Lebanon lawyer to get public reprimand in dispute over veteran’s estate

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The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct today announced it has recommended that Dave Ernst, a long-time lawyer in Lebanon, receive a public reprimand.

The board approved the agreement between Ernst and the Warren County Bar Association settling a disciplinary case stemming from his representation of the family of an Army veteran who committed suicide after the attack on soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009.

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Ernst is the former president of the bar association that brought the disciplinary case.

Ernst, who attended college on an ROTC scholarship from the Marine Corps, was friends with Joshua Berry, the veteran whose estate he was representing, according to facts stipulated to in the disciplinary case settlement.

Ernst also represented Berry in other legal matters, including his divorce and were to meet on Feb. 13, when Berry committed suicide, according to the settlement.

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The complaint was filed last September on behalf of Berry’s father, Howard.

Joshua Berry died on Feb. 13, 2013, following the shootings at Fort Hood.

“Joshua Berry was injured while attempting to protect other innocent individuals. Joshua Berry suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and committed suicide,” according to the complaint.

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Seven days after his son’s suicide, Howard Berry retained Ernst to settle the estate with $2,500 deposited in a bank account, rather than Ernst’s trust account, according to the complaint.

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In May, Berry learned his son’s granddaughter was beneficiary to a $400,000 life insurance policy and wanted Ernst to form a trust to protect the money, according to the complaint.

Last January, Howard Berry terminated Ernst and demanded the return of the retainer. Ernst sent a check from his law firm’s account, according to the complaint filed by Keith Anderson, an assistant Warren County prosecutor representing the local bar association.

Ernst has since purchased computer software and automated his trust-account bookkeeping and directed “his firm’s accountant to inspect the trust account records, ensure that the appropriate funds are present in the trust fund and that the trust account records have properly been entered into the new software program,” according to the settlement agreement.

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The public reprimand recommendation came in one of 12 disciplinary case reports filed Thursday with the Supreme Court of Ohio.

Ten reports recommended discipline for attorneys charged with professional misconduct, one recommended the reinstatement of a suspended lawyer to the practice of law and one recommended imposition of an impairment suspension, according to a press release issued Thursday.

The parties in each case can file objections to the board’s report and recommendation with the Supreme Court, except in cases submitted upon consideration of a consent to discipline agreement, according to the release.