Wednesday, 20 September 2017 10:18

Prade Remains in Jail on OH Supreme Ct. Ruling

In a 5-1 ruling Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of Summit County Prosecutor's decision to uphold a 2014 ruling that put convicted murder, and former Akron Police Captain Douglas Prade back in prison. 

Back in 2013, new DNA testing of a lab coat Prade's former wife, Dr. Margo Prade, was wearing at the time of her murder in 1997 was ordered. In a subsequent hearing in Common Pleas Court, Prade was found not guilty of the murder he was convicted of in 1998. At that point, Prade had already served 15 years of his life sentence. 

Immediately following the 2013 ruling, Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh filed an appeal and in 2014 Prade was ordered back to jail after his original conviction was upheld. 

On Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court said that Walsh was justified in her appeal, and upheld the original conviction once again, leaving Prade in jail to serve his original life sentence. 

Click here for more from the Ohio Supreme Court. 

 

Published in Local
Wednesday, 03 May 2017 11:15

Chance for New Trial for Akron Killer

Dawud E. Spaulding of Akron, currently on death row in Ohio for killing two people and paralyzing another in a 2011 shooting, has been granted 10 more pages to present his argument for reopening his case.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of his lawyers' request to remove the page-limitation on an appeal for a new trial. Spauling was originally set to be executed in March of 2014, but the automatic appeals process has extended that date to this point.

Now, this request for re-opening the case must not exceed 25 pages.

Published in Local
Thursday, 02 March 2017 12:03

Spaulding's Execution Postponed

The Ohio Supreme Court stayed Dawud El Spaulding's execution, that was scheduled for 2021, pending appeals.

Spaulding was sentenced to death for the 2011 killings of his ex-girlfriend Erica Singleton, 28, and Earnest Thomas, 31, of Akron.

At the time of her murder, Singleton had a protection order against Spaulding, who had stalked and terrorized the woman before killing her and her boyfriend, Thomas.

Published in Local
Friday, 16 December 2016 05:15

Akron Death Sentence Upheld

Ohio Supreme Court upholding the death sentence of Dawud Spaulding of Akron; convicted in the double homicide of Erika Singleton, the mother of his children, and her boyfriend Ernest Thomas.

Court documents reveal Spaulding killed Singleton and Thomas outside of Thomas's Akron home back in December 2011. 

Spaulding appealed, but the Court confirmed the murder convictions and sentence in a 6-1 vote Thursday morning. No date has been set for Spaulding's execution. 

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(Court News Ohio) A man convicted in Summit County of killing his children’s mother and the man she was dating will remain on death row, the Supreme Court ruled today.

The Court voted 6-1, in an opinion written by Justice Judith L. French, to uphold the convictions and death sentence of Dawud Spaulding, who murdered Erika Singleton and Ernest Thomas in December 2011 outside Thomas’ Akron home. A few hours earlier in the same location, Spaulding shot Thomas’ nephew Patrick Griffin, paralyzing him.

Justice William M. O’Neill dissented based on the admission of certain “bad character” evidence during Spaulding’s trial. Justice O’Neill would set aside the guilty verdicts and return the case to the trial court to separate the charges into two trials.

Spaulding Convicted of Domestic Violence 
Spaulding and Singleton started dating in 1999 or 2000. They had two children – one born in 2004 and the other born five years later.

After Singleton contacted police in April 2010 about a stolen car radio and threats from Spaulding, he was convicted of domestic violence and telecommunications harassment. He was fined $200 and received a 10-day suspended sentence. Spaulding pleaded guilty to felony domestic violence for striking Singleton and knocking her to the floor in February 2011. The court sentenced him to a three-year suspended prison term if he completed three years of community control, ordered him to have no unlawful contact with Singleton, and set conditions for visits with his children.

magistrate approved Singleton’s request for a civil protective order against Spaulding in August 2011, but it was dismissed when she did not appear at the final hearing.

