On Thursday, July 12, 2023, the Supreme Court of Ohio ordered the suspension of attorney John Robert Estadt for violating professional-conduct rules in his role as the administrator of a probate estate consisting of unclaimed funds held by the state.
The case is entitled “Disciplinary Counsel v Estadt,” with case no. 2023-Ohio-2347.
The charges cited Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct Rules 1.7(a)(2), 3.3(a)(1), 8.4(c), and 8.4(d), which state:
A lawyer’s acceptance or continuation of representation of a client creates a conflict of interest if either of the following applies:
There is a substantial risk that the lawyer’s ability to consider, recommend, or carry out an appropriate course of action for that client will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client, or a third person or by the lawyer’s own personal interests.
A lawyer shall not knowingly do any of the following:
It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to do any of the following:
(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.
(d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.
The Rules of Professional Conduct can be found here.
In April 2019, a “finder” registered with the Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Unclaimed Funds, asked Estadt to assist him with a probate estate in Belmont County. The finder had discovered unclaimed funds held by the state on behalf of Morris W. Rees, a resident of Martins Ferry who died intestate on January 16, 2010.
The filing states:
“In early September 2019, after Estadt asked Schramm to determine whether Rees had any next of kin, a paralegal generated a LexisNexis report on Rees. The report failed to identify any next of kin, andSchrammreported the result to Estadt. Neither Estadt nor Schrammtookany other action at that time to identify any next of another than to have the probate court publish a notice of the hearing on the appointment of the fiduciary.”
In 2021, after some work on the estate was performed, Estadt increased the hourly rates for the legal services provided, adding hours to the bill. He filed an application for attorney fees based on these inflated rates and submitted it to the probate court without disclosing the actual hours worked or the hourly rates.
The filing continues:
“Based on the testimony of Estadt, Schramm, and two shareholders in the firm, the probate court issued a judgment entry in which it found that Estadt knowingly, intentionally, and retroactively inflated his attorney fees to an amount equal to the estate proceeds, less the costs, and expenses of administration. In addition, the probate court found that the respondent had signed Schramm’s name to the proposed judgment entry without his authorization. After considering the factors set forth in Prof.Cond.R. 1.5(a) for determining the reasonableness of attorney fees, the probate court determined that the amount requested was not reasonable or appropriate and that it“grosslyexceed[ed] the guideline amount that was in effect under the Local Rules of Court.”
The Board determined that Estadt’s decision to retroactively increase the hourly rates for services rendered to the client’s estate by $100 amounted to an agreement to charge an unmistakably excessive fee. Subsequently, Estadt proceeded to implement this clearly excessive fee by submitting an application for attorney fees, which would deplete the estate’s assets.
Considering relevant factors, including the ethical duties that the lawyer violated and the aggravating and mitigating factors, along with existing jurisprudence, the court decided to suspend Estadt from the practice of law.
The Disposition states:
“Accordingly, John Robert Estadt was suspended from the practice of law in Ohio for six months.”
As of today, attorney Estadt is listed in the law firm Hanlon, Estadt, McCormick & Schramm Co., LPA, as a practicing attorney. He attended the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, graduating in 1983. He practices in St. Clairsville, Ohio. He is licensed in Ohio. His info can be found on usattorneys.com.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.