ABA Journal

Disbarred lawyers who seek reinstatement have a rough road to redemption


Kenneth Lawson: "I was thinking 'You'll never
be happy again.' But I'm feeling useful again.
I don't make nearly as much money as I used to,
and it's not about being happy. It's about
being at peace. Giving is the only way I can
receive that. I think my actions speak for
where I'm at. If I'm not admitted, so be it."
Photograph by Marco Garcia.

Kenneth L. Lawson sits in his office at the University of Hawaii’s law school and gazes out the window at a view of Diamond Head.

“Does God have a sense of humor, or what?” he muses.

Hawaii may feel like heaven, but for Lawson it carries a touch of purgatory.

Lawson was a Cincinnati attorney who built a notable criminal defense practice after receiving his Ohio license in 1989.

In 2008 Lawson’s wife, Marva, moved to Hawaii with their three children to join the medical staff at a Honolulu hospital. But that September Lawson was indicted in federal court in Ohio on felony charges of conspiracy to obtain controlled substances, primarily prescription drugs like Percodan and OxyContin.

His schemes to obtain the prescriptions involved his physician, who wrote an estimated 700 to 800 prescriptions between 2004 and 2007, many of which were written in other people’s names.

Lawson agreed to plead guilty. In April 2009, he was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison, one year of supervised release and 1,000 hours of community service. By the time Lawson was indicted, the Ohio Supreme Court had already decided to suspend his license to practice law. The court cited a list of wrongdoings, including failing to properly represent 15 clients, not returning unearned fees, stealing settlement funds from half a dozen clients, misusing his IOLTA account, and failing to cooperate with the investigation into his disciplinary case.

Ruling in Cincinnati Bar Association v. Lawson, on July 9, 2008, the court described his “pervasive pattern of professional misconduct.” But the court also noted his efforts to address his chemical dependence and left the door open to an eventual return to law practice.

In September 2011, however, the guillotine fell on Lawson’s legal career in Ohio. It turns out that a second disciplinary complaint had been filed against him that finally brought the full scope of his criminal wrongdoing to the supreme court’s attention.

Click here to read the rest of “The Rough Road to Redemption” from the August issue of the ABA Journal.

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