After November 2011 Incident, Felony Charges Filed
Singleton called 911 on Nov. 28, 2011, to report that Spaulding had broken into her apartment. She said Spaulding stayed there for hours, restrained her, threatened her with a knife and a gun, demanded money, then left. While officers were at the scene, Spaulding called her and said “let this go” and “I’m watching you now.” Police issued an arrest warrant for aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, domestic violence, and kidnapping – all first-degree felonies.

Singleton moved to a battered women’s shelter, and a magistrate approved a one-year civil protection order against Spaulding. The court scheduled a final hearing on Dec. 14, when Spaulding would be permitted to respond to the allegations.

Spaulding later conveyed to police that he told Singleton he would pay her $2,500 to drop the charges and she agreed, but did not take any money. Singleton asked police on Dec. 6 if she could have the charges dismissed. She did not show up at the Dec. 14 final hearing for the protection order.

Three Shootings Take Place the Next Morning
On Dec. 14, Singleton asked her mother to watch her children, went to the movies with Thomas, and returned with him to his house. They spent some time with Griffin and one of his friends. Griffin and the friend left the house not long before 2 a.m. on Dec. 15 to buy food and sell cocaine. Griffin stepped out of the side door of the house and was shot in the back of the neck.

Police were called, and Griffin was taken to the hospital. Thomas and Singleton were driven to Singleton’s apartment about 3:30 or 4 a.m. At approximately 7:45 a.m., Singleton called her mother and said she was on her way to pick up one of her kids for school. Minutes later, Spaulding called Singleton’s mom. He asked whether Singleton had arrived and laughed. Two men discovered Singleton and Thomas lying in Thomas’ driveway at 8:01 a.m. and called 911.

Singleton was found holding luggage and a purse, and Thomas was found next to his running car with the door open and a piece of luggage sitting near the car. More luggage and a bag of clothes were in the car’s backseat. Singleton and Thomas both died from single gunshot wounds to the back of the head. Although the weapon used to shoot Griffin, Singleton, and Thomas was not found, officers recovered shell casings after each shooting, which were determined to have been shot from the same gun.

Jury Convicts Spaulding, Sentences Him to Death
Spaulding was charged with two counts of aggravated murder and with attempted murder, felonious assault, domestic violence, menacing by stalking, intimidation of a crime victim or witness, violating a protection order, and having weapons while under a disability, along with multiple firearm and death-penalty specifications.

The jury convicted Spaulding of all counts and specifications except for menacing by stalking and the capital specification that alleged Spaulding purposely killed Singleton to stop her from testifying as a witness in another case. The trial court sentenced Spaulding to death plus 32 1/2 years on the remaining counts.

Spaulding appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, raising 14 issues. The Court is mandated to hear all death-penalty appeals.

Court Rejects Argument for Separate Trials 
Before trial, the court denied a motion from Spaulding to separate the charges related to the murders of Singleton and Thomas from those concerning Griffin’s attempted murder. In this appeal, Spaulding asserted that the domestic violence and menacing-by-stalking charges should have been separated from the aggravated-murder and attempted-murder offenses.

Justice French noted that evidence of Spaulding’s past domestic violence was necessary to prove the domestic violence and menacing-by-stalking charges, and the jury’s exposure to that evidence might prejudice Spaulding on the other charges. The Court determined that the trial court would have been justified in severing the domestic violence and menacing-by-stalking counts if Spaulding had specifically requested it and provided the trial court with adequate information about the prejudicial effect of having one trial for all the offenses.

“That said, the trial court did not plainly err by permitting these counts to be tried together,” she wrote. “The joinder of these counts was not erroneous on its face at the outset of trial. And even if it had been, given the substantial evidence of Spaulding’s guilt, the alleged error was not outcome determinative.”

She pointed out that Griffin identified Spaulding as his shooter and that a witness saw Spaulding approaching Singleton and Thomas in Thomas’ driveway right before the murders. In addition, ballistics evidence showed the same gun was used in both incidents, she noted. 

