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Ohio Supreme Court suspends attorney for frivolous filings

Supreme Court
Public Information Office

Published: June 5, 2023

A Franklin County attorney is suspended for 18 months, with one year stayed, for engaging in an impermissible conflict of interest, making false statements to a court, and “intentionally and habitually” filing frivolous motions, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled recently.
In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court suspended Brent Stobbs of Reynoldsburg for his actions in three cases, two dealing with attempts to resolve issues with the Lost Hollow Campgrounds in Hocking County. The attorney for the campground incurred $5,812 in expenses to fend off legal maneuvers by Stobbs that were found to be frivolous. Stobbs must pay the expenses within 90 days, the Court ruled.
In 2002, the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint against Stobbs with the Board of Professional Conduct. The board found Stobbs violated seven ethical rules while representing clients in three matters.
Lawyers Filings ‘Had No Basis in Law or Fact’
Judy Davis owned a lot in Lost Hollow Campground. She was part of the Lost Hollow Property Owners Association and wanted to challenge the association’s efforts to apply R.C. Chapter 5312 (governing planned residential communities) to the campground, despite the fact that the original plat and rules for the campground prohibited permanent residential structures. Davis hired Stobbs, who sought a declaratory judgment from the Hocking County Common Pleas Court to establish that R.C. Chapter 3729, which regulates camping facilities, rather than R.C. Chapter 5312, applied to Lost Hollow Campground. Stobbs named the Lost Hollow Property Owners Association, its board of directors, and two individuals as the defendants.
The trial court dismissed the case without prejudice at the campground’s request because Stobbs had failed to include all 386 property owners as parties in the case.
In April 2019, Stobbs filed a motion to vacate the dismissal. He argued that he did not need to include all 386 property owners for the merits of the case to be considered because he named the property owners association as a defendant. The trial court denied the motion.
In June 2019, Stobbs filed additional motions in an attempt to have the Hocking County court hear the case. One motion asked for a new trial by reiterating the claims he made in April, which the judge had already rejected. The campground’s attorneys objected to Stobbs’ motion and sought sanctions against him. The attorneys argued that Stobbs engaged in frivolous conduct by rehashing the same arguments that were just denied by the trial court.
Stobbs reacted by attempting to have the campground’s attorney removed from the case and to strike the defendants’ pleadings from the case. In February 2020, the trial court overruled all of Stobbs’ requests and determined that all but one of his arguments were filed “in bad faith and had no basis in law or fact.” The judge ordered Stobbs to pay $5,812 in attorney fees incurred by the campground to defend against Stobbs’ frivolous filings.
Attorney Attempts to Take Case to Another Court
After losing in Hocking County, Stobbs devised a plan with his client Davis and with Laura Wurzburger, another Lost Hollow property owner. Wurzburger would file a complaint against Davis in Franklin County Municipal Court. They would claim they were suing about matters dealing with campground property, and as part of this case, would ask the court to declare the transactions are not governed by R.C. Chapter 5312, dealing with planned communities. Their plan was to secure a judgment that the law did not apply to campgrounds, and then settle the case.
Stobbs informed the women that he had a conflict of interest and could not represent them both in the Franklin County case. Stobbs would later testify that he represented Davis and that Wurzburger was to represent herself. He acknowledged he drafted Wurzburger’s complaint to initiate the case and gave it to her for approval.
When Wurzburger’s complaint was filed, it contained Stobbs’ signature indicating he was Wurzburger’s attorney, not Davis’ attorney. On two forms filed with the court, Stobbs indicated he was Wurzburger’s lawyer.
At his disciplinary hearing, Stobbs first blamed Wurzburger for filing a “rough draft” of the complaint with his name listed and claimed that she had signed his name. He later stated that he did not realize his signature was on the complaint, and testified that he “probably” was the one who filed it.
Stobbs misrepresented to the municipal court that only Davis and Wurzburger would be affected by the judgment regarding the applicability of R.C. Chapter 5312. The claim was in direct contrast to Stobbs’ argument in Hocking County, where he maintained this matter would impact all 386 association members, the Board of Professional Conducted noted.
Judges Asked to Sign Off on Judgment
After Davis responded to Wurzburger’s complaint, Stobbs approached Judge Jodi Thomas when she was serving as the court’s duty judge. He presented a proposed joint motion for a declaratory judgment and a proposed entry the court could file to resolve the case. Judge Thomas questioned Stobbs about which party he represented in the case, and she said his answers were “evasive.” After reviewing the documents, Judge Thomas declined to sign them and dismissed the case.
Despite its dismissal, Stobbs took the same paperwork to another judge serving as the duty judge, who approved the entry. However, when the second judge learned the case had been dismissed by Judge Thomas, the judge vacated the entry.
The professional conduct board found Stobbs’ conduct violated several rules, including making a knowingly false statement to a court and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.
Judge Skeptical of Attorney’s Case
In an unrelated case in 2019, Eliot Dugger was indicted in Franklin County on three criminal counts, including illegally possessing a gun. Stobbs agreed to represent Dugger in 2021, after Dugger had previously been represented by another attorney.
Prior to hiring Stobbs, a court had already denied Dugger’s request to suppress the evidence in his case regarding the weapons charge. However, four days before Dugger’s scheduled trial, Stobbs filed a motion to dismiss the weapons charge. After a lengthy discussion with Judge Christopher Brown, the motion was denied, and the trial was rescheduled for December 2021.
Prior to the December trial, Stobbs filed five more motions. One of his motions referred to the case of Ex Parte Bushnell without providing any citation for the decision or explaining its relevance. The trial court found that the 1858 opinion was not relevant to Dugger’s case. On the day of the trial, Stobbs filed another motion to dismiss the weapons charge, arguing that seizing Dugger’s weapon violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He cited no legal authority to support his argument.
During the pretrial hearing on the motions, Stobbs repeatedly interrupted Judge Brown and at one point told him, “You don’t understand the argument.”
Judge Brown denied all of Stobbs’ motions, and Dugger negotiated a plea agreement to resolve the charges.
Judge Brown testified at Stobbs’ disciplinary hearing that he thought Stobbs’ behavior was disrespectful to the court. The board found Stobbs violated the rule against raising frivolous issues and engaging in conduct that is discourteous to the court.
The Court adopted the board’s recommendation to suspend Stobbs for 18 months, and stay 12 months with the condition that he proves within 90 days of the decision that he paid the $5,812 sanction in the campgrounds case. He was also required to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.
The case is cited 2022-1511. Disciplinary Counsel v. Stobbs, Slip Opinion No. 2023-Ohio-1719.