The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that Medina County attorney Russell Buzzelli is suspended for two years after threatening a client that he had sexual relations with and hired as an “intern”.
According to courtnewsohio, the Supreme Court ruled that Buzzelli violated 18 rules of professional conduct in cases involving three clients and his wife.
The Medina County Bar Association filed a complaint against Buzzelli in 2021, charging the attorney with 23 ethics rule violations which were mostly related to the intimate, business, and the legal relationship he had with a client and his hostile actions toward her.
Buzzelli contested all but one of the allegations but the Board of Professional Conduct found that Buzzelli committed 18 of the alleged rule violations which Buzzelli challenged and was overruled by the Court, reported courtnewsohio.
Mary Beth Foster reached out to Buzzelli in 2017 seeking a divorce lawyer and quickly began a sexual relationship.
Foster paid Buzzelli a $6,500 retainer to represent her in the divorce and a misdemeanor domestic violence charge against her filed by her husband.
At the time, Buzzelli’s wife worked in the law firm as an assistant but in 2017 spent a month in the hospital due to health problems and was not working in the office.
Buzzelli and his wife both filed for divorce and separated.
Buzzelli lived with Foster after his divorce while still representing her and agreed to teach Foster the skills in order to work in the law firm.
During his disciplinary proceedings, Buzzelli denied he paid Foster for her work and said instead that her status in the firm was that of an intern.
Then according to the courtnewsohio, the relationship between Buzzelli and Foster soured.
In a recorded conversation that Foster took in 2018, Buzzelli could be heard stating that he has killed a human being and is not “proud of that.”
He went on to say, “But there’s one thing that I have a capacity to do and to be, alright, is a killer. Now, one thing you don’t have and you talk big and bad, is you don’t have that capacity,” Buzzelli told Foster. “All right? You want to rat me out and tell people about it, you go right ahead,” reported courtnewsohio.
Buzzelli ordered Foster to stop coming to the office and had the locks changed.
After Foster’s divorce became final in 2018, she instructed Buzzelli to take no further action on any of her cases.
Then without Foster’s knowledge or consent, Buzzelli replied to a counterclaim filed in the case by Foster’s ex-husband, falsely claiming that Foster filed and signed the document.
The Board of Professional Conduct found recorded statements in which Buzzelli intended to use in order to intimidate and threaten Foster.
According to courtnewsohio, the board ruled that Buzzelli committed an illegal act “so egregious” that it adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law. They also found that Buzzelli created a conflict of interest in his representation of Foster, and failed to ensure she understood the professional obligations of working in a law office under his supervision.
In 2018, Buzzelli and his wife reconciled, moved back into the family home, and his wife began resuming her office work during her convalescence.
In 2019, Buzzelli’s wife Gail alleged that Foster had stalked her at home and in the office which resulted in Buzzelli filing a civil-stalking protection order against Foster claiming that she broke into the office, tampered with Gail’s computer files, stole documents, and property, and damaged property.
In a hearing to determine whether to grant a permanent protection order against Foster, Buzzelli, who was representing his wife, used Foster’s personal information against her, and when asked if he knew this information because he had represented her before Buzzelli replied yes.
The board found that Buzzelli violated ethical rules by using the information he obtained from Foster when representing her to disadvantage Foster in the legal proceeding.
Along with the misconduct committed with Foster, the board also found violations committed by Buzzelli with two other women while he represented them.
In addition to the suspension and restitution, the Court ordered Buzzelli to complete six hours of continuing legal education focused on sexual harassment and employee management and to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.