Prior Convictions, Magistrate Testimony Did Not Alter Outcome
Spaulding also challenged the admission of testimony about his 2001 conviction for committing domestic violence against his mother and sister. Justice French explained that the existence of this conviction was relevant and admissible because it supported both the domestic violence charge, which required proof of at least two other domestic violence convictions, and the menacing-by-stalking charge, which is a more serious felony if the state can show a history of violence. However, Justice French reasoned, the state had no need to introduce the specific facts underlying the 2001 conviction to prove those charges.

“Unlike the details of Spaulding’s past domestic violence against Singleton, the details of this offense are not probative of whether she believed that Spaulding would cause her physical harm,” Justice French wrote. “Under these circumstances, the risk that the jury may have been ‘prejudicially influenced by details of the prior crime’ clearly outweighed any probative value of the evidence.”

However, enough other evidence supported Spaulding’s convictions that he could not demonstrate that this particular evidence infringed on his substantial rights, the Court concluded.

Spaulding also contended that the trial court wrongly allowed court journal entries about his prior convictions to be entered as evidence at trial. Based on a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court decision, he argued he instead should have been able to stipulate to the convictions. Although the Ohio Supreme Court has a case pending about whether the federal ruling applies to prosecutions under state law, Justice French rejected Spaulding’s claim, pointing out that he neither offered to stipulate to his convictions during his trial nor objected to the court allowing the jury to consider the journal entries.

In addition, Spaulding argued that permitting two magistrates to testify about Singleton’s hearings to obtain civil protection orders against him was improper because the jury may have given their statements greater weight as court officials. This assertion and Spaulding’s remaining arguments fail, the Court concluded.

Court’s Independent Evaluation Reinforces Convictions and Sentence
As required by statute, the Court independently reviewed the death sentence for appropriateness and proportionality. The evidence in this case supported the aggravating circumstance that the aggravated murders of Singleton and Thomas and Griffin’s attempted murder “were part of a single course of conduct that involved the purposeful killing or attempt to kill two or more people,” Justice French explained. 

The Court considered various mitigating factors, such as Spaulding’s family background, noting that he and his sister had a fairly stable upbringing with their parents, but Spaulding’s older half-brothers introduced him to drug use and dealing, and he felt devastated when his father died in 2010. Though these and other issues together were entitled to some weight, the Court determined that the aggravating circumstance outweighed the mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt.

Last, the Court ruled that the sentence of death in this case was proportionate to other similar death-penalty cases and upheld Spaulding’s convictions and death sentence.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, and Sharon L. Kennedy joined Justice French’s opinion.

Dissent Would Order Separate Trials
Justice O’Neill stated that the evidence of Spaulding’s 2001 conviction for domestic violence and the testimony from the two magistrates amounted to “inadmissible character evidence.” The majority, he noted, “stretches the imagination to the breaking point” by concluding that the 2001 conviction involving violence against his mother and sister had no influence on the jury’s decision to convict Spaulding. He also believes that the majority used the wrong legal standard in deciding that the magistrates’ testimony was not “outcome determinative” in the trial.

“This court rejected ‘outcome determinative’ as the test for plain error a long time ago. The correct standard is that when a criminal defendant raises an error for the first time on appeal, that person must ‘demonstrate a reasonable probability that the error resulted in prejudice — the same deferential standard for reviewing ineffective assistance of counsel claims,’” Justice O’Neill wrote, quoting a 2015 Ohio Supreme Court case that references a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

“Put simply, ‘a reasonable probability that … the result of the proceeding would have been different,’ … is a little more could have than would have,” he reasoned. “And that is why the [U.S.] Supreme Court clarified that a ‘reasonable probability’ is ‘a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome,’ … instead of a probability sufficient to show that the outcome was wrong.”

