Lawyer previously suspended for wine theft is disbarred for breaking promise of free representation

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A Cincinnati-area lawyer has been disbarred in Ohio for sending a woman an invoice for nearly $10,000 for his legal services after he had agreed to represent her for free.

The Ohio Supreme Court disbarred lawyer Rodger William Moore of Alexandria, Kentucky, in a May 30 opinion. The Cincinnati Enquirer has coverage, while the Legal Profession Blog notes a summary by Court News Ohio.

The court said Moore promised to represent a woman in her divorce for free in December 2014 after she expressed concern that her legal aid lawyer couldn’t handle the case. Less than four weeks into the representation, Moore sent the woman an invoice for $9,500. Moore told the woman he didn’t expect her to pay the money, but he was submitting it because he planned to seek an award of attorney fees in the divorce proceeding.

Moore never requested attorney fees, however. Instead, he sent the woman in April 2015 an $11,000 promissory note and asked her to sign it. The woman agreed to pay because she was “destitute and desperate to maintain Moore’s representation,” the Ohio Supreme Court said.

It’s not the first brush with ethics regulators for Moore, according to the Ohio Supreme Court decision. He previously was suspended in Ohio in June 2015 for failing to fully disclose his shoplifting history.

Moore had been arrested in Atlanta in 2001 for trying to leave a Kroger store with 12 bottles of wine worth about $140, according to Court News Ohio and a February 2016 order for reciprocal discipline in Kentucky. He avoided prosecution with an agreement to complete community service. He was charged in another incident in 2012 for buying three bottles of wine and olive oil at a self-checkout by scanning fake universal product codes. The deception saved him $359.

The first suspension was supposed to be for two years, with the second year stayed. But the stay was revoked because Moore practiced law during the suspension. As a result, he had to serve the entire two-year suspension.

A day after Moore’s June 2015 suspension first began, he accompanied the divorce litigant to court and told her he would try to represent her at the proceeding even though he had just been suspended. The magistrate told Moore that he had to leave the courtroom.

“The magistrate ultimately continued the hearing to permit [the woman] to find alternative representation,” the Ohio Supreme Court said.

A lawyer who shared office space with Moore took over the case at Moore’s suggestion. This lawyer filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the woman in September 2016. The suit sought payment on behalf of Moore’s law office based on the promissory note.

The Ohio Supreme Court said it took into account “the predatory nature of Moore’s conduct.”

Moore shared a draft letter with the ABA Journal that he intended to revise and send to the Ohio Supreme Court. Moore said he wasn’t seeking reconsideration of the disbarment decision, but he wanted to raise some issues.

Moore said in the letter that he sent a few invoices to the divorce client just to show the hours that he was spending on the matter. The emails with the invoices always said no payment is needed, of course, or something to that effect, Moore said.

Eventually, a custody battle ensued in the woman’s case, and the scope of engagement greatly exceeded the work he agreed to perform, Moore said. The woman asked about a payment arrangement, Moore wrote, and he offered a flat-fee deal, which the client “immediately accepted without blinking.”

Moore says he drafted a promissory note with favorable terms, including that the woman would not need to pay until she graduated from school and obtained work. When that happened, Moore said, he texted and emailed the woman asking her to begin making payments. She didn’t respond, leading to the lawsuit for payment.

Moore also addressed his first suspension and his mental state in 2012. Moore said his marriage ended in 2012, sending him into a deep depression. He didn’t fully cooperate in the first suspension, and he thinks his depression was the reason. He also says his depression continued through the second ethics case.

Moore thinks depression should be taken into account as a mitigating or contributing factor during the disciplinary process.

“While awareness of mental health seems to be growing rapidly across the country, it seems that the legal community in Ohio is reacting too slowly,” Moore wrote in the draft letter.

The investigator in the first suspension also handled the second ethics complaint. Moore’s letter raised questions about what he thought to be the investigator’s “misbehavior” in the later case, including an alleged failure to present critical evidence.

“I do not think that disbarment was a ‘fair and just’ penalty, based on the severe depression involved at the beginning of the process and the inherent unfairness and misconduct involved in the investigation and disciplinary hearing process in this matter,” Moore wrote.

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