Probate Judge Robert Nathaniel Rusu Jr. committed misconduct by hearing multiple cases in which he was previously the attorney of record and failing to notify clients after his judicial appointment that he was terminating his representation, the Ohio Supreme Court said April 3.
Rusu heard about 170 cases where he had previously served as the attorney of record, the court said. More than 120 of the cases involved Rusu signing or stamping a deputy clerk’s form letters; other cases involved Rusu waiving reporting requirements, approving settlement distributions, and appointing fiduciaries. Three of the cases involved approving a magistrate’s decision.
Rusu, in one case singled out by the top court, represented Beth Ann Malone as executor of her aunt’s estate. Malone told Rusu that she used the estate funds for her own benefit, and didn’t reimburse the estate after Rusu advised her to do so.
After his appointment to the bench, Rusu adopted a magistrate’s decisions concerning the estate without informing the court of Malone’s misuse of funds. Rusu argued that he didn’t believe his conduct created the appearance of impropriety because all the parties were represented by counsel, had agreed to the resolution of the case, and had never formally appeared before him.
Rusu also wrongly remained the attorney of record in a “large number of open—but largely dormant—estates and guardianships” without informing those clients of his judicial appointment, the court said.
The court publicly reprimanded Rusu for his conduct, but noted mitigating factors including that he had no prior disciplinary record, didn’t act with a dishonest or selfish motive, fully and freely disclosed his actions, cooperated with the proceedings, and was significantly involved with his community.
The court also found no evidence that the misconduct caused measurable harm or “resulted in anything less than the evenhanded administration of justice.”
Montgomery, Rennie & Jonson L.P.A. represented Rusu.
The case is Disciplinary Counsel v. Rusu, Ohio, No. 2019-OHIO-1201, 4/3/19.