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Columbus Bar Association v. Striff

Supreme Court of Ohio

December 24, 2019

Columbus Bar Association

          Submitted May 21, 2019

          On Certified Report by the Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court, No. 2017-019.

          Luper, Neidenthal & Logan, L.P.A., and Amy L. Bostic; and Kent R. Markus, Bar Counsel, for relator.

          Christopher William Striff Jr., pro se.

          PER CURIAM.

         {¶ 1} Respondent, Christopher William Striff Jr., of Delta, Ohio, Attorney Registration No. 0085421, was admitted to the practice of law in Ohio in November 2009.

         {¶ 2} In a formal seven-count complaint certified to the Board of Professional Conduct on April 6, 2017, relator, Columbus Bar Association, alleged that Striff had committed multiple violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and a violation of the Rules for the Government of the Bar. The allegations were related to his representation of five clients who sought bankruptcy protection, his fraudulent alteration of checks issued to him by bankruptcy trustees, and his failure to cooperate with the ensuing disciplinary investigation. Because Striff did not answer the complaint or respond to a show-cause order issued by this court, on July 7, 2017, we issued an interim default-suspension order pursuant to Gov.Bar R. V(14)(B). 150 Ohio St.3d 1293, 2017-Ohio-5736, 83 N.E.3d 933. Striff failed to file an affidavit of compliance as was required by the suspension order, and on August 25, 2017, we issued an order to show cause why he should not be found in contempt.

         {¶ 3} On September 11, 2017, Striff s participation in the case began when, in response to the court's August show-cause order, he filed an affidavit of compliance. The affidavit indicated that Striff had closed his law practice as of April 1, 2016. He also supplied a new address to the board and the court.

         {¶ 4} In December 2017, Striff submitted a motion for leave to file an answer instanter, which we granted on February 2, 2018, and we remanded the cause to the board for further proceedings, 151 Ohio St.3d 1516, 2018-Ohio-414, 90 N.E.3d 953.

         {¶ 5} While the case was pending before the board, this court entered a second interim suspension order on August 28, 2018, based upon notification that Striff had been convicted of two counts of felony forgery (for altering checks from bankruptcy trustees, as mentioned above) and one count of felony theft. 156 Ohio St.3d 1228, 2018-Ohio-3447, 125 N.E.3d 957. Relator filed an amended complaint on August 31, 2018, adding an additional count based on Striff s theft conviction and adding the new information regarding his forgery convictions for altering checks. Striff filed his answer to the amended complaint on September 5, 2018.

         {¶ 6} The parties submitted written stipulations and numerous exhibits for the board's consideration. The stipulations set forth the facts relating to Striff s misconduct, the professional-conduct rules that were violated, the restitution owed to the named clients, the applicable aggravating and mitigating factors, Striff s history of substance abuse and treatment, the terms of Striff s contract with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program ("OLAP"), and a proposed sanction.

         {¶ 7} A three-member panel of the board conducted a hearing on February 7, 2019, at which Striff and his parents testified. Based on the stipulations, the testimony, and the exhibits, the panel made findings of fact and agreed with the parties that Striff had committed the charged misconduct. After considering the relevant mitigating and aggravating factors, the panel recommended adoption of the parties' proposed sanction of an indefinite suspension.

         {¶ 8} The board adopted the panel's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommended sanction, and no objections have been filed.

         {¶ 9} We adopt the board's report and recommendation and indefinitely suspend Striff from the practice of law in Ohio.

         I. MISCONDUCT

         A. Bankruptcy filings on behalf of Leah Davis, Eric Ebert, and Ebony Davis-Counts One through Three of the amended complaint

         {¶ 10} Counts One through Three of the amended complaint relate to Striff s representation of three separate clients: Leah Davis, Eric Ebert, and Ebony Davis. Striff filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions on behalf of all three and, although Striff had received the full $310 Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing fee from each client in advance, he petitioned the court to pay the filing fee in installments, but then failed to pay the installments to the court. The bankruptcy court dismissed Leah Davis's and Eric Ebert's cases for nonpayment of the fee. Ebert rehired Striff after the first dismissal and gave Striff an additional $310 to pay the filing fee for a new bankruptcy case. Although Striff did file the new case, he again petitioned for and received permission to pay the fee in installments, after which he again failed to pay the installment amounts. The result was that Ebert's second case was dismissed.

         {¶ 11} In the third case (Ebony Davis's), the client paid the fee directly after receiving a delinquency notice, but the case was later dismissed for failure to prosecute, including failure to present a confirmable Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan.

         {¶ 12} In all three cases, the clients ultimately hired new counsel, who filed new bankruptcy actions on their behalf. Leah Davi s's new attorney reported Striff s actions to the bankruptcy court. The bankruptcy court issued an order requiring Striff to respond in writing and to appear for a hearing to explain why he should not be suspended from practicing before the bankruptcy court; Striff did not respond to the order and did not ...

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