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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

State of Ohio v. Charles Maxwell , Case no. 2007-0755
Cuyahoga county Court of Common Pleas

Board of Education of the Groveport Madison Local Schools v. Franklin County Board of Revision, Franklin County Auditor, and John W. Messmore, Tr., Case no. 2012-1476
Appeal from order of State Board of Tax Appeals

Disciplinary Counsel v. Vincent Ferdinand Gonzalez, Sr., Case no. 2013-0222

Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association v. Michael D. Davie and Alpha Legal Services, Inc., Case no. 2011-1681


Death Penalty

State of Ohio v. Charles Maxwell, Case no. 2007-0755
Cuyahoga county Court of Common Pleas

In this case, Charles Maxwell of Cleveland appeals his conviction and death sentence for the November 2005 aggravated murder of his former domestic partner, Nichole McCorkle.

Following a jury trial, Maxwell was found guilty of going to McCorkle’s home with a gun and fatally shooting her “with prior calculation and design.” The jury found Maxwell guilty of the death penalty specification that he killed McCorkle in retaliation for her testimony before a grand jury a few days earlier regarding a previous incident in which she had been hospitalized after being beaten by Maxwell.

Attorneys for Maxwell have advanced 19 allegations of legal and procedural error during his trial that they assert are grounds for the Supreme Court to vacate his conviction or reduce his death sentence to a term of life imprisonment. Among those assignments of error:

In response to those claims, attorneys from the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office argue that:

Contacts
Representing the state and Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office: Saleh S. Awadallah, 216.443.7800

Representing Charles Maxwell: John P. Parker, 216.881.0900

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Is Complaint for Decreased Tax Valuation of Property Invalid If Name of Legal Owner Is Not Stated on Complaint Form?

Board of Education of the Groveport Madison Local Schools v. Franklin County Board of Revision, Franklin County Auditor, and John W. Messmore, Tr., Case no. 2012-1476
Appeal from order of State Board of Tax Appeals

ISSUE:  Did the State Board of Tax Appeals act unreasonably or contrary to law when it rejected as invalid  an order of the Franklin County Board of Revision (BOR) granting a reduction in the tax valuation of a parcel of real property on the basis that the complaint form filed with the BOR did not identify the legal owner of the property as stated on the title certificate?

BACKGROUND: In March 2009, a complaint seeking a reduced tax valuation of a parcel of real property was filed with the Franklin County BOR by the John W. Messmore Living Trust. 

The standard BOR complaint form that must be filed to initiate a valuation appeal, designated as DTE Form 1, requires the complainant to state on line 1 the name of the owner of the property.  Although the title certificate on file with the county recorder in March 2009 identified the legal owner of the property at issue as Hamilton-33 Partnership, the DTE Form 1filed with the BOR indicated on Line 1 that the property owner was “John W. Messmore Living Trust.”

The BOR accepted the complaint, and after conducting a hearing granted the complainant’s request to reduce the true value of the property for the 2008 tax year from the county auditor’s valuation of $2.167 million to $1.6 million. 

The Groveport Madison School District Board of Education, a major beneficiary of property taxes assessed on the subject property, filed an appeal of the BOR’s new valuation with the State Board of Tax Appeals (BTA). During preliminary proceedings at the BTA, the school board moved that the BOR’s decision be summarily reversed and the complaint be remanded to the BOR with a directive  that it be dismissed because the DTE Form 1 initiating the complaint did not identify the true legal owner of the property. The BTA found that a valuation complaint that does not identify the true legal owner of the property at issue is facially invalid, and a county BOR lacks jurisdiction to consider or decide such a complaint. Accordingly, the BTA granted the school district’s motion and remanded the case to the BOR with a directive to dismiss the Messmore Trust’s complaint.

The successors in interest to the Messmore Trust, Public Storage and Public Storage Trust have exercised their right to appeal the BTA’s order to the Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the trust argue that under R.C. 5715.19 any person “owning taxable real property in a county”  has standing to file a complaint with that county’s BOR over the valuation of other property within that county as long as the party filing the complaint is “a party affected” by the valuation being challenged. In this case, they say, the Messmore Trust was the titled owner of other property in Franklin County, and was a “party affected” by the valuation it challenged because the Messmore Trust held a partial ownership interest in the Hamilton-33 Partnership. Accordingly, they assert that as a party with an ownership interest in the subject property, the Messmore Trust had standing to file a jurisdictionally valid complaint regarding the valuation of that property, and the BTA’s holding to the contrary must be reversed.

