Legal Ethics

Thinking he was being funny, lawyer suspended for insulting paralegal he called a 'ho'

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Francois Poirier/

A Cleveland lawyer has been suspended from law practice after his paralegal recorded his denigrating comments about her weight, appearance and intelligence.

Howard Skolnick received a one-year suspension with six months stayed, reported and the Cleveland Scene. The Legal Profession Blog noted the Aug. 1 Ohio Supreme Court opinion imposing the suspension.

Skolnick had called the paralegal a “ho” and a “dirtbag,” according to a summary by Court News Ohio posted on the Ohio Supreme Court’s website.

Skolnick had stipulated that his conduct violated ethics rules because it adversely reflected on his ability to practice law. Skolnick also had said he learned the insulting lingo from rappers and hip-hop artists while practicing entertainment law, and believed he was using the phrases in a humorous way.

Skolnick “hurled insults” at his paralegal during her 2½ years at the firm, according to the Ohio Supreme Court opinion. He called the paralegal “whorey” and told her she was stupid, dumb and fat.

He falsely told an African-American client that the paralegal did not like black people, which forced the paralegal to defend herself in front of the client, the opinion says. He also told the paralegal and another female employee while driving to lunch that they should give him “road head” so he could rate their performance, the court said.

The paralegal responded to more than 100 employment ads while working at Skolnick’s law firm, and left to take a new job in January 2014. As a result of the harassment, the paralegal suffered from anxiety, sleep disturbances, depression and poor body image, the opinion said.

The ethics complaint against Skolnick included this recorded conversation:

Skolnick: And you know what, I’m going to put you right next to my office, just like it is now. You’re going to be right—you ‘re going to be right there so I can watch every move your despicable ass makes.

Paralegal: You know what, Howard, I bust my butt for you every day. You just like to call me into your office.

Skolnick: No, I don’t, dude. You make me want to—I mean, I’ve been losing weight since you’ve been hired because every time I see you, I want to not eat anything because I get nauseous.

Paralegal: That’s—that’s nice, Howard.

Sklolnick: Yep. It’s true. Let’s be honest, I’d rather f— David than you.

Paralegal: Well, you know what, go right ahead. You’re not my type either, buddy, so don’t worry about it.

The paralegal’s lawyer had sent a letter to Skolnick accusing him of sexual harassment, discrimination and creating a hostile work environment. Skolnick agreed to mediate the claims and settled for $300,000.

Skolnick had no prior disciplinary record and expressed remorse for his conduct. He hired a human resources specialist to provide sexual harassment training to himself and his staff, and he delegated some of his management duties to other lawyers at the firm.

The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct had recommended a lesser penalty of a six-month stayed suspension.

Skolnick didn’t immediately respond to the ABA Journal’s voicemail and an email sent to his firm.

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