Login | June 23, 2018

Cleveland attorney suspended for lying to police after car wreck

DAN TREVAS
Supreme Court
Public Information Office

Published: June 4, 2018

The Ohio Supreme Court recently suspended a Cleveland attorney who lied to police after a traffic accident to cover up for a fellow attorney who he claimed was driving while intoxicated.

Kenneth J. Lewis received a two-year suspension, with six months stayed, based on his statements to police after a June 2016 single-car wreck in Elyria.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon L. Kennedy, Patrick F. Fischer, and R. Patrick DeWine joined the per curiam opinion. Justice Judith L. French concurred in judgment only, and Justice Mary DeGenaro did not participate in the case.

Attorneys Claimed Stranger Wrecked Car

About 1 a.m. on the morning of the accident, Lewis and Heather Wilsey, an attorney, left a bar in Elyria and got in Lewis’s car. Lewis testified they were both intoxicated and Wilsey was driving. Wilsey lost control of the car and struck a utility pole, rendering the car inoperable. The two were walking away from the accident scene when Elyria police stopped them for questioning.

At Lewis’s disciplinary hearing before a panel of the Board of Professional Conduct, two Elyria police officers testified that Lewis told them an unknown African-American man was driving the car at the time and the two attorneys were only passengers. At that hearing, Lewis denied that he told police another man was driving and that only Wilsey made the claim. He stated that he only confirmed the story by telling an officer “that it happened just like she said it did.” Regardless, Lewis admitted that the following day, he submitted a false written statement to the police about the accident.

Lewis subsequently acknowledged he made the false written statement, saying he did it to protect Wilsey, with whom he had recently begun a romantic relationship. Wilsey has since died of an apparent drug overdose.

Police obtained video from the bar the two were visiting, and it showed Lewis and Wilsey leaving by themselves and Wilsey driving the car. Lewis was arrested and charged with obstructing justice, and the Lorain County Bar Association opened a disciplinary investigation of him.

Lawyer Receives Subsequent OVI Charge

While Lewis’s obstruction case was pending in Elyria Municipal Court, Lewis was charged in September 2016 with OVI by Brunswick Hills police. He entered a no contest plea to OVI in Medina Municipal Court. Lewis’s driver’s license was suspended, and he was fined. He did not disclose to the bar association’s disciplinary investigators that he had been convicted, but they learned it from another source.

Four days after the Medina conviction, Lewis pleaded no contest in the Elyria court and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, with 80 days suspended, received one year of probation, and was fined $750.

The bar association charged Lewis with violating several rules governing the conduct of lawyers, and Lewis stipulated to some, but not, all of the charges. The matter proceeded to the panel hearing, where the panel found Lewis violated three rules, including committing an illegal act that reflects adversely on his honesty and trustworthiness, and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. The board recommended that Lewis be suspended for two years, with the last six months stayed with conditions.

Court Considers Sanction

Before the Court issues a sanction, it considers aggravating circumstances that could increase the penalty it imposes and mitigating factors that could lead to a lesser sanction.

The opinion noted that Lewis has been previously suspended by the Court for one year in 2009 after it found he had forged a judge’s signature on an entry. The Court considered his prior disciplinary record and that he acted with a dishonest and selfish motive as aggravating circumstances.

It also noted that Lewis established he had a good reputation among his clients and that he received criminal sanctions for his misconduct. The Court recognized that the board found Lewis took responsibility for his poor judgment, showed remorse, and appeared to be successfully addressing an alcohol addiction. The opinion stated that Lewis completed two alcohol treatment programs, signed an OLAP contract, and was active in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) at the time of his hearing.

The Court stated it agreed with the board’s recommended two-year suspension with six months stayed, finding it in line with penalties the Court has imposed on other lawyers who committed similar misconduct.

“The board’s recommended sanction demonstrates to the bar and the public that deceitful conduct — even in the context of an attorney’s personal affairs — will not be tolerated,” the opinion stated.

The Court announced the six-month stay will be lifted if Lewis does not comply with all the terms of his Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program contract, and that he must continue to attend AA meetings, stay in regular contact with his sponsor, and refrain from further misconduct. If Lewis is reinstated to the practice of law, he must submit to two years of monitored probation.

2017-1419. Lorain Cty. Bar Assn. v. Lewis, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-2024.


[Back]