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Disciplinary Counsel v. Skolnick

Supreme Court of Ohio

August 1, 2018

Disciplinary Counsel
v.
Skolnick

          Submitted January 24, 2018

          On Certified Report by the Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court, No. 2017-027.

          Scott J. Drexel, Disciplinary Counsel, and Catherine M. Russo, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, for relator.

          Coughlan Law Firm L.L.C. and Jonathan E. Coughlan, for respondent.

          PER CURIAM

         {¶ 1} Respondent, Howard Evan Skolnick, of Cleveland, Ohio, Attorney Registration No. 0061905, was admitted to the practice of law in Ohio in 1993.

         {¶ 2} In a formal complaint filed with the Board of Professional Conduct on May 22, 2017, relator, disciplinary counsel, charged Skolnick with a single 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) for verbally harassing his paralegal for more than two years. Based on the parties' stipulations and Skolnick's hearing testimony, the board found that Skolnick had engaged in the charged misconduct and recommended that he be suspended from the practice of law for six months, with the entire suspension stayed on the condition that he engage in no further misconduct. No objections have been filed.

         {¶ 3} Having review the record, we adopt the board's findings of fact and misconduct. Given the longstanding and pervasive nature of Skolnick's degrading verbal attacks against his paralegal, however, we find that a one-year suspension, with six months stayed on the condition that he engage in no further misconduct, is the appropriate sanction for that misconduct.

         Misconduct

         {¶ 4} Almost immediately after L.D. began working as a paralegal at Skolnick's law firm in August 2011, Skolnick began criticizing and verbally harassing her. He hurled insults and called her stupid, dumb, fat, "whorey," and bitch. Skolnick also called L.D.'s husband a "douche bag" and made fun of her mother, though he had never met her. Uncomfortable with Skolnik's behavior, L.D. soon began looking for a new job. As she could not afford to leave the firm until she had secured new employment, she responded to over 100 employment advertisements, but her job search was unsuccessful.

         {¶ 5} Skolnick's verbal insults and harassment continued throughout L.D.'s nearly two-and-a-half-year tenure with the firm. At some point, L.D. began recording those interactions. These recordings reveal that on one occasion, Skolnick told L.D. that he would put her next to his office so that he could "watch every move that [her] despicable ass makes." During that conversation, he also told her that he had been losing weight because seeing her made him nauseous. Another time, L.D. left a meeting upset and humiliated because Skolnick had used foul language in front of attorneys to criticize her level of education. And in the spring of 2012, Skolnick sexually harassed L.D. While Skolnick drove L.D. and another female employee to lunch, he remarked that the two women should give him "road head" so that he could rate their performances on a scale from one to ten. Skolnick also falsely told an African American client that L.D. did not like black people, a remark that upset L.D. and forced her to defend herself in front of the client.

         {¶ 6} As a result of Skolnick's harassment, L.D. suffered from anxiety, sleep disturbances, depression, and poor body image. Those symptoms persisted even after she left the firm to take a new job in January 2014. A clinical psychologist who evaluated L.D. the following October reported that her symptoms meet some of the criteria for a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder.

         {¶ 7} Skolnick stipulated and the board found that his conduct adversely reflected upon his fitness to practice law in violation of Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(h). We accept these findings of fact and agree that Skolnick's pervasive pattern of verbally harassing and abusing his paralegal falls within this catchall provision. See ...


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