Ohio Supreme Court Says Dismissal of a Grievance May Not Be the Last Word

In a recent disciplinary case, the Supreme Court of Ohio was faced with deciding the finality of a dismissal of a grievance by a certified grievance committee. Their answer was: A committee’s dismissal of a grievance is not a final decision.

Roger Kramer of Cleveland was investigated by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association based on discrepancies between his time sheets and his actual hours worked as a hearing officer for the Cuyahoga County Board of Revision. The grievance committee conducted an investigation and, on October 24, 2013, decided not to pursue a disciplinary complaint against Mr. Kramer. On October 17, 2013, a week before that dismissal, another grievance was filed against Mr. Kramer alleging the same conduct, but this grievance was filed with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel by a different person.

The Board of Commissioners’ concluded that Mr. Kramer did engage in misconduct and recommended a 12-month suspension with the entire suspension stayed. At the Supreme Court, Mr. Kramer argued that the dismissal of the very same grievance by the Cleveland Committee should have operated as a bar to the matter being investigated a second time by the Disciplinary Counsel.

Based on the language in Rule V of the Ohio Rules for the Government of the Bar, the Supreme Court of Ohio found there was nothing preventing Disciplinary Counsel from conducting its own independent investigation of the very same conduct looked at by the Cleveland committee. Specifically, the Court found that the Rule V placed no limitations on the ability of Disciplinary Counsel to investigate any matter that comes to its attention.

The dissent indicated that lawyers need to be aware because the majority opinion allows for the prospect of multiple disciplinary investigations based on the same alleged misconduct involving the same alleged victim. While this is not likely to occur with any frequency, it does clarify that a dismissal by a grievance committee is most certainly not a final, binding decision.