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Mahoning County Bar Association v. Atway

Supreme Court of Ohio

January 3, 2018

Mahoning County Bar Association
v.
Atway.

          Submitted September 13, 2017

         On Certified Report by the Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court, No. 2016-064.

          David Comstock Jr. and J. Michael Thompson, Bar Counsel, for relator.

          John B. Juhasz; and Maro & Schoenike Co. and Lynn Maro, for respondent.

          PER CURIAM.

         {¶ 1} Respondent, Neal Ghaleb Atway, of Youngstown, Ohio, Attorney Registration No. 0059252, was admitted to the practice of law in Ohio in 1992. In April 2016, we suspended his license on an interim basis after receiving notice that he had been convicted of a felony. In re Atway, 146 Ohio St.3d 1216, 2016-Ohio-1452, 51 N.E.3d 648. In December 2016, relator, Mahoning County Bar Association, charged him with violating several professional-conduct rules as a result of his conviction. After a hearing, the Board of Professional Conduct found that Atway engaged in most of the charged misconduct and recommended that we suspend him for two years, with credit for time served under the interim felony suspension. Neither party has objected to the board's recommendation.

         {¶ 2} Upon our review of the record, we adopt the board's findings of misconduct and agree that a two-year suspension is appropriate in this case. However, we decline to grant credit for time served under the interim felony suspension.

         Misconduct

         {¶ 3} This matter involves Atway's 2012 representation of Charles Muth. In early 2012, state authorities investigated Muth for allegedly asking an associate to fire gunshots into what Muth believed was the home of Mohd Rawhneh. During the state's investigation of the shooting, police discovered a large marijuana-growing operation in Muth's home, which resulted in federal authorities commencing a separate investigation of him. Atway agreed to represent Muth in the federal matter, and Atway's law partner, Scott Cochran, agreed to represent Muth in the state court proceeding.[1]

         {¶ 4} By June 2012, Atway had negotiated a plea agreement in the federal matter. At his disciplinary hearing, Atway testified that although he had negotiated Muth's mandatory five-year prison term down to a six-month sentence, Muth requested that Atway find a way for him to avoid any time in prison. Atway then approached the government's attorney, who indicated that Muth could potentially avoid prison by proving that his life was threatened for cooperating with authorities or by providing incriminating evidence about either public corruption or a lawyer. At the time, Atway believed that the government's attorney wanted Muth to cooperate against a local attorney who the government suspected was involved in Muth's marijuana operation. Atway relayed this information to his client.

         {¶ 5} According to Atway, Muth had also asked him to approach Rawhneh about entering into a monetary settlement with Muth, which Muth hoped would prevent Rawhneh from testifying against him at his sentencing hearings. Atway testified that he had repeatedly told Muth that they could not prevent Rawhneh from appearing at Muth's sentencing hearings but Muth had nonetheless requested that Atway attempt a settlement.

         {¶ 6} Unbeknownst to Atway, Muth had also contacted the FBI and alleged that Atway and Rawhneh were attempting to extort money from him. As a result, the FBI began recording communications between Atway and Muth and, separately, Atway and Rawhneh. According to Atway, the FBI recorded dozens of his communications with both his client and Rawhneh.

         {¶ 7} In November 2012, Atway learned that he was under FBI investigation, and in 2014, the federal government charged him with violating the Hobbs Act, obstruction of justice, making a false statement to law enforcement, and two other offenses. Atway pled not guilty to all charges. After a five-week trial in February and March 2015, the judge declared a mistrial due to juror misconduct. The judge later acquitted Atway on two counts, and the government indicated its intent to retry him on the remaining charges. By October 2015, however, Atway and the government reached an agreement: Atway would plead guilty to a new charge of violating 18 U.S.C. 241, a class C felony, and the government would dismiss all charges in the original indictment.

         {¶ 8} Under 18 U.S.C. 241, persons are prohibited from conspiring with others to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in the free exercise and enjoyment of a legal right. Atway admitted that he had violated the statute by entering into a conspiracy to deprive Muth of his right to effective assistance of counsel. Specifically, Atway admitted that he had lied to Muth about his interactions and communications with Rawhneh. Atway also acknowledged that he made vulgar and disparaging comments in his communications with Rawhneh while discussing the potential settlement. At his January 2016 sentencing, the judge fined Atway $2, 000 and placed him on probation for ...


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