Legal Ethics

Lawyer suspended for road rage incident in which he allegedly stomped on onlooker's cellphone

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An Ohio lawyer has received a one-year suspension, with six months stayed, for a road rage incident in which he was accused of intentionally causing an accident and stomping on the cellphone of an onlooker recording the aftermath.

The Ohio Supreme Court suspended Columbus lawyer John Okuley in a decision on Wednesday, report the Columbus Dispatch and the Legal Profession Blog, which posted a summary by Court News Ohio.

Okuley and witnesses told different stories about what happened on April 9, 2015, according to the opinion.

Okuley said that bicyclist Eric Hansen bypassed a line of cars and smacked or hit Okuley’s vehicle as he passed. Okuley says he decided to speak with Hansen after he made an obscene gesture, so Okuley drove around Hansen and stopped in front of him. At that point, Okuley says, Hansen intentionally rode his bike into the rear of the car.

When physician John Bahling began recording the scene, Okuley says he asked him to stop. A physical scuffle ensued, and Bahling’s phone dropped to the ground. Okuley says he picked up the phone because he wanted to preserve the evidence.

Hansen, however, said he never smacked Okuley’s car when passing. According to Hansen, Okuley raced his car past him, got in front of him, then slammed on the brakes. Hansen said he tried to stop, but wasn’t able to avoid hitting the back of the car. Hansen fell to the ground. Hansen called 911 and told the dispatcher that Okuley became violent with Bahling, tried to steal Bahling’s cellphone, and stomped on the phone when it fell to the ground.

Bahling’s version of events was consistent with Hansen’s. A second bystander also testified that Okuley had smashed the cellphone.

Okuley entered a no contest plea in 2016 to a misdemeanor charge for shattering Bahling’s phone and paid $950 in restitution along with a $100 fine. Okuley also settled a civil suit filed by Bahling by agreeing to pay $5,000.

The Board of Professional Conduct had found that Okuley provided false testimony about the incident in the ethics case and made false claims in court documents in the civil suit. The board had recommended a two-year suspension, with one year stayed.

The Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the findings about false statements, but concluded the board’s recommended suspension was too harsh.

The Ohio Supreme Court said a one-year suspension, with six months stayed, was appropriate because Okuley had suffered outside of the disciplinary process. The consequences included the conviction, restitution and fine, and civil settlement.

The court said that, to be reinstated, Okuley must provide proof that he is complying with a three-year mental health contract with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program.

Okuley and his lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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