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Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association v. Austin

Supreme Court of Ohio

August 21, 2019

Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association
v.
Austin.

          Submitted May 21, 2019

          On Certified Report by the Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court, No. 2017-067.

          Thompson Hine, L.L.P., and Karen E. Rubin; and Heather M. Zirke and Kari L. Burns, Bar Counsel, for relator.

          Rebecca Jo Austin, pro se.

          PER CURIAM.

         {¶ 1} Respondent, Rebecca Jo Austin, of Lakewood, Ohio, Attorney Registration No. 0088694, was admitted to the practice of law in Ohio in 2012.

         {¶ 2} On November 30, 2017, relator, Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, charged Austin with neglecting two client matters, failing to cooperate in a disciplinary investigation, and other professional misconduct. Austin failed to answer the complaint, and on February 23, 2018, we imposed an interim default suspension pursuant to Gov.Bar R. V(14)(B)(1). 152 Ohio St.3d 1253, 2018-Ohio-656, 96 N.E.3d 290. On May 4, 2018, we found her in contempt because she had not timely complied with our default-suspension order. 152 Ohio St.3d 1459, 2018-Ohio-1710, 97 N.E.3d 497. On August 22, 2018, Austin moved for leave to answer relator's complaint, and on October 1, 2018, we granted her motion and remanded the case to the Board of Professional Conduct, although we kept her interim default suspension in place. 153 Ohio St.3d 1489, 2018-Ohio-3955, 108 N.E.3d 86.

         {¶ 3} On remand, relator amended its complaint to include additional alleged misconduct, including that Austin continued to practice law during her interim default suspension. Austin stipulated to most of the factual allegations in the amended complaint but not to any ethical-rule violations. After a hearing before a panel of the board, the board issued a report finding that Austin had engaged in most of the charged misconduct[1] and recommending that we indefinitely suspend her from the practice of law, grant her credit for the time she has served under her interim default suspension, order her to pay restitution to a former client, and impose conditions on her reinstatement. Neither party filed objections to the board's report.

         {¶ 4} Upon our review of the record, we adopt the board's findings of misconduct and recommended sanction. However, we conclude that Austin shall not receive any credit for the nearly three-month period that she continued to practice law during her interim suspension. Therefore, Austin shall receive credit beginning May 16, 2018.

         Misconduct

         Count I the Long matter

         {¶ 5} On February 24, 2017, Joseph Long paid Austin a retainer to assist him with a postdecree filing in his divorce case. Long thereafter attempted to contact Austin by phone, e-mail, and text, but she failed to respond to his messages. Long also sent Austin a narrative about his legal matter, but she failed to file anything on his behalf. About two months after retaining Austin, Long sent her an e-mail requesting a refund of his retainer. Austin again failed to reply.

         {¶ 6} On May 10, 2017, Austin sent Long an e-mail apologizing for "recent communications issues," which she claimed were caused by technological problems with her e-mail and phone and exacerbated by personal issues. Later the same day, Long sent Austin an e-mail terminating her services and again requesting a refund of his retainer. Austin, however, failed to return the unearned portion of Long's retainer until more than ten months later.

         {¶ 7} Based on this conduct, the board found that Austin violated Prof.Cond.R. 1.3 (requiring a lawyer to act with reasonable diligence in representing a client), 1.4(a)(3) (requiring a lawyer to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of a matter), and 1.4(a)(4) (requiring a lawyer to comply as soon as practicable with ...


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