Attorneys for the school board argue that the BTA order under appeal did not hold that the  Messmore Trust “lacked standing” to file a complaint about the valuation of the subject property, but rather held that the omission of essential and required information – the name and address of the legal owner of the property − from the complaint form that was filed with the BOR rendered that complaint facially invalid regardless of the standing of the party that filed that complaint.

Contacts
Representing Public Storage and Public Storage Trust: Todd W. Sleggs, 216.771.8990

Representing Groveport Madison Local School District: Mark Gillis, 614.228.5822

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Attorney Discipline

Disciplinary Counsel v. Vincent Ferdinand Gonzalez, Sr., Case no. 2013-0222

The Board of Commissioners on  Grievances and Discipline has recommended that the law license of Cleveland attorney Vincent F. Gonzalez be indefinitely suspended for multiple counts of professional misconduct including commingling his own and his wife’s personal funds with client funds held in his office trust account, failing to maintain required records to account for funds he received and disbursed on behalf of clients, and abandoning a client during the last day of her divorce trial after the court denied him permission to withdraw from the case.

With regard to the divorce case, the disciplinary board found that after concluding that the court would not approve an award of attorney fees to his client, Gonzalez advised the court that he was withdrawing from the case because he would not “work for free.” After the magistrate presiding at the trial expressly refused to allow him to withdraw, the board found that Gonzalez refused to continue the cross-examination of his client’s husband, withdrew two exhibits that had already been admitted into evidence, failed to call any witnesses or to question his client when she took the witness stand, and delivered a perfunctory 30-second closing statement.

In recommending an indefinite suspension as the appropriate sanction for this misconduct, the board cited the aggravating factors that Gonzalez committed multiple rule violations, failed to produce requested client files and was otherwise uncooperative with disciplinary authorities, refused to acknowledge the wrongfulness of his actions, and was previously disciplined in 2000 for engaging in undignified conduct degrading to a tribunal.  

Gonzalez has filed objections to the disciplinary board’s findings and recommended sanction. He specifically disputes a finding that he misappropriated $1,300 from a settlement he obtained for a client based on Gonzalez’s unclear accounting for those funds, and has submitted an affidavit from the client affirming that he received all funds he was entitled to receive from the settlement. Gonzalez also disputes the misconduct attributed to him based on his handling of the divorce matter, pointing out that his client did not complain about his representation or dispute that she had received a fair outcome from the trial, because she had discharged him prior to the final day’s proceedings based on her inability to cover additional legal fees and her anticipation that the court was going to base its support order on her husband’s recommendation regardless of any alternative arguments she presented.

In response to Gonzalez’s objections, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel has filed a brief noting that most of the rule violations found by the board are undisputed, and arguing that the transcript of the final day of the divorce trial supports the board’s finding that Gonzalez effectively abandoned his client and defied the court’s directive that he remain on the job by refusing to provide any effective representation after he concluded that he wouldn’t be compensated to his satisfaction. In light of  Gonzalez’s multiple violations and dismissive attitude toward the disciplinary process itself, counsel urges the court to adopt the board’s recommended sanction of an indefinite license suspension.

Contacts
Representing the Office of Disciplinary Counsel: Jonathan E. Coughlan, 614.461.0256

Vincent F. Gonzalez, pro se, 216.344.0014

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Unauthorized Practice Of Law

Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association v. Michael D. Davie and Alpha Legal Services, Inc., Case no. 2011-1681

On September 27, 2012, the Supreme Court found that Michael D. Davie of Shaker Heights, d.b.a. Alpha Legal Services Inc., had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by preparing pleadings and performing other legal services for several “clients” who were involved in court proceedings.  In its decision, the court ordered Davie, a paralegal who has never been admitted to the practice of law, to cease and desist from practicing law without a license, to pay a $30,000 civil penalty, and to release judgments he had obtained in Cleveland Municipal Court against two of his former “clients” for failure to pay the fees he had charged them for his unlawful legal representation.

Pursuant to a motion filed on April 22, 2013 by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, the court has ordered Davie to appear in person before the justices on June 5 to show cause why he should not be found in contempt for failure to comply with the court’s order to dismiss the judgments referenced in its September 2012 order.

Contacts
Representing the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association: John A. Hallbauer, 216.363.1400

Representing Michael Davie and Alpha Legal Services Inc.: Donald R. Murphy, 216.991.4883

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These informal previews are prepared by the Supreme Court's Office of Public Information to provide the news media and other interested persons with a brief overview of the legal issues and arguments advanced by the parties in upcoming cases scheduled for oral argument. The previews are not part of the case record, and are not considered by the Court during its deliberations.

Parties interested in receiving additional information are encouraged to review the case file available in the Supreme Court Clerk's Office (614.387.9530), or to contact counsel of record.