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Disciplinary Counsel v. Rumizen

Supreme Court of Ohio

June 27, 2019

Disciplinary Counsel

          Submitted March 6, 2019

          On Certified Report by the Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court, No. 2018-027.

          Scott J. Drexel, Disciplinary Counsel, and Stacy Solochek Beckman, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, for relator.

          Koblentz & Penvose, L.L.C., Richard S. Koblentz, Bryan L. Penvose, and Nicholas E. Froning, for respondent.

          PER CURIAM.

         {¶ 1} Respondent, Scott Andrew Rumizen, of Beachwood, Ohio, Attorney Registration No. 0058561, was admitted to the practice of law in Ohio in 1992. In May 2018, relator, disciplinary counsel, charged Rumizen with violating the Rules of Professional Conduct by purposely underpaying a former colleague pursuant to their fee-sharing arrangement. Rumizen stipulated to the charges against him, and after a hearing, the Board of Professional Conduct found that he had engaged in the stipulated misconduct and recommended that we suspend him for two years, with 18 months stayed on conditions. The parties have jointly waived objections and request that we adopt the board's recommendation.

         {¶ 2} Based on our review of the record, we adopt the board's findings of misconduct and recommended sanction.


         {¶ 3} In 2010, Rumizen commenced working as an independent contractor for Kraig & Kraig, a law firm owned by Brian Kraig. In 2013, Rumizen notified Kraig that he intended to create a new law firm, and they thereafter discussed how to divide their pending caseload. They agreed that Rumizen would take more than 100 pending client matters-mostly personal-injury cases-and that in exchange, Rumizen would pay Kraig a certain percentage of the fee he received in each of those cases. The percentage varied depending on whether Kraig had initiated the representation and how much work seemed to remain to be done in each case.

         {¶ 4} At Rumizen's disciplinary hearing, he testified that he had underestimated the amount of work necessary to complete those client matters. Therefore, he explained, after about seven months at his new law firm, he attempted to renegotiate the terms of his fee-sharing arrangement with Kraig but Kraig refused. Kraig testified, however, that Rumizen never approached him about renegotiating their arrangement and that if Rumizen had requested a higher percentage of fees based on his extra work in a particular case, Kraig would have agreed to the modification. The board found Kraig's testimony more credible.

         {¶ 5} Regardless, the parties stipulated that in 13 of the client matters transferred to Rumizen, he purposely underpaid Kraig the amount to which Kraig was entitled under their fee-sharing arrangement. For example, Rumizen settled one of the personal-injury claims for $170, 000 and received $62, 000 in attorney fees. Rumizen should have paid Kraig $15, 000 pursuant to the terms of their arrangement. However, Rumizen falsely represented to Kraig that the matter had settled for only $60, 000 and that he had received only $15, 000 in attorney fees. He therefore paid Kraig only $3, 750. The parties also stipulated that Rumizen failed to inform Kraig about eight settlements. For example, Rumizen settled one matter for $67, 500 and received $18, 000 in attorney fees. Although Kraig was entitled to $1, 800 of those fees, Rumizen failed to notify him of the settlement and therefore failed to pay him his share.

         {¶ 6} Rumizen engaged in this misconduct for approximately two years. To conceal his actions, he created false settlement-disbursement sheets by changing the amount of the settlement, the amount of fees he received, or the costs for medical expenses. In some cases, he forged client signatures on the false disbursement sheets so that Kraig would believe that the sheets accurately reflected the settlement in the matter.

         {¶ 7} In December 2016, Kraig received an anonymous letter notifying him of Rumizen's misconduct. Kraig confronted Rumizen with the letter, and although Rumizen initially denied the allegations, he soon acknowledged that he had been underpaying Kraig. Rumizen and his law firm later hired an accounting firm to audit the cases subject to the fee-sharing arrangement, and Rumizen paid restitution to Kraig in the amount of $48, 457.81-the remaining amount to which he was entitled under their arrangement-plus $2, 883.77 in lost interest. In 2018, Rumizen and his law firm paid Kraig an additional $100, 000 to settle any civil claims.

         {¶ 8} Based on this conduct, the parties stipulated and the board found that Rumizen violated Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(c) (prohibiting a lawyer from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation). The board also found that Rumizen's misconduct was sufficiently egregious to warrant a finding that he violated Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(h) (prohibiting a lawyer from engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer's ...

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