The Ohio Supreme Court has suspended the law license of a Ravenna attorney and former Portage County judicial candidate in connection with an inappropriate relationship he had with a female client.
According to a high court slip opinion issued this week, justices unanimously approved the suspension of Michael Allen Noble, 46, for one year, but stayed six months of that. Conditions Noble will have to meet for that stay include that he commit no further 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 healthcare professional," according to the opinion.
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According to the opinion, in June 2021, Noble was accused of 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 police chief and a municipal court."
The suspension and stay were recommended in an Ohio Supreme Court Board of Professional Conduct report, which was filed in December 2020.
Noble ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Portage County Common Pleas Judge Becky Doherty in 2020. According to the high court's attorney directory, he is a partner in the Ravenna law firm of Lentz, Noble & Heavner, LLC and was admitted to the practice of law in 2012. The suspension, which was effective Wednesday, is the only item listed in Noble's disciplinary history.
As of Thursday afternoon, Noble had not returned a phone message seeking comment that was left at his office on Wednesday.
Opinion details violations
According to the opinion, 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 the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys, unless a consensual personal relationship began prior to 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 that, Noble withdrew as her attorney, she hired another attorney 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 at the time. The police department the man works for is not identified in the opinion, but related criminal cases against Noble and his ex-wife were later filed by Kent police in a 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 it was true. She then reached out to Jane Doe's former husband and arranged to meet with him at a restaurant.
The meeting was described as "cordial" in the opinion, but said she started to have suspicions afterward about the husband because she felt he was connected with an unidentified man who spoke to her briefly at a pizzeria the day before, claiming he knew Noble. She also suspected the former husband might be connected with an envelope containing information alleging an affair between Noble and Jane Doe that she found left in her mailbox the night before the meeting.
She then told Noble that if he was telling the truth about Jane Doe, they should report the former husband to the police because she felt he was harassing her.
In early June 2020, Noble met with Jane Doe's former husband, the police officer, falsely claimed he had a recording of the restaurant meeting and that the officer had said things during it that could get him into trouble with his superiors. The officer denied wrongdoing and the meeting ended without resolution.
A few days later, Noble and his ex-wife met with the chief of the officer's department. According to a Kent police report, they claimed the officer had harassed Noble's ex-wife. During an interview with Police Chief Nick Shearer, Noble's ex-wife claimed that the officer said he had the "power of the police department behind him."
There was an internal departmental investigation, evidence of which included recordings the officer had made of his encounters with Noble and the restaurant meeting with Noble's ex-wife. The result was that the officer was cleared of wrongdoing and Noble and his ex-wife were charged with falsification and making false alarms, both first-degree misdemeanors. Police said Noble was charged for allegedly claiming to Shearer that he did not have an affair with Jane Doe when evidence indicated he did and against his former wife for allegedly making false statements to police about her conversation with the officer.
The charges against Noble were later dropped and his former wife pleaded no contest and was found guilty of a reduced minor misdemeanor disorderly conduct citation, according to court records. During an unsuccessful attempt at having records in his court case sealed, according to the opinion, Noble claimed in court that he had not lied to Shearer, but then when confronted by a prosecutor, admitted that was not true.
Mitigating factors taken into account
In its opinion, the high court noted that in making its decision, it gave consideration to Noble's "clean record" prior to this 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 court mediator, and two attorneys - all of whom were aware of the charges against him."
The letters filed with the Board of Professional Conduct include those from Portage County Common Pleas Judge Laurie J. Pittman, Portage County Municipal Court Judge Melissa R. Roubic, Portage County Juvenile Court Judge Patricia Smith and retired Portage County Juvenile Court Judge Robert Berger.
Pittman wrote in her Oct. 15, 2021 letter that her family and Noble's family have known each other for years and she has known Noble since he was a child.
"While I cannot speak to the truthfulness of the charges, I can make a wholehearted endorsement of Michael's unimpeachable character when it comes to reliability, diligence and integrity," she wrote.
The court also took into account that based on the board report recommending the suspension, "Noble's testimony and demeanor at the disciplinary hearing demonstrated that he has accepted responsibility and is genuinely 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 hold himself to that standard while making 'a lot of really, really bad decisions.'"
The court's opinion also states that "Noble had made significant progress in his course of therapy, had developed insight into the patterns in his thinking and emotions, and had started to develop healthier coping strategies."
The recommended suspension is supported in precedents set by other similar attorney suspensions, the opinion says.
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Ravenna attorney's license suspended for relationship with client