Friday, February 16, 2001

Attorneys prevented from soliciting before suit is served

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Attorneys can't contact potential clients in a lawsuit until the defendants know that they have been sued, under a rule the Ohio Supreme Court revised Thursday.

        The justices changed the rule after discovering that some attorneys, not the court, were notifying people they were being sued for divorce.

        “It wasn't a widespread practice, but it was beginning to grow and we wanted to nip it in the bud,” said Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, who helped draft the rule.

        It applies to all civil cases, not just divorce cases, and goes into effect April 1. A violation would be considered attorney misconduct, the punishments of which range from public reprimand to disbarment, depending on the circumstances.

        The old rule made it easy for attorneys to alert people that they had lawsuits pending against them and for defendants to hide assets or destroy documents before they were formally notified by the court, Justice Stratton said.

        “This allows the civil process to work the way it should without putting one side at a disadvantage,” especially in sensitive cases like divorce, she explained.

        James Reinheimer, an attorney in Port Clinton, Ohio, who has mailed solicitation letters to potential clients, said there is no need for the change.

        “I don't think the manner in which they (defendants) find out is as important as them being able to have an attorney there right away to answer questions,” Mr. Rein heimer said, noting that it sometimes takes one week or more to get an appointment with an attorney.

        “The people that I have encountered who found out about their divorce from an attorney rather than the court have been appreciative to have an attorney right there reaching out to provide assistance,” he said.

        Bankruptcy cases are the only exceptions to the revised rule.

        Solicitation by attorneys in those cases is in the debtor's best interest, said Richard Dove, the Supreme Court's director of legal and legislative services.

        The debtor could be contacted by refinance companies before having time to get an attorney and could actually become even more financially strapped by making decisions without legal advice, he said.

        Frank Espohl, an attorney in Cincinnati, pushed the court to exclude bankruptcy cases.


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