Lawyers facing potential sanctions

WARREN – Two lawyers from Trumbull County – including a former Girard prosecutor who is already under interim default suspension and can’t practice law – face possible sanctions over complaints turned into the Trumbull County Bar Association.

The disciplinary arm of the Ohio Supreme Court has already received and certified the complaints against former prosecutor Robert Johnson and attorney William Biviano. A public hearing will be scheduled and the court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline will then file a report with justices who will review the cases and impose any discipline for misconduct.

Johnson is already under a suspension handed down in March over a case that developed out of Lorain County. The Supreme Court ordered the sanction after Johnson failed to respond to a formal complaint.

Johnson was replaced Feb. 1 as the prosecutor in Girard Municipal Court.

In the Lorain County allegation, the bar association there said Johnson was overdrawn on his Chase trust account after an apparent settlement in a personal injury case.

Johnson said at the time he was dragged into that case by working with an attorney he knew through law school. Johnson said the attorney surrendered his law license at some point during settlement negotiations that resulted in an agreement before any lawsuit was filed.

Also in March, complaints against Johnson were received regarding clients in a divorce and foreclosure actions who say Johnson failed to communicate with them after he agreed to represent them.

The latest case out of Trumbull County involves two women who hired Johnson for $1,240 to sue Trumbull Business College. The lawsuit was filed March 12, 2013, after Johnson told them it had been filed a week earlier, according to the complaint.

The women told Johnson about errors in the filing and claim they were unable to contact him between March and June 13 of 2013. He failed to respond to a certified letter in May and then met with them three times in late June and twice in July.

Johnson then failed to respond to a defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, and the case was dismissed – an action that the women were never informed about.

Biviano’s case involves a dispute over a $4,500 retainer he got from a client in 2010 for representation in Juvenile Court case over child custody, visitation and support, according to the complaint.

In January of 2012, the client emailed Biviano asking that he close the file and return the unused portion of her retainer since the case was not resolved. After communication with Biviano or his assistant, the client sent another email in August 2012 asking for return of the money and the file.

Biviano failed to return a portion of the retainer, failed to withdraw from the case when asked and failed to communicate with the, according to the bar complaint.

Johnson also violated the code of responsibility for communication as well as competency and diligence, according to the complaint.