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Published: Wednesday, 8/25/2010

State suspends local attorney's law license for overbilling

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo lawyer Kristin Stahlbush was suspended from practicing law in the state for two years, with one year of that sentence stayed, for repeatedly overbilling Lucas County courts for legal work she did as a court-appointed attorney.

The Ohio Supreme Court Tuesday disciplined Ms. Stahlbush, who has been a lawyer in the state since 1994, for violating ethical standards for lawyers.

The panel in a 6-0 vote agreed with the findings of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline that she had knowingly padded the number of hours she had worked in Common Pleas and Juvenile courts.

According to the Supreme Court decision, she claimed legal work for more than 24 hours per day on three occasions and 20-hour days five other times during 2006 for indigent appointments in Lucas County Juvenile Court.

The investigation by the Toledo Bar Association determined that would mean she would have needed to work 10-hour days for one solid year to account for the 3,451 billing hours she submitted during that year.

The justices rejected the recommendation from the local bar association to suspend Ms. Stahlbush for one year and stay the last six months of the sentence and imposed the harsher penalty.

The investigation into the billing charges began in early 2007 after Juvenile Court staff noticed that her payments to represent poor clients were excessive.

Ms. Stahlbush, who was not allowed to receive Juvenile Court appointments after the 2007 investigation, was paid more than $143,000 for indigent representation in 2006, said Jonathan Cherry, legal counsel for the Toledo Bar Association.

In addition to overbilling in Juvenile Court, the investigation determined that she had double-billed the county in a death-penalty case appointment in Common Pleas. She later repaid the money.

In May, 2005, The Blade reported that she received more than $107,000 in 2004 for court appointments, with more than $72,000 of that going to her for legal work she did on behalf of offenders in Juvenile Court.

In the hearing before the grievance and discipline board, Ms. Stahlbush admitted to the violations but attributed the excessive hours to "sloppy record-keeping."

However the Supreme Court found that her explanation for the billing errors was implausible.

"Poor record-keeping alone cannot explain overbilling of such magnitude," the court wrote. "Viewed in a continuum, they were simply incredible."

Ms. Stahlbush's attorney, Lorin Zaner, said his client is a zealous lawyer who vigorously represents her clients.

He said that a woman whom she had represented in court drove to Columbus on her own to testify on Ms. Stahlbush's behalf at the Supreme Court disciplinary committee hearing.

"That is the kind of rapport she has with most of her clients," Mr. Zaner said. "When the court refused to allow her to continue getting paid, she continued to represent that person."

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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