Local judge hopeful lost law license for 4 years

Phillips’ application didn’t note suspension

6/15/2013
BY JENNIFER FEEHAN AND TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Phillips
Phillips

A Toledo lawyer recommended to Gov. John Kasich for consideration as a Lucas County Common Pleas judge had his law license suspended for four years for failing to keep up with continuing legal education requirements and omitted reference to it in his application for the job.

Kenneth Phillips, 55, is one of three Republicans recommended to the governor by the Lucas County Republican Party to fill the vacancy created when Judge James Jensen was elected to Ohio’s 6th District Court of Appeals.

In addition to being sanctioned for failing to keep up with his continuing education requirements, Mr. Phillips was found in contempt of Licking County Domestic Relations Court in 2001 for falling behind in child support payments to his former wife, the late Julie Phillips Socie, for their two sons. His past-due child support payments at that time had reached $85,176.

“I went from a larger-paying job to a lesser-paying job,” Mr. Phillips said Friday. “I wasn’t making enough to make the entire payment, and it built up.”

He said he eventually was able to repay the debt, making “double payments” for the last 10 to 12 years. Both boys now are adults, and his ex-wife recently died, he said.

“I put our youngest through Ohio State. Our oldest is going through the University of Toledo,” said Mr. Phillips, who counts two stepchildren among his six children. “It’s not like I’m a deadbeat dad. Nobody would say that, least of all Julie.”

Mr. Phillips passed up several opportunities to mention the four-year suspension of his law practice in the questionnaire given to judicial applicants. On two questions, he answered “no” when he was asked whether he had ever been “denied a license to practice law” or whether he had ever been reprimanded or disciplined in connection with his law license.

In addition to the question about how many years he had “engaged in the active, full-time practice of law,” he answered “23.” Mr. Phillips was admitted to the bar in November, 1989, which makes 23 years correct if he includes the four years of his suspension from the practice of law.

He also answered “no” to the question of whether he had ever been found in contempt.

Mr. Phillips said he didn’t believe he had been found in contempt. And he said he believed he was not denied the right to practice law, or even that his license was suspended, but rather that he had let it lapse while he was teaching out of state with no intention at the time of returning.

Jon Stainbrook, chairman of the Lucas County GOP, who led the screening committee of Republicans lawyers and committee members on May 30, said Mr. Phillips explained his law license suspension as coming at a time when he was teaching law at a community college in North Carolina.

He said the back child-support payments had been taken care of. He said Mr. Phillips had support because of his respectable showing in last year’s Lucas County’s Common Pleas Court race and because of his his involvement in a judicially appointed ethics committee.

But Mark Wagoner, a former Republican state senator and lawyer who was on the committee, said there was no discussion about Mr. Phillips’ suspension over continuing legal education credits or failure to keep up with child support payments.

“That is not a topic that was discussed at the screening,” Mr. Wagoner said.

Bret Crowe, spokesman for the Ohio Supreme Court, said all attorneys must complete and report 24 credit hours of continuing legal education every two years. At least 2½ of those 24 hours must be related to professional conduct.

Ohio Supreme Court records show that Mr. Phillips’ law license was suspended from July 2, 1998, until June 6, 2002, for failing to complete those 24 hours for 1995-1996. He also paid a $390 sanction in 1994 for failing to complete continuing education requirements in 1991-1992, records show.

In 1996, the high court imposed a $750 sanction and ordered that he be listed on the roll of attorneys as “not in good standing” for not completing the required courses for 1993-1994. A similar $750 sanction was imposed by the Supreme Court in 1998 for the period from 1995-1996.

Mr. Phillips, who was divorced from his first wife in 1989, said the four-year suspension was “not an ethical lapse” but occurred because he let his license lapse while he was teaching part-time at Craven College in New Bern, N.C.

He said when he returned to Toledo in 2000, he completed the continuing education classes he needed and paid the reinstatement fees.

His resume, which his office supplied to The Blade, states that he has a general law practice in Toledo. Without listing any dates, it states that he has been an instructor in business law at Craven College, in general practice in Columbus, an assistant Licking County prosecutor, administrator of corporate security for Continental Insurance Co., and a fraud investigator and staff attorney with the Ohio Department of Insurance.

Mr. Phillips, who ran for common pleas judge in November and lost by a slim margin to Judge Myron Duhart, said he does not believe anything in his past disqualifies him from serving as a judge.

“I think our experiences mold us, and they teach us,” Mr. Phillips said. “That’s one of the things on my campaign I talked about, experience, because I was in law enforcement. I was an administrator for Continental Insurance Co. corporate security. I was a prosecuting attorney. I was a defense attorney. I taught law. I worked in every area through that 25 years.”

A spokesman for Governor Kasich said the candidates for the Lucas County court vacancy have not been vetted yet.

“We haven’t done our checks on him yet,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said. He said he was confident the background check would “absolutely” have uncovered Mr. Phillips’ suspension and unpaid child support issue.

The two other candidates recommended for the judgeship — Toledo Municipal Court Judge Michael Goulding and Lucas County Domestic Relations Judge David Lewandowski — have no records of discipline with the Ohio Supreme Court.

Blade Columbus bureau chief Jim Provance contributed to this report.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.