MOUNT VERNON — A Mount Vernon attorney who faced multiple counts of professional misconduct could lose his law license indefinitely after the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline filed its finding Wednesday with the Ohio Supreme Court.
Recommendation of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline of the Supreme Court of Ohio (Adobe Acrobat Reader required)
The 28-member panel recommended Scott Pullins be sanctioned with an indefinite suspension after finding he committed more than 35 violations of the Codes of Professional Responsibility, the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio. The Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Recommendation shows the board believed Pullins acted with a “dishonest and selfish motive” by abusing his position as an attorney to obtain subpoenas to investigate people posting negative remarks about him on the Internet.
“His allegations against judges and prosecutors, and his explanation of his abuse of process, were false and dishonest,” the findings stated.
The board, made up of 17 lawyers, seven judges and four lay people appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court, concluded Pullins acted with a pattern of misconduct on multiple offenses for several years. In addition, it found Pullins refused to accept the nature of his misconduct as inappropriate, and stated Pullins’ apology to visiting Judge Thomas Curran was simply “lip-service.”
“The panel’s ability to describe [Pullins’] lack of understanding of the wrongfulness of his acts is almost beyond the power to describe. [His] apology to Curran lacked sincerity,” the document stated.
The violations include incidences of making false accusations against a judge; conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; conduct adversely reflecting on a lawyer’s fitness to practice law; and the requirement to show respect to the court, among others.
“The demeanor and testimony of [Pullins] lead the panel to find that [Pullins] believed his actions were justified and it is the judges and the other individuals, of whom he complains, who are wrong,” the document stated.
The final circumstance in the finding showed Pullins’ acts of misconduct harmed the reputations of judges, attorneys and lay people.
“Those individuals who had nothing to do with a case and who were subpoenaed, were put under stress and inconvenience. … The infliction of such distress did not seem to concern [Pullins],” the finding stated.
The panel did find there was a lack of evidence for four different allegations. Those points were dismissed by the panel and not included when making the recommendation.
According to Michael Murman, special prosecutor appointed by the Disciplinary Counsel, a three-member panel heard the original case over two days in October, made a decision based on the law and provided a recommendation to the entire 28 members on April 9.
“They heard the report from the three-member panel and then they deliberated and made an independent decision on their own,” Murman said. “They do that in a private, confidential proceeding much like a jury deliberation.”
In response to the panel’s conclusion to recommend an indefinite suspension, Murman said he is happy.
“I’ve been interested in what’s going on with this case and how our evidence was received,” Murman said.“It was the recommendation I made.”
For at least one member of the panel, not all of the evidence provided by Murman was conclusive. Judge Joseph Vukovich disagreed with four points. On two separate counts, Vukovich said he could not find that Pullins acted with “dishonestly, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
“For support, it is maintained that overzealous representation, abuse of process, and recklessness is not synonymous with [such a violation],” Vukovich said in his statement of dissent.
He defended Pullins, despite his “bizarre behavior,” as being “articulate, respectful, cooperative and showed skill at the hearing.”
He recommended Pullins be given a two-year suspension with 18 months stayed.
“Judge Vukovich’s lengthy dissent reflects more accurately the law and the facts of what happened,” said Pullins, who had not read the finding when questioned Wednesday afternoon by the News.
Pullins’ own recommendation for sanction was a public reprimand.
“... I recommended that the panel find a number of violations, but clearly not 30,” Pullins said. “I believe the Disciplinary Counsel deliberatly overcharged me in order to make the situation seem worse than it really is.”
According to Murman, the Supreme Court will issue an order to both sides stating the report has been filed. The order will give instructions to file an objection if either party finds issue with the final recommendation.
Objections will be heard in front of the entire seven-member Ohio Supreme Court. Murman said each side will receive 15 minutes to argue its case and answer questions from the court’s justices.
The OSC will then issue a final decision on sanctions against Pullins.
“This is a recommendation from the panel,” Pullins said. “The Ohio Supreme Court makes the final decision. My license is still intact. The Ohio Supreme Court frequently overturns recommendations from these panels.”
An indefinite suspension requires a two-year minimum wait before an application of reinstatement can be filed with the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline. A new three-member panel would be assembled to hear the plea for reinstatement.
“The respondent has the burden of proof by clear and convincing evidence at a hearing that he has the requisite character and fitness, together with the legal skills and knowledge, to be reinstated to the practice of law,” Murman said. “There is no presumption that just because he once was a lawyer that he is qualified to be a lawyer again. He’d have the burden to prove it.”
Pullins holds faith the OSC will recommend a sanction that is more representative to how he feels the case unfolded. However, if that outcome does not fall in his favor, he is prepared to defend himself for reinstatement.
“If for some reason the Ohio Supreme Court would follow this recommendation, there is no reason why my license would not be reinstated. Attorneys with much more egregious violations than these have had their licenses reinstated and are still practicing today,” Pullins said.
Pullins could also be required to reimburse the board for $6,171.61 in expenses.