Attorney sued for malpractice must paid back fees, Ohio Supreme Court rules.
The Ohio Supreme Court suspended attorney Byron Corley of Mansfield, Ohio, in a June 16 opinion, after he “actively avoided” paying a $25,000 malpractice settlement, with the stipulation that he engage in “no further misconduct.”
The malpractice plaintiff was Rebecca Turner, who hired Corley in 2010 to represent her in a personal injury lawsuit against a hospital. “Corley neglected Turner’s case, failed to reasonably communicate with her, and failed to advise her in writing that he lacked malpractice insurance,” the court said, adding, “A court tossed Turner’s case against the hospital.”
Corley testified that amid proceedings he came to believe that his client’s cases was without merit and asked her to voluntarily dismiss it, which she refused. Turner responded that there was never such a conversation. She also submitted claims that she “had difficulty communicating with Corley” in general, saying “he rarely returned phone calls, did not respond to requests to discuss the case and failed to send” her copies of the hospital’s discovery requests. Turner said she “learned from the court, not Corley,” that her case had been dismissed.
After the dismissal of Turner’s hospital lawsuit, Turner sued Corley for malpractice. When Corley didn’t file an answer, a default judgment was granted to Turner. At a hearing on damages, which took place in August 2016, the court found Corley breached the settlement and ordered him to pay $25,564 plus court costs, interest, and $1,000 in attorney fees. Corley agreed to monthly installments of $200 plus interest, but never executed the agreement and stopped making payments after two months.
Turner, with the help of new counsel, sought to garnish Corley’s bank accounts and collect money from his rental property income. This yielded $7,102, but the attorney still owed $24,981 with interest and expenses related to the court action.
The Ohio Supreme Court said it “agreed with the findings of the court’s board of professional conduct,” which found that Corley “actively avoided his agreed responsibility to make his client whole.”
The state’s Supreme Court also agreed that “Corley violated ethics rules requiring lawyers to act with reasonable diligence, to keep clients reasonably informed, to get client acknowledgment when lacking malpractice insurance, and to refrain from conduct that adversely reflects on fitness to practice law.”
The opinion found, “As aggravating factors, the board found that Corley had exhibited a selfish motive by thwarting collection efforts, committed multiple offenses, failed to accept responsibility for his actions or express any remorse, caused harm to a vulnerable client, and failed to make restitution. The board found only one mitigating factor – Corley’s clean disciplinary record.” This allowed the attorney to receive suspension and keep his license to practice.
In conclusion, the court determined, “Byron Dexter Corley is hereby suspended from the practice of law in Ohio for two years, with the final 18 months stayed on the conditions that he make restitution to Rebecca Turner in the amount of $24,981.74 and commit no further misconduct. If Corley fails to comply with either condition, the stay will be lifted, and he will serve the entire two-year suspension.”