CHARLESTON – As he did in his home state a year ago, an Ohio attorney has lost his license to practice law in West Virginia.
The state Supreme Court on Nov. 22 annulled the license of James R. Henry. The Court's action mirrored that of Ohio's High Court when it ordered Henry's permanent disbarment last December after an investigation found he mishandled the cases of eight former clients during a three-year period.
Records show in disbarring Henry, the Ohio Court said his failure to perform work on client's cases after he was paid a retainer was "tantamount to theft of the fee from the client."
'A pattern of neglect'
According to the Ohio Court's Dec. 22 order, Henry, a sole practitioner in Gallipolis, was charged with 25 violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct by its Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline. Though not specifically indentified, the order says Henry, among other things:
* Informed a father from Indianapolis in May 2008 four days too early about a hearing in Gallia Court of Common Pleas' Juvenile Division on his petition for sole residential parent and guardian of his son. The father had to later file a pro se motion for immediate or emergency change of custody when Henry missed the deadline to file a motion for a final hearing or agreed order.
* Failed to keep a man updated on the status of a potential lawsuit against his former employer. The man paid Henry a retainer of $2,500 in February 2007, and did not hear from him after September 2009 due to Henry's phone getting disconnected.
- Failed to return over $1,500 to a couple in July 2009 after they sent him certified letters saying they no longer wanted him to complete a trust for them. The letters were sent after repeated calls made to his office informed them his voice mailbox was full.
* Closed his office without giving a woman notice he failed to complete the estate settlement for her late husband's estate after paying him $500. Between the time she retained him in April 2009, and he closed his office that December, the woman made repeated calls to his office only to have them go unanswered or him tell her he'd be completing the work soon.
Though two counts from the original statement of charges were dropped, one of failure to cooperate with the Board's investigation was added.
According to the order, of the 11 complaints filed against him, he received four of them. The remaining seven were returned to the Board marked as "unclaimed."
In January 2010, Henry notified the Board he was now residing in Cincinnati while seeking rehabilitation for an unspecified problem. Despite the Board forwarding copies of all the complaints to his new address, he did not respond to any of them.
According to the order, the Board gave Henry several opportunities to respond before the master commissioner appointed in his case would file a motion for default. When he did not respond to a certified letter sent to him dated April 12, 2010, as well as numerous follow-up letters, telephone calls and e-mails, the Board accepted the master commissioner's motion, and later issued its statement of charges.
In a 7-0 ruling, the Ohio Court said disbarment was the most appropriate form of discipline for Henry as he showed a "pattern of neglect and failure to perform as promised, followed by his failure to return unearned fees and client documents and [a] complete disregard for the ensuing disciplinary proceedings." The Court also found his claims of seeking rehabilitation for chemical dependency dubious as "the record contains no competent medical evidence to establish a diagnosed chemical dependency, let alone a causal connection between the condition and respondent's misconduct" and "there is no evidence in the record to prove what type of rehabilitation program that was."
Ending a 7-year legal career
Upon learning of the Ohio Court disbarring Henry, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel sent Henry a letter dated Jan. 11 of his right to contest the validity of the Court's ruling. However, the letter was returned Feb. 7 as "undeliverable."
ODC continued to make an effort to contact Henry by publishing a legal notice in Gallipolis Daily Tribune three times in April, and sending him a letter dated July 14 to his address in Cincinnati. When he did not respond to either, ODC filed a motion for reciprocal discipline on Oct. 14 which the Court unanimously accepted without comment.
According to the Ohio Supreme Court's and West Virginia State Bar's Web sites, Henry was first admitted to the practice of law on Nov. 10, 2003, and Oct. 22, 2004, respectively.
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case number 11-0186; Ohio Supreme Court case number 10-040