Defendants in Ohio ‘Trust Mill’ Case Ask Supreme Court to Reconsider

November 3, 2009

Alleging collusion among members of the board of the Columbus Bar Association, two motions have been filed with the Ohio Supreme Court asking that it reconsider its decision in case number 2005-0422, in which two estate-planning companies were fined almost $6.4 million and instructed to cease operating in Ohio.

The motions filed Oct. 26 refer to an unauthorized practice of law case brought by the Columbus Bar Association against American Family Prepaid Legal Corporation, Heritage Marketing and Insurance Services Inc., and co-owners Stanley Norman and Jeffrey L. Norman.

The Court’s order concluded the companies sold legal plans to senior citizens in violation of laws barring non-attorneys from practicing law.

The court reached its decision based on the recommendation from the Ohio Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law’s Final Report in case number UPL 02-10.

According to Court-released documents, in a 7-0 per curiam decision in Columbus Bar Assn. v. Am. Family Prepaid Legal Corp., [Slip Opinion No. 2009-Ohio-5336], the Court found that the companies, the Normans, and multiple employees of those firms engaged in more than 3,800 acts of unauthorized law practice by virtue of their participation in a “trust mill” operation from March 2003 through March 2005.

The Columbus Bar Association (CBA) brought suit against American Family and Heritage Marketing alleging the operation of a trust mill scheme, in which the companies and their agents convinced thousands of Ohio senior citizens to pay nearly $2,000 for allegedly discounted prepaid legal services, which were never provided, according to Joyce Edelman, the lead attorney in the litigation.

American Family had claimed that as a registered operator of a prepaid legal services plan its actions were authorized. The Court rejected that argument, pointing out that in “arranging these appointments, American Family telemarketers did not refer to a prepaid legal plan and did not inform the customer that he or she would be solicited to buy a prepaid legal plan or living trust.”

In filing motions for reconsideration, the defendants allege that a pretrial conference call lawfully recorded by one of the defendants shows collusion among three panel members of the Columbus Bar Association – James L. Ervin, Don J. Hunt, and C. Lynne Day – who were assigned to consider the case.

According to defendant Jeffrey L. Norman, the motion for reconsideration alleges that the panel members were concerned about resolving the case before the expiration of the term of the panel’s chair, James L. Ervin. The motion states that Ervin had promised to see the case closed before the end of his term, which expired at the end of 2007, “a few months from the date of the pretrial conference.” The panel’s summary judgment against the defendants was granted Dec. 21, 2007, according to Norman.

Norman said the motion also alleges that the “Summary Judgment was granted against the Defendants by a biased judicial body that clearly had a fixed anticipatory judgment thereby denying Due Process.”

The motions ask the court to “either rescind the October 14th order or, remand the case back to the Board for a hearing before an unbiased panel of judges in order to properly put the facts and evidence of this case on record.”

Norman said that motions filed in the case further allege that no evidence is in the record of any senior citizen suffering any damages from the services they obtained through the legal plan.

Sources: Ohio Supreme Court, Jeffrey L. Norman

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