Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Court Order imposing a 30 day jail sentence on an Ohio lawyer, who is general counsel to Bowling Green State University (BGSU), for, inter alia, filing a pleading that “was an attempt to mislead the court, obstruct justice and prejudice the administration of justice”. The case is Fitzgerald vs. Fitzgerald, Case No. 2017DR0012. The April 4, 2019 Order and Notice of Appeal are here: https://images.law.com/contrib/content/uploads/documents/292/April-5-Wood-County-decision.pdf (PDF of Order courtesy of Law.com)
According to media reports, the lawyer is employed as BGSU’s general counsel and vice president, and was representing himself in a divorce proceeding from his wife in the Wood County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court Domestic Relations Division. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail to begin on April 8, 2019 after a series of incidents during the proceedings. He was then placed on paid leave by the university and he was also suspended from an appointment as an assistant attorney general through that position.
According to the Order, the lawyer objected to an attorney fee request filed by a lawyer who was representing one of his sons and told the judge he would be filing a grievance against that lawyer. The Order states that “The Court finds that (the lawyer) was untruthful. He claims to have filed a grievance against Mr. Mohler. That was not true, no grievance was filed. His pleading was an attempt to mislead the court, obstruct justice and prejudice the administration of justice. Such a grievance, if true, would “impede of eliminate Mr. Mohler from representing his client. This situation is magnified by the fact that Mr. Mohler has practiced before courts across Ohio, including this one, with calming superior legal skills, cogent writing and impeccable integrity. If Mr. FitzGerald had a grievance, he is duty bound to file it. He did not do so.”
“By his pleadings, e-mails and exhibits, Mr. FitzGerald has, at the least, been unprofessional toward the magistrate, Ms. Heringhaus; his former lawyer, Ms. Shope; the Guardian ad Litem, Ms.Cox; and his opposing counsel, Ms.Engwert-Loyd. During the last telephone pretrial, Mr. FitzGerald attacked Ms. Engwert-Loyd twice.” The judge also found that the pleading violated the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct and referred the matter to the Ohio disciplinary authorities. The lawyer appealed the Order to the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals.
Bottom line: this lawyer apparently engaged in the misconduct while representing himself in a divorce proceeding from his spouse. Notwithstanding the old adage that “he (or she) who represents him or herself has a —- for a client”, according to the Order, he attacked another lawyer who the judge “had practiced before courts across Ohio with calming superior legal skills, cogent writing and impeccable integrity.”
Be careful out there.
As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or may need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding ethics, risk management, or other issues, do not hesitate to contact me.
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