Lawyer Suspended for Causing Accident with Bicyclist and Smashing Cellphone
Columbus, Ohio, attorney, John Okuley, has been suspended by the Ohio Supreme Court for one year with six months stayed after being accused of intentionally causing an accident with a bicyclist and stomping on the cellphone of an onlooker who was recording the event. Okuley and witnesses had different stories to tell of what actually occurred on April 9, 2015.
Okuley claimed a bicyclist, Eric Hansen, bypassed a line of cars and hit his vehicle as he passed. Okuley said he decided to speak with Hansen after he made an obscene gesture at him, so the lawyer drove around the bike and stopped in front of the man. Okuley claimed, at one point, Hansen intentionally rode his bike into the back end of his vehicle yet again.
When physician John Bahling began recording the scene, according to Okuley, he asked him to stop. The doctor refused and this led to a physical confrontation. Then, Bahling dropped the device during their scuffle and Okuley picked it up because he wanted to preserve the evidence.
Hansen, however, said he never smacked Okuley’s car when passing. On the other hand, Okuley raced past him, got in front of him, then slammed on the brakes. Hansen said he tried to stop but wasn’t able to avoid hitting the back of the car. The bicyclist fell to the ground. Bahling called 911, telling the dispatcher Okuley became violent with him, tried to steal his cell, and stomped on the phone when it fell. His version of events was consistent with Hansen’s, and a second bystander also testified that Okuley smashed the phone.
Okuley entered a no contest plea in 2016 to a misdemeanor charge for destroying the phone and paid $950 in restitution along with a $100 fine. Okuley also settled a civil suit with Bahling, agreeing to pay $5,000.
The Board of Professional Conduct, which investigated the matter, found Okuley provided false testimony about the incident and made inaccurate claims regarding court documents in the civil suit. It found Okuley’s testimony during his disciplinary proceeding was “clearly false and contradicted by the testimony of all the witnesses at the scene, as well as the video recording and the recording of Hansen’s 911 call.” Further, the board concluded Okuley broke several rules, including altering or destroying evidence, disobeying court rules, and engaging in conducting involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. In the final report, it stated, Okuley’s “several versions of the event…differed materially from those of all of the other witnesses.” A two-year suspension, with one year stayed, was recommended.
The Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the findings about Okuley’s statements but concluded the board’s recommended suspension short be shortened because it was the attorney’s first professional offense. It came back with one year, six months stayed. The state’s Supreme Court also felt this was fair because Okuley had suffered outside of the disciplinary process, including his conviction, restitution and fine, and civil settlement. To be reinstated, Okuley must provide proof that he is complying with a three-year mental health contract with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program.