Lawyer who 'actively avoided' payment of malpractice settlement gets suspension

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An Ohio lawyer who “actively avoided” paying a $25,000 malpractice settlement has been suspended from law practice.

The Ohio Supreme Court suspended lawyer Byron Corley of Mansfield, Ohio, in a June 16 opinion, report Court News Ohio and the Mansfield News Journal.

The suspension is for two years, with the final 18 months stayed on two conditions. The first is that Corley make restitution of nearly $25,000 to the malpractice plaintiff. The second is that he commit no further misconduct.

The malpractice plaintiff was Rebecca Turner, who hired Corley in 2010 to represent her in a personal injury lawsuit against a hospital. Corley neglected Turner’s case, failed to reasonably communicate with her, and failed to advise her in writing that he lacked malpractice insurance, the Ohio Supreme Court said. A court tossed Turner’s case against the hospital.

Corley had testified that he came to think during the litigation that Turner’s suit was meritless, but she refused his advice to voluntarily dismiss the suit. Turner countered that Corley never discussed voluntary dismissal with her.

After the dismissal of Turner’s hospital lawsuit, she sued Corley for malpractice. When Corley didn’t file an answer, a court granted a default judgment to Turner. At a hearing on damages, Corley agreed to pay $25,000 in monthly installments of $200 plus interest.

But Corley never executed the agreement, and he stopped making payments after two months. A new lawyer for Turner sought to collect the money, partly by garnishing Corley’s bank accounts and his income from rental properties. Corley paid $7,102 through garnishment and court order, but he still owed $24,981 because of the interest and expenses incurred in pursuing the debt.

The Ohio Supreme Court said it agreed with the findings of the court’s board of professional conduct, which found that Corley “actively avoided his agreed responsibility to make his client whole.”

The court also agreed that Corley violated ethics rules requiring lawyers to act with reasonable diligence, to keep clients reasonably informed, to get client acknowledgment when lacking malpractice insurance, and to refrain from conduct that adversely reflects on fitness to practice law.

Corley did not immediately respond to an ABA Journal voicemail and email seeking comment.

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