The Ohio Supreme Court today indefinitely suspended a Cleveland attorney who disparaged judicial officers, an estate attorney, disciplinary counsel, and a police officer, alleging they lied and conspired to allow for the sale of her deceased mother’s property for less than its fair-market value.
In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court suspended Marilyn A. Cramer for violating several of the rules governing the conduct of Ohio attorneys, including knowingly or recklessly making false statements concerning the integrity of judicial officers, and making false statements to the Franklin County Probate Court and the Board of Professional Conduct.
The probate court found part of her misconduct caused unnecessary delay and needlessly increased the costs of litigation. One of the conditions the Court imposed for the possible reinstatement of Cramer to the practice of law is her payment of a $22,256 judgment the probate court awarded to the estate attorney who was appointed after Cramer was removed as an estate administrator.
Sibling Spat Leads to Lengthy Estate Settlement
Cramer’s misconduct resulted from a dispute among her siblings over the sale of a home their mother, Selena Cramer, owned in Columbus. The mother died in Alabama in 2007, and was survived by four heirs – Cramer; her sisters, Callie Lipka and Carrie Chaplin; and her brother, Myron Cramer.
Lipka opened an estate in Limestone County, Alabama, in late 2014, and did not identify Cramer as one of the surviving children. Lipka hired an attorney to file for an “ancillary administration” of her mother’s estate in Franklin County to dispose of her mother’s Columbus house. Three days before a hearing on the ancillary administration, Cramer filed a competing application in Franklin County seeking to administer the entire estate. Likpa’s attorney then withdrew from the process, citing the family’s disagreement on how to proceed.
A probate court magistrate ordered Cramer to file the appropriate documents and a bond necessary to receive the appointment. The magistrate advised Cramer that the ancillary administrator would have to work for the common benefit of all the children, and failing to do so would lead to the administrator’s removal and the appointment of an independent administrator.
Following the September 2014 hearing, Cramer fired a realtor her sister hired to sell their mother’s house and took the house off the market. But it was not until November 2014 that Cramer filed the necessary materials to be appointed as the administrator.
Siblings Dispute Attorney’s Actions
About five months after Cramer was named ancillary administrator, two of her siblings hired another attorney to represent them in Franklin County and asked the probate court to remove Cramer as administrator because she failed to perform her duties, including relisting their mother’s home for sale. In June 2015, the siblings agreed to sell the home, pay the administrator expenses, and send the remaining proceeds to their mother’s Alabama estate.
A month later, the magistrate removed Cramer for not listing the property for sale, which resulted in delaying the administration of the estate. Cramer objected, but the probate court adopted the magistrate’s decision. The court then appointed Thomas Taneff as the administrator. While Taneff attempted to sell the house, Cramer opposed Taneff’s actions at every turn and unsuccessfully attempted to have him removed from his role with the estate.
At some point the property was vandalized, and Taneff received a $43,500 insurance settlement on the estate’s behalf. The vandalized property was sold for $39,000, which was $9,000 more than the appraised value. Cramer objected to the sale, which was approved in July 2017, stating she had two buyers who would pay at least $100,000 for the home.
In a December 2017 judgment , the probate court found Cramer violated court rules and R.C. 2323.51, which prohibits frivolous conduct when filing civil court claims. The probate court determined that Cramer intended to harass and intimate Taneff, and that her actions caused Taneff to incur $22,256 in attorney fees and costs.
Board Determined Multiple Rules Violated
Based on the estate dispute, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Conduct, alleging Cramer violated several professional conduct rules. In her answer to those charges, Cramer renewed prior allegations that the magistrate “schemed” with Taneff to remove her from the estate and repeatedly alleged the magistrate and judge were corrupt. She also claimed the assistant disciplinary counsel assigned to her case had “deliberately prepared a dishonest complaint” because he was incompetent and that he purposely covered up the probate court’s action to set up and frame her.
Some of Cramer’s misconduct included falsely representing that she was the administrator of the estate and removing estate property from the market before she was appointed to that position. She testified an off-duty Columbus police officer helped her forcibly enter the home using a crowbar. The police officer stated he had helped Cramer secure the property, but never aided her in forcible entry. Cramer accused the officer of lying and being pressured by Taneff to give false testimony.
The Court’s opinion stated Cramer was given “multiple opportunities during her disciplinary hearing to submit evidence or otherwise explain the basis of her accusations,” but she did not provide evidence to back her claims or prove that buyers were willing to pay $100,000 for the home. Rather she “adamantly maintained her position that was she was victim of a corrupt court,” the opinion stated.
Attorney Defied Disciplinary Process
The board submitted to the Supreme Court an extensive explanation of Cramer’s repeated failure to cooperate with the disciplinary process, including being more than an hour later to her disciplinary hearings, even after the chair of the hearing panel agreed to delay the start times because of Cramer’s purported sleep disorder. Cramer filed 28 objections to the board’s report and conclusions. The Court overruled her objections.
“Cramer’s profound inability to recognize the wrongfulness of her own actions, combined with her tardiness and evident lack of preparation for her own disciplinary hearings, support the board’s findings that her misconduct may be the byproduct of unaddressed physical- or mental-health issues,” the Court stated.
The Court conditioned her reinstatement to the practice of law on the completion of an Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program assessment; compliance with any treatment recommendations as a result of the assessment; and obtaining the opinion of a qualified health care professional that she is capable of resuming the competent, ethical, and professional practice of law. She must also pay the probate court judgment and the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.
2019-1739. Disciplinary Counsel v. Cramer, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-4195.
View oral argument video of this case.
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