Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sanctions for deceptive firm name

Earlier this month the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that a sole practitioner violated numerous ethics rules by using misleading firm names that incorrectly indicated he was involved in a partnership with another attorney and employed “associates.” The case is called Disciplinary Counsel v. McCord and is available here.

The Court held that lawyer acted deceptively when he improperly held himself out as a member of entities named “McCord, Pryor & Associates,” “McCord, Pryor & Associates Co., L.P.A.,” and “McCord & Associates.” Pryor was another lawyer who had an office in the same building as McCord but they did not operate under any recognizable legal structure, and they had no agreement to share profit and losses. They had separate clients, separate IOLTA accounts and separate fee income. They shared attorneys' fees only on cases they worked on together, never on their separate cases. At the time McCord created the entity he called "McCord, Pryor & Associates Co., LPA" Pryor had been dead for more than two years. McCord admitted that he formed this entity solely to thwart his ex-wife's attempts to garnish his bank accounts to pay for his outstanding child-support obligations. The Court also found that it was improper to use the words "and Associates" in a firm name when the attorney did not, in fact employ any associates.

On these facts, the Court agreed with the board that McCord committed the following rules violations:

• practiced under a misleading firm name (Rule 7.5(a) and DR 2-102(B));
• stated or implied that he practiced in a partnership or other organization when that was not so (Rule 7.5(d) and DR 2-102(C));
• committed an illegal act that reflected adversely on his honesty or trustworthiness (Rule 8.4(b)); and
• engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation (Rule 8.4(c) and DR 1-102(A)(4)), conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice (Rule 8.4(d)), and conduct adversely reflecting on his fitness to practice law (Rule 8.4(h)).

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