Dayton area attorney Ben M. Swift should lose his law license for two years and repay $50,000 to the government as punishment for overbilling Miami Valley courts for his legal services, a disciplinary panel recommended this week.
Swift overbilled courts in Montgomery, Greene, Clark and Warren counties while serving as the appointed attorney for children and indigent defendants, according to the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline of the Ohio Supreme Court. He “acted with a dishonest or selfish motive” and “had a pattern of misconduct,” the board reported.
The Dayton Bar Association began auditing Swift after the Dayton Daily News published stories in March 2010 highlighting Swift’s billing practices. The bar association then filed a disciplinary complaint against him.
Swift, an attorney since 1995, collected $142,945 for 3,315.5 hours of work in a single 12-month period and was the highest paid court-appointed lawyer in the state for 2008 and 2009, the board reported. Swift, who admitted that he did not keep records of his hours, billed for working 14 to 30 hours a day in several instances.
The final decision on Swift’s discipline is up to the seven Ohio Supreme Court justices. But the board is recommending a two-year license suspension with one year stayed as long as Swift completes a year of monitored probation, repays $50,000 and commits no further ethics violations.
Swift is in solo practice and takes a high volume of court-appointed work from juvenile and common pleas courts with the bulk of the assignments coming from Montgomery County Juvenile Court.
Court-appointed counsel represent people too poor to hire their own attorneys. The bills are approved by the local courts and then split between the state and counties.
“The courts rely upon the trustworthiness and integrity of the lawyer in providing accurate billing information,” the board noted.
Swift did not have any prior disciplinary record.
Swift’s attorney Gary Leppla noted that the disciplinary board rejected the allegation that Swift acted “illegally” and the conclusion that his conduct adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law. Swift cooperated with authorities and admitted that he failed to keep accurate records.
In affidavits from four local judges Swift was described as “extremely competent and caring lawyer who provides a valuable service in the community, particularly as one of the few African-American attorneys who can be appointed to represent or who privately represents F-1 and F-2 defendants.”
The courts typically rotate appointments among a list of attorneys. But a Daily News investigation in March 2010 found that of the 170 attorneys on the Montgomery County Juvenile Court list, just five since 2007 had received 20.7 percent of the appointment cases. Swift topped the list with 848 cases.
The Dayton Daily News disclosed in a March 2010 story that attorney Ben M. Swift was overbilling courts in four counties while serving as appointed attorney for children and indigent defendants. The Dayton Bar Association began its investigation after the Daily News story.