Justice O’Neill also determined that Spaulding’s lawyers were ineffective because they did not stipulate to or object to court journal entries about Spaulding’s prior drug-trafficking and domestic-violence convictions. To the extent that evidence of the convictions was needed to prove other charges, Justice O’Neill concluded that the trial court should have severed the attempted- and aggravated-murder offenses from the remaining charges. To ensure a “‘fair trial and substantial justice,’” he would vacate Spaulding’s convictions and sentence and return the case to the trial court for separate trials.

Published in Local
Tuesday, 13 December 2016 09:24

SUPCO Denies Cepec Death Appeal

A Medina County man serving time on Ohio's Death Row lost in his bid to have his conviction overturned.
 
Steven Cepec appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court his conviction in the 2010 murder of Frank Munz, turning aside all of his claims. All but one justice joined with Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor in the opinion, but Justice William O'Neill dissented on the death penalty sentence. O'Neill has been a vocal opponent of capital punishment.
 
Cepec was convicted of using a hammer to bludgeon and a lamp cord to strangle Munz to death on property where Cepec was staying in a recreational vehicle after he was released from prison on an earlier offense. The trial court denied Cepec's bid to have damaging statements he'd made to police excluded from the trial. The jury found him not guilty of planning the murder, but he was found guilty of murder in the commission of a robbery as well as kidnapping and burglary.
 
When Cepec was first sentenced, an execution date of June 2014 was established but that execution warrant remains on hold pending appeals.
 
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(CourtNews/Ohio Supreme Court) The convictions and death sentence of a former inmate who fled from a halfway house and killed a Medina County man were affirmed today by the Ohio Supreme Court.
 
In an opinion written by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, the Court rejected all the legal claims made by Steven E. Cepec, who was convicted for the June 2010 murder of Frank Munz, a man living near the property where Cepec was staying. Police captured Cepec after responding to a 911 call from Munz’ nephew, who was in the house at the time of the murder.
 
Justice William M. O’Neill voted to uphold Cepec’s convictions but dissented from the imposition of the death penalty.
 
Cepec Stops Periodically at Munz Home to Use Phone
After violating his parole for an earlier offense, Cepec was sent in May 2010 to a halfway house to complete a drug treatment program. On the day he was admitted to the program, he left to go to the hospital but never returned to the halfway house.
 
Cepec and his girlfriend moved from place to place during the following days, sometimes staying in a recreational vehicle parked in a Medina County barn owned by his girlfriend’s father. Cepec had visited the Munz house several times to use the phone.
 
On the afternoon of June 3, Frank Munz’s nephew, Paul, was at home and heard his uncle and Cepec talking. Paul then heard “two loud thumps,” his uncle shouting, someone choking, silence, and panting. After locking himself in a bedroom, Paul heard footsteps around the house, the sounds of a faucet running, and tin cans full of change being emptied. He called 911 when someone tried to open his door.
 
Officers from the Medina County Sheriff’s Office responded to a burglary in progress at the Munz house. A deputy saw Cepec in the garage and ordered him to the ground, but Cepec instead ran into the woods. Officers discovered him hiding in brush and arrested him.
 
Back at the house, police found Frank Munz lying on the kitchen floor. He died from blunt impact to his head, trunk, and extremities inflicted with a claw hammer and from strangulation with a lamp electrical cord. Paul was still in the locked bedroom.
 
Jury Finds Cepec Guilty of Nearly All Charges
Cepec pleaded not guilty to multiple charges. In a hearing, he asked the trial court to exclude certain statements he had made to the police, but the court denied his motion and the statements were admitted during trial.
 
A jury found Cepec not guilty of aggravated murder with prior calculation and design, but guilty of aggravated murder in the course of aggravated robbery, kidnapping, and aggravated burglary, along with other charges and specifications. The jury recommended a death sentence, and the trial court agreed. The court imposed the death penalty for the aggravated murder conviction plus 10 years for the aggravated-burglary conviction and a repeat-violent-offender specification.
 
