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Ohio lawyer imprisoned for felony indefinitely suspended

Dan Trevas, Court News Ohio

A Cuyahoga County lawyer serving a three-year prison term for a drug-related crime has been indefinitely suspended from the practice of law by the Supreme Court of Ohio.

Shawn A. Romer of Fairview Park has been under an interim suspension since March 2022. The suspension was imposed shortly after he was convicted on the third-degree felony drug count and a misdemeanor count of soliciting. The charges stemmed from his involvement with a cocaine dealer and sex trafficker. Romer was later a federal witness against the man.

Because of his assistance to the federal government, Romer pleaded to lesser charges that did not indicate he had sexual contact with a minor.

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court stated that when a lawyer engages or attempts to engage in sexually motivated conduct with an underage victim, an indefinite suspension is appropriate.

The Court’s opinion noted that Romer has a long-term substance abuse problem. By 2017, he was charged three times with operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a drug of abuse (OVI), but pleaded to lesser charges in the first two instances. In 2017, he was convicted of OVI, and in a separate incident, disorderly conduct due to intoxication. He then began treatment for alcohol addiction under an agreement with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP).

Romer complied with his OLAP contract until 2019 but relapsed and began drinking and using cocaine. He met Reuben Rankin, a cocaine dealer. Rankin frequently sent a 15-year-old girl, identified in court records as “A.L.,” to deliver cocaine to Romer. Unbeknownst to Romer, Rankin was also trafficking women.

In September 2019, Romer sought to purchase cocaine from Rankin. Romer also accepted Rankin’s offer to send an unnamed female to perform oral sex. A.L. arrived to deliver cocaine, and Romer expressed that he had no desire to have sexual contact with a minor. A.L. told Romer she was 19.

Romer and A.L. showered together, and she sexually touched him. They used cocaine together. Romer denied he pressured A.L. to use cocaine but later stipulated that if A.L. was called to testify, she would state she was hesitant to use cocaine but felt pressured to do so.

While A.L. was at Romer’s home, Rankin attempted to extort money from Romer. He had A.L. tell Romer she was 15 and that if he did not pay Rankin additional money, she would report him to the police. Romer paid A.L. $200, and she left.

Later that day, A.L. was involved in a traffic accident. Police identified A.L. as a missing juvenile, and when interviewed, she disclosed she was trafficked by Rankin and had met with Romer.

Rankin was charged with multiple federal crimes. Romer learned that his conduct with A.L. would lead to a felony charge and the suspension of his law license. And Romer testified against Rankin.

Romer pleaded guilty to attempted corrupting of another with drugs and to soliciting. He was sentenced to three years in prison followed by up to two years of postrelease control. He began serving his time in February 2022.

Based on his convictions and substance abuse, the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint against Romer with the Board of Professional Conduct in August 2022. Romer admitted that he violated professional conduct rules that prohibited him from committing illegal acts that reflect adversely on his honesty and trustworthiness, and engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law.

The board proposed that the Supreme Court indefinitely suspend Romer with no credit for the time served under his interim suspension. The Court adopted the recommendation.

When considering a sanction to impose on Romer, the Court examined prior cases in which other attorneys committed similar misconduct. Citing its 2015 Disciplinary Counsel v. Grossman decision, the Court stated, “When an attorney has committed sex crimes, an indefinite suspension protects the public, deters other attorneys from engaging in similar wrongdoing, and preserves the public’s trust in the legal profession; it also leaves open the possibility that the attorney may one day be rehabilitated and able to resume the competent, ethical, and professional practice of law.”

In addition to the suspension, the Court ordered Romer to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.