08:17, December 21 366 0 abajournal.com

2017-12-21 08:17:05
Former managing partner is suspended for ‘ditto mark’ overbilling, taking credit for associate work

Scott Clifford Smith was suspended for two years and ordered to pay more than $20,000 in restitution for fraudulently billing 124 hours of work, according to a Dec. 19 Ohio Supreme Court decision (PDF). The court affirmed findings by Ohio’s Board of Professional Conduct but rejected its recommended sanction of an indefinite suspension. The Legal Profession Blog published a summary from the Ohio Supreme Court’s website.

Weston Hurd had filed the grievance against Smith after a member of his practice group reported in 2007 that Smith had taken credit for work performed by an associate who had since become a partner. The firm investigated Smith’s work for three nursing home clients in 88 cases, reduced questionable time entries, and refunded more than $350,000 to the clients. Smith resigned from the firm in 2007 and stopped practicing law.

A Weston Hurd partner testified that the firm’s internal investigation found Smith had used the same terminology in multiple instances for different time entries, had time entries that did not correspond to what was occurring in litigation, claimed “clearly excessive” time, and recorded the same time entry and narrative on multiple files on the same day by using ditto marks.

In addition to those irregularities, the professional conduct board found at least one billing entry in which Smith crossed out the initials of the former associate, replaced them with his own initials and increased the time billed.

The disciplinary complaint was based on five of the 88 cases in which the firm alleged overbilling

Smith had claimed his clients had agreed his billing narratives should be vague and ambiguous so they could not be used to support a punitive damages award by plaintiffs. But Smith’s billing narratives “were not vague or ambiguous—they were false,” the Ohio Supreme Court said. In addition, no witnesses corroborated Smith’s version of events, the court said, noting findings by the professional condut board.

Three dissenters would have suspended Smith indefinitely.

Smith was represented by George Jonson of Montgomery Rennie Jonson.