refused to sign it,
claiming that his damages exceeded the settlement amount.
4} The court found that Bell breached his contract
with Smith by settling the cases without Smith's consent
and that Bell therefore owed his client $3, 067, the full
amount of the escrowed rent funds. However, the court also
found that Bell was entitled to $1, 000 in attorney fees for
his work. The court therefore awarded a net judgment to Smith
in the amount of $2, 067. To resolve all their claims, Bell
and Smith later agreed that Smith would simply accept the $2,
507 settlement check from the eviction cases as satisfaction
of the judgment, which resulted in Bell essentially waiving
any attorney fees for the case.
5} According to relator, the judge in the
fee-dispute case forwarded his judgment entry to relator,
which commenced this disciplinary proceeding. After
Bell's disciplinary hearing, the board found that Bell
had, in fact, obtained an excellent result for Smith and that
Smith had not been prejudiced by Bell's conduct.
Nonetheless, because Bell admitted that he settled the
matters without Smith's consent, the board found that
Bell violated Prof.Cond.R. 1.2(a) (requiring a lawyer to
abide by the client's decisions concerning the objectives
of representation and to consult with the client as to means
by which they are to be pursued) and 1.4(a)(1) (requiring a
lawyer to inform the client of any decision or circumstance
with respect to which the client's informed consent is
6} Bell also admitted that although he informed
Smith that he lacked malpractice insurance, he failed to have
Smith sign the written notice required by the
professional-conduct rules. Therefore, the board also found
that Bell violated Prof.Cond.R. 1.4(c) (requiring a lawyer to
inform the client if the lawyer does not maintain
professional-liability insurance and obtain a signed
acknowledgment of that notice from the client).
7} We agree with the board's ...