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Akron Bar Association v. Fortado
Ohio Supreme Court
2020 WL 770077 (2020)
Ohio attorney Matthew Fortado started an intimate relationship with a client while representing her. The intimate relationship lasted about three years, long after the client’s case had settled. Afterward the relationship remained friendly, and Fortado represented the client in two more cases—until she fired him in 2016. The Akron Bar Association filed a complaint against Fortado for violating Ohio’s ethics rules. Fortado fully cooperated, admitted the charged violations, and reached a consent-to-discipline agreement with a one-year conditionally stayed suspension from practicing law. But the Board of Professional Conduct rejected the agreement and conducted a hearing. The parties submitted stipulations nearly identical to the consent-to-discipline agreement and agreed to a one-year stayed suspension as an appropriate sanction. The evidence included multiple character witnesses, including two judges. One said Fortado was an excellent attorney whose character was “beyond reproach.” The only aggravating factor was a prior suspension dating back to 1996, but the circumstances did not involve sex with a client. The board considered 11 other cases sanctioning attorneys under similar circumstances, with sanctions ranging from conditionally stayed six-month suspensions to partially stayed two-year suspensions. The board found the court actually suspended attorneys for having sex with clients fairly consistently, and recommended a one-year suspension with only six months stayed, conditioned on no further misconduct. Fortado objected, arguing the board erred in rejecting the consent-to-discipline agreement and recommending a partially instead of completely stayed suspension.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning
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