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Published: Friday, 9/5/2008

Ex-Toledo attorney faces charge of stealing clients' funds

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A Toledo lawyer disbarred last month by the Ohio Supreme Court was indicted yesterday by a Lucas County grand jury for grand theft.

Gregg D. Hickman, 55, was disbarred after the Supreme Court determined that funds were taken from clients without representation.

In its finding released Aug. 6, the Supreme Court said Mr. Hickman was suspended twice for negligent and deceitful conduct before being permanently forbidden to practice law. The court said the suspensions occurred in 2005 and 2007.

According to the grand jury indictment, Mr. Hickman is charged with taking money in a manner that went beyond the "implied consent of the owner."

The thefts occurred between Nov. 24, 2004, and Aug. 5, 2008, and totaled between $5,000 and $100,000, making it a felony of the fourth degree, the indict-ment said.

Mr. Hickman was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1978. He faces up to 18 months in prison if convicted. He did not return a call yesterday seeking comment.

According to the Supreme Court, recent charges of misconduct involve accusations that Mr. Hickman took funds from three clients but did not provide representation.

In one case, Mr. Hickman took a client's $1,500 retainer fee even though his law license was suspended at the time and he knew the suspension likely was to continue because of additional pending grievances against him.

In a decision released last month, the Supreme Court justices wrote that the conduct that led to multiple disciplinary actions against Mr. Hickman all involved "client neglect, improper retention of client funds, and lying to clients."

"The Board [of Commissioners on Grievance and Discipline] found that respondent acted with a dishonest or selfish motive, engaged in a pattern of misconduct, failed to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his misconduct, and failed to make restitution to his clients, many of whom were vulnerable."

The judgment was signed by all the Supreme Court justices, except for Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, who did not participate. Justices do not have to provide reasons for their recusals.

The previous suspensions ordered for Mr. Hickman include complaints that he collected payment from a client whose claim "was not legally viable at the time."

He also was found to have represented a non-English-speaking client at trial without having an interpreter available to explain the proceedings. After the client was found guilty, a new trial was granted based on ineffective counsel.

The one-year suspension, ordered in April, 2007, followed one approved by the Supreme Court in December, 2005. In that case, Mr. Hickman's license was suspended for a year, with six months stayed, for neglecting two legal matters clients had entrusted to him and lying to conceal his inaction.

The criminal case filed yesterday is the second pending in Common Pleas Court against a lawyer disbarred for misconduct.

Sylvania lawyer Linda S. Cook, 56, is charged with one count each of tampering with records and theft from the elderly or disabled. If convicted, she faces up to 15 years in prison.

According to a report by the Supreme Court's grievance and discipline board, Ms. Cook is accused of falsifying the deed to an elderly client's farm in July, 2001, to qualify her client for Medicaid.

She also is charged with transferring the property to herself before giving the farm to her client's church, as she was instructed to do. That allowed Ms. Cook to take charitable deductions for the gift on her own income tax returns.

Ms. Cook, who was admitted to the practice of law in 1993, was disbarred July 11, 2007. She faces an Oct. 14 trial date.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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