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Ohio Attorney Suspended Over Actions in Back Rent Dispute

Jan. 16, 2020, 8:40 PM

An Ohio attorney received a stayed one-year suspension by the state’s highest court over legal-related actions he took in a dispute with a couple who he said owed him rent.

The Supreme Court of Ohio agreed with the state board of professional conduct that Matthew Gilbert Bruce’s actions violated three professional conduct rules, warranting the sanction.

In 2012, Bruce agreed to rent property to Laura and Greg Zetts, the court summarized. After the Zettses bought the property in 2017, Bruce tried to collect two months of past-due rent, it said. When that failed, he emailed Laura Zetts informing her that their bounced checks were a felony under Ohio law and if she didn’t pay he’d go to the police, the court said.

Bruce ultimately filed a civil complaint against them and a criminal complaint against Greg Zetts. Despite knowing they had legal representation, Bruce reached out to the Zettses directly several times, including to Laura Zetts about settling.

The parties settled in March 2018.

However, a disciplinary investigation ensued and found that Bruce’s conduct violated ethics rules including those prohibiting threats of criminal charges to obtain an advantage in a civil matter and communicating about a case with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer.

The court agreed with the board’s finding that Bruce’s misconduct and the accompanying aggravating and mitigating factors, including his remorse and acceptance of full responsibility, warranted a “middle of the range” sanction.

The case is Disciplinary Counsel v. Bruce, 2020 BL 14886, Ohio, No. 2019-1076, 1/16/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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