A Cuyahoga County lawyer convicted of workers’ compensation fraud and who owes more than $950,000 in restitution was suspended from the practice of law for two years by the Supreme Court of Ohio recently.
Robert Fitz of Westlake has been under an interim suspension since 2019, when the Supreme Court received notice of his conviction. In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Court imposed the two-year suspension with no credit for time served during the interim suspension. If Fitz applies for reinstatement, he must provide “proof of his substantial, continuing efforts” to pay restitution to the state.
Lawyer Owns Multiple Cleaning Businesses
Since 1991, Fitz obtained workers’ compensation coverage from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation for 12 housecleaning businesses. In 1996, he obtained coverage for one company, RCF Licensing, but stopped paying premiums for the coverage in 2003. Bureau investigators began examining Fitz’s lack of payment and advised him it was illegal to operate a business without proper workers’ compensation coverage.
Fitz replied that he was trying to have his coverage reinstated. In 2013, the bureau discovered that Fitz had several workers’ compensation policies for his companies that had lapsed or been cancelled. The bureau consolidated the policies and presented Fitz with a payment plan to catch up premiums he owed. Fitz did not bring the policies into compliance.
In 2017, Fitz was charged in Franklin County Common Pleas Court with workers’ compensation fraud and two other related crimes for not paying the premiums. Under R.C. 2913.48(A)(7), “[n]o person, with purpose to defraud or knowing that the person is facilitating a fraud, shall do any of the following: Fail to secure or maintain workers’ compensation coverage as required by Chapter 4123 of the Revised Code with the intent to defraud the bureau of workers’ compensation.”
He pleaded no contest to one of the misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, which was suspended, and ordered to pay the bureau $2,000 in restitution.
Nonpayment Continued After Conviction
In 2018, the bureau investigated Fitz again and discovered he failed to maintain coverage for another one of his housecleaning businesses. The bureau calculated he owed $936,344 in premiums for his related business.
In 2019, he was charged in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court with three felony counts of workers’ compensation fraud. He pleaded guilty to one count, and the state dismissed the other counts. He was sentenced to five years of community control and ordered to pay $965,235 in restitution.
Fitz appealed the judgment. Based on the conviction, the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint against Fitz with the Board of Professional Conduct in August 2020. But the matter was stayed pending Fitz’s appeal. In late 2021, an appeals court affirmed his sentence, and disciplinary proceedings resumed.
Fitz later agreed to pay $250 a month in restitution. As of February 2022, he still owed more than $958,000.
Fitz and the disciplinary counsel stipulated that Fitz violated two professional conduct rules – committing an illegal act that reflects adversely on his honesty and trustworthiness, and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.
Supreme Court Considered Sanction for Lawyer
While Fitz admitted to the violations, the parties could not agree on a recommended sanction. Fitz asked the board to propose to the Court that he be suspended for two years with credit for time served under the interim suspension. The disciplinary counsel recommended an indefinite suspension with credit for time served.
The board proposed a sanction that fell between the parties’ recommendations. The board noted that the bureau suffered a considerable loss from Fitz’s actions and that he has paid a relatively small amount of the restitution owed. The board also noted that Fitz engaged in misconduct for almost 13 years, and it determined a two-year suspension with no credit for time served during the interim suspension was the appropriate sanction.
The Court agreed with the board’s recommendations. The Court also charged Fitz for the cost of the disciplinary proceedings.
2022-0350. Disciplinary Counsel v. Fitz, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-3108.
The opinion can be read online at: https://www.courtnewsohio.gov/cases/2022/SCO/0908/220350.asp#.Yx9ED7TMKUk
Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.
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