A representative from the county bar association said Olivito told repeated lies.
By MICHELE C. HLADIK
COLUMBUS -- Youngstown lawyer Richard Olivito didn't harm the couple he is accused of neglecting, his attorney told the Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday during oral arguments.
The court is considering Olivito's professional punishment for reportedly neglecting legal matters for clients and forging their signatures on legal documents. He could face a two-year suspension of his law license with one year stayed.
The court's decision is not expected for several weeks.
Columbus lawyer Paula Brown, who represented Olivito before the high court, said he should receive only a public reprimand or a six-month suspension, which also should be stayed.
"This is an unfortunate case," Brown said. "It began with the simple neglect of a legal matter. The neglect may or may not have been actionable in the Supreme Court's rules, but for the manner in which [Olivito] responded to his neglect this matter might not be before this board. [Olivito] should not be punished for trying to defend himself against these allegations."
Describes web of lies
Atty. Ronald Slipski, who represented the Mahoning County Bar Association, said, however, that a web of continual lies and misleading statements and actions actually warrant a full two-year suspension.
He said the record of the hearing showed Olivito's multiple efforts to mislead and confuse the issues.
"It's like a metaphor to an onion," Slipski said. "Each time we peeled a layer away, we found another layer, and each layer made one's eyes water. He did everything he could to cover up the neglect."
Chief Justice Thomas Moyer said lying is a frequent problem in a lawyer's defense of his or her actions when the court hears these kind of cases.
Chief Justice Moyer also asked Slipski whether he was concerned that after serving a suspension Olivito would realize his errors and learn from them or he would continue to practice law in the same manner.
He said because of the pattern of lies, he would be concerned about Olivito's being allowed to simply reapply for his license without any question as to whether he learned his lesson.
Slipski said this also was his concern.
In the spring of 2003, Olivito reportedly accepted a fee to represent a couple in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, but he did not file the matter with the bankruptcy court until October of that year.
Brown said Olivito was handling two matters for the couple and believed dealing with a suspended license was more urgent to the couple than the bankruptcy.
She said the attorney, who had been practicing since 1989, was not a bankruptcy lawyer and was taking the matter slowly.
Brown maintained that no harm had come to the clients, the bankruptcy was eventually completed, and Olivito made little money from the case.
Olivito also reportedly forged the clients' signatures on bankruptcy documents eventually filed with the court. Brown said that Olivito admits signing the documents, but that he did it in the clients' interests and not his own.