Cepec filed an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court, which hears all death-penalty cases.
 
Cepec Raises Seven Issues, Including Request for Attorney During Police Interview
The Court reviewed seven claims from Cepec alleging legal and procedural errors from the time of his arrest through sentencing.
 
In one claim, Cepec stated that he asked for, and was denied, a lawyer during police questioning and that his statements made in that interview should have been suppressed at trial. To explain the blood on his pants and shoes, Cepec told the officers during the interview that he discovered Frank lying on the kitchen floor when he went into the house to make a phone call. He denied any involvement in Frank’s murder and suggested the officers test his hands as proof. One detective asked another to get a special light and chemical to check Cepec’s hands for blood. Cepec asked, “Well, before you use it, can I have a lawyer here?” A detective responded that he didn’t think a lawyer was needed for that. Cepec continued to speak to the detectives and deny that he had been involved in Frank’s murder.
 
The detectives never conducted the chemical test, and one detective later testified that the reference to the test was only an interview technique and that they would not have done the test because it was toxic to humans.
 
Chief Justice O’Connor noted that Cepec had been read his Miranda rights before the interview, he had not asked for counsel before then, and he asked for a lawyer only in the context of the discussion about the chemical test, which was never administered. His question was not a general request for a lawyer, the Court concluded, stating that Cepec “did not unequivocally invoke his right to counsel for all purposes of the interview.”
 
The Court also rejected Cepec’s assertions that his lawyers were ineffective, that the trial court should have held a hearing about Paul Munz’s competency, that the trial judge was biased against him, that parts of the prosecutor’s closing arguments and rebuttal amounted to misconduct, and that the death penalty is unconstitutional.
 
Court Conducts Independent Evaluation of Death Sentence
As required by statute, the Court then independently reviewed the imposition of the death penalty for appropriateness and proportionality. Chief Justice O’Connor concluded that the evidence supported the jury’s finding of guilt on the aggravating circumstances that Cepec committed aggravated murder while committing aggravated robbery, while committing aggravated burglary, and after breaking detention by fleeing the drug treatment program.
 
The Court evaluated mitigating factors, such as Cepec’s family history, behavioral disorders as a child, mental-health issues as an adult, and substance-abuse problems. Noting that Cepec’s conduct on the day of the murder confirmed that he knew his actions were criminal, the Court determined the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt.
 
In the last step of the independent evaluation, the Court stated that the death penalty in this case was proportionate to other aggravated-murder cases with similar circumstances and affirmed Cepec’s convictions and death sentence.
 
Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French joined the chief justice’s opinion.
 
Justice O’Neill joined the Court in affirming Cepec’s convictions, but dissented from imposing a sentence of death based on his dissent in State v. Wogenstahl (2013). In Wogenstahl, he concluded that the death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Published in Local
Tuesday, 05 July 2016 14:57

Court Will Hear Local Death Appeals

Two area death row inmates will have their appeals heard by the Ohio Supreme Court next week.

Dawud Spaulding was sentenced to death for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Erica Singleton and her boyfriend Ernest Thompson, and the attempted murder of another man who was paralyzed from the shooting. It happened in Akron in December of 2011.

Steven Cepec was sentenced to death in the 2010 murder of a Chatham Township man.

The appeals will be heard next Tuesday and Wednesday by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Published in Local
Thursday, 25 February 2016 09:25

Former Judge Disbarred

An alum of the University of Akron caught up in Cuyahoga County's corruption cases is now officially disbarred. Steven J. Terry was convicted of taking campaign contributions in exchange for judicial favors as part of the deals that caught Auditor Frank Russo and Commissioner Jimmy Dimora.

The Ohio Supreme Court disbarred Terry insted of the indefinite suspension he sought.

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(CourtNews) The Ohio Supreme Court today disbarred former Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Steven J. Terry, who was convicted in federal court of providing judicial favors in exchange for contributions to his 2008 election campaign.

