Ravenna lawyer’s license suspended for relationship with a client
The Ohio Supreme Court suspended the attorney’s license of a Ravenna attorney and former Portage County judicial nominee because of an inappropriate relationship he had with a client.
According to a high court opinion issued this week, judges unanimously approved the suspension of Michael Allen Noble, 46, for one year, but suspended six months. The conditions Noble will have to meet for this stay include that he no longer commit misconduct and that he “continue to participate in mental health counseling throughout his suspension at a frequency to be determined by his counselor or another qualified medical professional”, according to the opinion.
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According to the notice, in June 2021, Noble was charged with committing “five ethical violations by engaging in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a client and making false statements about his conduct to opposing counsel, a count police and a municipal court”.
The stay and suspension were recommended in a report by the Ohio Supreme Court Ethics Board, which was filed in December 2020.
Noble appeared unsuccessfully against sitting Portage County Common Pleas Judge Becky Doherty in 2020. According to the High Court Lawyers Directory, he is a partner in Ravenna law firm Lentz, Noble & Heavner, LLC and was admitted to practice law in 2012. The suspension, which took effect Wednesday, is the only item listed in Noble’s disciplinary history.
As of Thursday afternoon, Noble had not returned a phone message requesting comment, which was left in his office on Wednesday.
Failure to comply with notice details
According to the notice, Noble met the client, identified as “Jane Doe”, when she hired him to represent her in her divorce from her husband in September 2018. Within four weeks, they were involved in a sexual relationship, according to the opinion. This is in violation of Ohio’s Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys, unless a consensual personal relationship began before the attorney-client relationship.
Several months later, Jane Doe’s husband’s attorney asked Noble if he was involved in a personal relationship with his wife, which Noble denied. Shortly after, Noble retired as a lawyer, she hired another lawyer, and the divorce became final in August 2019.
In April 2020, Jane Doe’s ex-husband, a police officer, confronted Noble outside Noble’s office, but the husband did not identify himself and Noble said he did not know who the man was. the time. The police service the man works for is not identified in the notice, but related criminal cases against Noble and his ex-wife were later filed by Kent Police in Portage County Court.
In May 2020, Noble’s ex-wife, with whom he was attempting a reconciliation, confronted him after finding a text message from Jane Doe on his phone. Noble told her that Jane Doe’s husband had accused him of having a physical relationship with her, but he denied that was true. She then contacted Jane Doe’s ex-husband and arranged to meet him at a restaurant.
The encounter was described as ‘cordial’ in the notice, but said she later began to have suspicions about the husband because she felt he was related to an unidentified man who told her spoke briefly at a pizzeria the day before, claiming he knew Noble. She also suspected the former husband was linked to an envelope containing information alleging an affair between Noble and Jane Doe that she had found in his letterbox the day before the meeting.
She then told Noble that if he told the truth about Jane Doe, they should report the ex-husband to the police as she felt he was harassing her.
In early June 2020, Noble met Jane Doe’s ex-husband, the police officer falsely claimed he had a recording of the meeting at the restaurant and that the officer said things during it that could get him in trouble with his superiors. The officer denied wrongdoing and the meeting ended without a resolution.
A few days later, Noble and his ex-wife met with the head of the officers’ department. According to a Kent Police report, they claimed the officer harassed Noble’s ex-wife. During an interview with Police Chief Nick Shearer, Noble’s ex-wife claimed the officer said he had the “power of the police department behind him”.
There was an internal department investigation, the evidence of which included tapes the officer made of his meetings with Noble and the restaurant meeting with Noble’s ex-wife. The result was that the officer was cleared of any wrongdoing and Noble and his ex-wife were charged with tampering and false alarms, both first-degree misdemeanors. Police say Noble was charged with claiming to Shearer that he had not had an affair with Jane Doe when evidence indicated he had and against his ex-wife for allegedly doing false statements to the police about his conversation with the officer.
Charges against Noble were later dropped and his ex-wife pleaded no contest and was found guilty of a reduced misdemeanor disorderly conduct citation, court records show. During an unsuccessful attempt to have the records of his court case sealed, according to the opinion, Noble claimed in court that he had not lied to Shearer, but when later confronted by a prosecutor , he admitted that was not true.
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Mitigating factors considered
In its opinion, the high court noted that in reaching its decision it had taken into account Noble’s ‘clean record’ before that and that he ‘had presented positive character letters from people who had known him for many years , including two sitting judges, a retired judge, a magistrate, a judicial ombudsman and two lawyers – all of whom were aware of the charges against him.”
Letters filed with the Board of Professional Ethics include Portage County Common Pleas Judge Laurie J. Pittman, Portage County Municipal Court Judge Melissa R. Roubic, County Juvenile Court Judge of Portage Patricia Smith and retired Portage County Juvenile Court Judge Robert Berger.
Pittman wrote in his October 15, 2021 letter that his family and Noble’s family have known each other for years and that she has known Noble since he was a child.
“While I cannot speak to the veracity of the charges, I can wholeheartedly endorse Michael’s blamelessness of reliability, diligence and integrity,” she wrote.
The court also considered that, based on the board’s report recommending the suspension, “Noble’s testimony and demeanor at the disciplinary hearing demonstrated that he accepted his responsibility and that he is sincerely remorseful for his misconduct Noble acknowledged that lawyers are held to a higher standard of conduct than the general public and that he failed to live up to that standard while taking “a lot of very , very bad decisions”.
The court’s opinion also states that “Noble had made significant progress in his course of therapy, had developed insight into his thought and emotional patterns, and had begun to develop healthier coping strategies.”
The recommended suspension is supported by precedents set by other similar lawyer suspensions, according to the opinion.
Journalist Jeff Saunders can be reached at [email protected].