Login | April 20, 2019

Former Belmont County judge failed to supervise embezzling private practice employee

DAN TREVAS
Supreme Court
Public Information Office

Published: April 15, 2019

A former Belmont County judge and bankruptcy trustee was publicly reprimanded by the Ohio Supreme Court recently for failing to adequately supervise an employee who stole more than $125,000 from the lawyer and nearly $60,000 from the lawyer’s client trust account over a nine-year span.

The Supreme Court unanimously reprimanded D. William Davis of Bridgeport, who discovered during a 2014 audit that his office manager had skimmed cash deposits by clients meant for deposit into one of the attorney’s bank accounts. In a per curiam opinion, the Court wrote that it was Davis’ duty to supervise the work of nonlawyer employees and that “supervision is critical in order that the interests of clients are effectively safeguarded.”

The Court noted that none of Davis’ clients lost money as the result of the misconduct and that Davis and his new law partner have implemented procedures to prevent theft from occurring in the future.

Theft Discovered During Merger Process

Davis served as a Belmont County Court judge in the Eastern Division from 1979-2010, which was a part-time position. He also maintained a law practice and served as a bankruptcy trustee for 30 years.

In 1980, the firm where Davis practiced law hired Jayne Sliva as a legal secretary. In 2001, Davis established a solo practice and retained Sliva as his secretary, bookkeeper, and office manager. In 2003, Sliva began stealing from Davis. As a bankruptcy lawyer, Davis received significant amounts of cash payments from clients. Sliva recorded those payments on a client ledger, but instead of depositing the money into Davis’ client trust account or his law practice operating account, she kept some of the cash.

In 2012, Sliva left the firm, and in 2014, Davis decided to merge his practice with another lawyer. The missing money was discovered when he had his solo practice books audited. In January 2015, he filed a police report, and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office conducted a forensic audit of his accounts. The attorney general determined that between 2003 and 2012, Sliva embezzled $185,000, with nearly $126,000 coming from payments that should have gone to Davis.

In 2017, Sliva pleaded guilty to aggravated theft by deception and tampering with records. She was sentenced to three years of incarceration and ordered to make restitution to Davis. Davis has thus far received $100,000 from Sliva and $10,000 from a bonding company on Sliva’s behalf.

Disciplinary Charges Filed for Lack of Oversight

Based on Sliva’s conviction, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel charged Davis with violating the rules of professional conduct for failing to perform the required level of oversight of his client trust account and inadequately supervising his staff.

During disciplinary proceedings, Davis admitted that when Sliva worked for him, he reviewed the bank statements for his trust account, but did not conduct the required monthly reconciliation of the account by comparing the client ledgers with the trust account registers and bank statements. The Board of Professional Conduct determined he violated the rules by failing to perform the required monthly reconciliations and failing to make reasonable efforts to ensure his nonlawyer employee’s conduct was comparable to the professional obligations of a lawyer.

The board observed that Davis had no prior disciplinary record, lacked a selfish or dishonest motive, and made a good-faith effort to rectify the consequences of Sliva’s theft by depositing nearly $36,000 of his own money into his client trust account.

The parties and the board recommended a public reprimand, and the Court adopted the sanction.

2018-1761. Disciplinary Counsel v. Davis, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-1314.


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