Terry was appointed to fill a vacancy on the court in 2007, and in 2011, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and two counts of honest-services mail fraud in connection with his judicial duties. In a majority per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court adopted the recommendation of the Court's Board of Professional Conduct to disbar Terry, who had argued an indefinite suspension was a more appropriate sanction.

Terry Connected to County Auditor, Commissioner Scandal
Terry's federal conviction was related to his association with former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo, who along with former County Commissioner James Dimora, are servings federal prison sentences on numerous charges including trying to improperly influence county judges. In its complaint against Terry, the Ohio Disciplinary Counsel alleged he violated provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct and the rules governing attorneys.

Terry inherited numerous pending court cases when he took the bench, including a foreclosure case involving American Home Bank, and a couple, Brian and Erin Lane. The bank sought $190,000 in damages from the Lanes, and the bank asked for summary judgment in March 2008. Joseph O'Malley, a friend of Russo, represented the Lanes. Russo sent a note to Terry directing him to deny the bank's motion. Terry called Russo, who made substantial and continuous donations to Terry's election campaign, and advised O'Malley that he had denied the motion. Terry did not disclose to the others involved in the case that he spoke to Russo and O'Malley. The bank agreed to settle the case with the Lanes for $27,000.

The federal charges against Terry stemmed from the favorable treatment to O'Malley in this case. He was sentenced in October 2011 to 63 months in prison, ordered to serve two years of supervised release, perform 250 hours of community service, and to pay $27,880 in restitution.

Court Found Conduct Warranted Disbarment
The Court agreed with the board's finding that among the rules governing judges Terry violated several including failing to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary, requiring a judge to respect and comply with the law at all times, requiring a judge to disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding where the judge's impartiality might be questioned, and requiring a judge to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

When considering a sanction, the board compared Terry's conduct to that of former judge Bridget McCafferty who was convicted on 10 counts of making false statements to the FBI about her involvement with Russo and Dimora. A board panel noted that Terry acknowledged the severity of his violations in contrast to McCafferty, who insisted she told the truth during her prosecution despite audio recordings that proved otherwise. The panel recommended Terry receive the same punishment as McCafferty, an indefinite suspension.

Noting the sentencing judge in Terry's case found he lied during his trial, the board did not accept the panel's recommendation and instead recommended the Court disbar Terry.

"Because his misconduct occurred in the performance of his core judicial duties, we find that it is substantially more egregious than McCafferty's misconduct," the Court stated.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French agreed with the majority opinion.

Justice Lanzinger also concurred separately with the majority with Chief Justice O'Connor and Justice French joining the concurring opinion.

Justice Terrence O'Donnell concurred in judgment only.

Dissenting Judge Would Have Indefinitely Suspended Terry
In a dissenting opinion, Justice William M. O'Neill wrote the majority gave Terry "the functional equivalent of the death penalty for a lawyer," and that while he does not condone the acts of Terry or McCafferty, they should both suffer the same consequences.

He noted McCafferty repeatedly lied to FBI agents in a "justice-for-sale" scheme while Terry was caught perjuring himself in court about his involvement in a justice-for-sale scheme with the same parties. He questioned why the penalty is less severe for lying to federal agents than lying under oath in court.

Justice O'Neill wrote that Terry is paying for the mistake he made, and he sees no reason to deny Terry a chance to be reinstated to the practice of law in Ohio.

"For all practical purposes, it will be another five years before Terry could even consider applying for reinstatement. He would then have the formidable task of convincing the majority of this court at that time that he has changed his life and has something positive to offer the people of this state," he concluded.

Published in Local
Thursday, 19 November 2015 09:16

Akron Lawyer In Trouble Again

Not only is a former Akron attorney not allowed to practice law -- she's being chided again by the Ohio Supreme Court for not surrendering the documents that lawyers need to practice. Jana Bassinger DeLoach was first suspended back in 2010, publicly reprimanced in 2012, charged with misconduct by the Akron Bar Association in 2013 and ordered in May of this year to turn in her registration card and certificate of admission to practice law.

