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Ohio Lawyer Suspended for Bilking Prisoners’ Families

Ohio Lawyer Suspended for Bilking Prisoners' Families

On November 1, 2006, Ohio's Supreme Court suspended attorney Derek A. Farmer from the practice of law for two years.

Admitted to the bar in 1999, Farmer became known as a prisoners' lawyer, maintaining a practice that focused mainly on criminal appeals and civil rights. His suspension raises the specter that he was taking advantage of those "who are usually of modest means, education, and sophistication, and therefore are among the law's most vulnerable," the Court stated.

Ironically, Farmer was formerly incarcerated himself; he was convicted in 1974, at the age of 16, in connection with two murders, of a policeman and security guard during a bank robbery, and served 18 years in prison.

Farmer's suspension followed a finding of guilt on two counts. First, the family of Charles Martin had consulted Farmer about appealing Martin's convictions for aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and rape. During consultations, Farmer assured Martin's family that he definitely would be able to secure Martin's release.

He said he would accomplish this by filing an intensive appellate brief. That would require withdrawing a previous attorney's brief, which Farmer stated "wasn't worth the paper it was written on." He then filed a plagiarized version of the original brief, including its erroneous statute citations. Over a two-year period Martin?s family paid Farmer $9,000 towards a $41,000 flat fee.

When confronted with a request for a refund, Farmer refused. In fact, he tried to entice further work with a false claim that the victim had recanted. The Supreme Court found that Farmer also had misled the state's Disciplinary Counsel.

The second count of misconduct involved Farmer's receipt of $5,000 to represent prisoner Searcy Rutledge, Jr., $1,000 of which was non-refundable. After two years, Farmer had performed no work on Searcy?s criminal case but refused to return any of the money paid by Searcy's fiancé.

The Court determined these acts made Farmer unfit to practice law; the Court also found that he collected excessive fees and failed to keep records of time expended on cases. Moreover, the Court held that Farmer was deceitful and would "exaggerate his advocacy skills and any prospects for success regardless of whether the claims were justified."

As such, the Ohio Supreme Court suspended Farmer from the practice of law for two years, with one year suspended if he refunded all but $1,000 to each client plus statutory interest, and if his work was supervised by a monitoring attorney during the stayed suspension period. See: Columbus Bar Assn. v. Farmer, 111 Ohio St.3d 137, 855 N.E.2d 462 (Ohio 2006), motion for reconsideration denied.

On March 2, 2007, a total of $7,915 was reimbursed to one of Farmer's former clients by the state Clients' Security Fund, as Farmer had failed to issue the refund despite a directive from the Supreme Court to do so.

PLN has previously reported on Farmer [PLN, Sep. 2003]. In 2003 he hired Margaret Ghee, the former head of the Ohio Parole Board to work for his firm in representing Ohio prisoners in parole board hearings. At the time, ethical concerns were raised about the appearance that prisoners could buy parole by hiring the duo. Ghee had paroled Farmer from prison and assisted him in gaining entry to law school.

Additional sources: Dayton Daily News, Clients? Security Fund of Ohio

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Related legal case

Columbus Bar Assn. v. Farmer