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Disciplinary Counsel v. Bellew

Supreme Court of Ohio

December 28, 2017

Disciplinary Counsel
v.
Bellew

          Submitted September 13, 2017

         On Certified Report by the Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court, No. 2016-019.

          Scott J. Drexel, Disciplinary Counsel, and Michelle R. Bowman, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, for relator.

          PER CURIAM.

         {¶ 1} Respondent, Timothy Eric Bellew, whose last known address was in Warren, Ohio, Attorney Registration No. 0067573, was admitted to the practice of law in Ohio in 1997.

         {¶ 2} Bellew's license has been suspended continuously since January 2015. We first suspended him from the practice of law on an interim basis on January 21, 2015, based on his failure to respond to a disciplinary complaint filed by the Trumbull County Bar Association. Trumbull Cty. Bar Assn. v. Bellew, 143 Ohio St.3d 1220, 2015-Ohio-147, 35 N.E.3d 526; Gov.Bar R. V(14)(B)(1). Four more interim suspensions followed in August 2015, February 2016, September 2016, and January 2017, for his failure to respond to additional disciplinary complaints-including the three-count complaint filed in this case by relator, disciplinary counsel. Disciplinary Counsel v. Bellew, 143 Ohio St.3d 1292, 2015-Ohio-2374, 40 N.E.3d 1150; Trumbull Cty. Bar Assn. v. Bellew, 145 Ohio St.3d 1214, 2016-Ohio-502, 47 N.E.3d 863; Disciplinary Counsel v. Bellew, 147 Ohio St.3d 1255, 2016-Ohio-5724, 66 N.E.3d 748');">66 N.E.3d 748 [this case]; and Trumbull Cty. Bar Assn. v. Bellew, 149 Ohio St.3d 1258, 2017-Ohio-255, 75 N.E.3d 1269. We have converted three of those interim default suspensions into indefinite suspensions. Trumbull Cty. Bar Assn. v. Bellew, 143 Ohio St.3d 1298, 2015-Ohio-3697, 40 N.E.3d 1155; Disciplinary Counsel v. Bellew, 147 Ohio St.3d 1202, 2016-Ohio-1534, 59 N.E.3d 1284; Trumbull Cty. Bar Assn. v. Bellew, 147 Ohio St.3d 1258, 2016-Ohio-6966, 66 N.E.3d 750.

         {¶ 3} On April 12, 2017, we granted relator's motion to remand this proceeding to the Board of Professional Conduct to seek Bellew's permanent disbarment. Thereafter, relator submitted his motion for default disbarment supported by 33 sworn or certified exhibits, including the affidavits of two clients, assistant disciplinary counsel, and relator's investigator. See Gov.Bar R. V(14)(F).

         {¶ 4} The motion for default was referred to a master appointed by the board for disposition pursuant to Gov.Bar R. V(14)(F)(2)(a). The master recommended that Bellew be permanently disbarred based on findings that Bellew continued to engage in the practice of law while his license was suspended, failed to refund unearned retainers, and failed to cooperate in the ensuing disciplinary investigation. The board adopted the master's findings of fact and conclusions of law and agreed that Bellew should be permanently disbarred. For the reasons that follow, we adopt the board's report and permanently disbar Bellew from the practice of law in Ohio.

         Misconduct

         Count I: Jessica Mitchell

         {¶ 5} On January 14, 2015, Jessica Mitchell paid Bellew a $200 retainer and signed a fee agreement stating that she would pay Bellew $75 per hour plus court costs to represent her in her divorce. A week later, she gave him an additional $250 for her court costs. Bellew filed the complaint for divorce on January 30, 2015-nine days after we first suspended him from the practice of law. Later that day, Bellew texted Mitchell to tell her he had filed her complaint. That was the last communication she received from him.

         {¶ 6} Soon thereafter, the domestic-relations court informed Mitchell that Bellew had been suspended from the practice of law and that there were errors in the documents that he had filed on her behalf. She later learned that the $300 check Bellew used to pay her filing fee had been returned for insufficient funds. Indeed, the account the check was written on had been closed for more than five years. Mitchell went to the courthouse to correct the defective documents and paid the filing fee herself. Bellew did not refund any of her money.

         {¶ 7} On these facts, the board found that Bellew violated Prof.Cond.R. 1.4(a)(3) (requiring a lawyer to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of a matter), 1.15(d) (requiring a lawyer to promptly deliver funds or other property that the client is entitled to receive), 3.4(c) (prohibiting a lawyer from knowingly disobeying an obligation under the rules of a tribunal), 5.5(a) (prohibiting a lawyer from practicing law in a jurisdiction in violation of the regulation of the legal profession in that jurisdiction), 8.4(c) (prohibiting a lawyer from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation), and 8.4(d) (prohibiting a lawyer from engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice). Consistent with our holding in Disciplinary Counsel v. Bricker, 137 Ohio St.3d 35, 2013-Ohio-3998, 997 N.E.2d 500, ¶ 21, the board also found that Bellew's conduct was sufficiently egregious to constitute a separate violation of Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(h) (prohibiting a lawyer from engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer's fitness to practice law).

         Count II: ...


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