The Court today ruled she's in contempt for not turning the documents to the Supreme Court. DeLoach's practice concentrated on immigration, civil and criminal cases.

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(Ohio Supreme Court ruling 11/19/2015) In re Resignation of DeLoach. It is ordered by this court, sua sponte, that Jana Bassinger DeLoach, Attorney Registration No. 0071743, last known business address in Akron, Ohio, is found in contempt for failure to comply with this court’s order of May 14, 2015, to wit: failure to failure to surrender her attorney-registration card and her certificate of admission and failure to file an affidavit of compliance on or before June 15, 2015.

Background May 2015:

(Ohio Supreme Court) The Supreme Court first suspended DeLoach’s law license in December 2010 for failing to comply with her CLE requirements. In August 2011, the court issued a six-month stayed suspension and a two-year period of monitored probation for engaging in dishonest conduct during a disciplinary investigation, and in October 2012, she was publicly reprimanded for failing to notify clients that she lacked professional liability insurance.

In May 2013, the Akron Bar Association charged DeLoach with professional misconduct for neglecting a client matter, charging the client an excessive fee, and failing to deposit the client’s retainer into a trust account. The disciplinary board recommended a two-year suspension, with both years stayed if DeLoach met certain conditions. The court, recognizing that the actions questioned by the bar association took place during the same time she was being sanctioned for other rule violations, decided to issue one year of actual suspension with the second year stayed.

The suspension is the result of DeLoach taking a $7,000 retainer from Rose Warren in April 2008 to investigate the murder conviction of her son, OsRouge Turner, and obtain Turner’s release from prison. DeLoach told Warren she would charge $250 per hour until she reached $7,000 and if further work was required, she would continue without charge.After taking the fee, DeLoach failed to obtain a trial transcript and public records in Turner’s case. She did not file a motion for resentencing, the first step in the process for obtaining Turner’s release, until May 2010, two years after his mother retained DeLoach, the court noted.

The resentencing motion was three pages long, and DeLoach failed to file a brief in reply to the state’s 10-page memorandum opposing Turner’s resentencing. “She told Turner that she would update and resubmit the brief, but she failed to file anything additional with the court,” the per curiam opinion stated.

DeLoach admitted to the disciplinary board that she did not act with diligence in filing the motion and some of her early work was not necessary. The board found she made bad tactical decisions and failed to manage her caseload so that she could handle the Turner case competently. Both the board and the court found DeLoach violated the professional conduct rule requiring a lawyer to act with reasonable diligence and promptness when representing a client.

Warren asked for a full refund of her $7,000 retainer, but DeLoach declined to refund the money and did not provide a billing statement to her. During the disciplinary proceedings, an expert testifying on behalf of the bar association said it was likely DeLoach spent 16.6 hours working on Turner’s case and could have charged Warren $4,150, leaving Warren a $2,850 refund. DeLoach then agreed to pay the refund, but waited 36 days after the disciplinary hearing to pay. The court deemed that DeLoach violated the rule prohibiting lawyers from charging a clearly excessive fee, and that DeLoach never placed the money into a client trust account where she could withdraw payments after documenting the time spent working for the client.

In determining the sanction, the opinion explained that actions leading to her prior disciplinary charges had taken place within months of the wrongful conduct in handling the Turner case. “Thus, DeLoach committed some of the underlying misconduct while her first disciplinary case was pending,” the opinion noted. “More importantly, we would have sanctioned DeLoach differently in her prior cases if we had been aware of the extent of her misconduct.”

The court ruled its stay of the second year of suspension is contingent on DeLoach not committing further misconduct, completing 12 hours of legal education in law practice management and recordkeeping, and submitting to monitored probation.

Published in Local