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Cleveland attorney who called paralegal a ‘ho’ and other names is suspended

August 1, 2018

Cleveland attorney who called paralegal a ‘ho’ and other names is suspended

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Cleveland attorney Howard E. Skolnick’s law license was suspended Wednesday by the Ohio Supreme Court after he was heard berating his paralegal on audio recordings.

Skolnick called the paralegal a “ho,” “dirtbag,” “stupid” and other names, made sexual comments and made fun of her husband and mother from 2011 to 2013, according to court documents. The paralegal recorded Skolnick’s comments on more than 30 occasions.

In his defense, Skolnick said he had learned the slang from rappers and hip-hop artists while working in entertainment law and he thought he was being funny, not harmful. Skolnick also said he had been diagnosed with cyclothymic disorder and showed signs of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, but the court did not find those were related to his behavior.

The paralegal reported suffering from anxiety, sleep disturbances, depression, and poor body image as a result of the harassment and tried for more than two years to find a new job, according to Wednesday’s opinion. She left the job in January 2014 and accused Skolnick of sexual harassment, discrimination and creating a hostile work environment.

Skolnick did not deny the claims and settled with her for $300,000. He told the court he has since hired a human resources manager to examine the firm’s sexual harassment policies and dialed back his oversight of the office.

The Office of the Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint in 2017, claiming Skolnick had engaged in conduct that adversely reflected on his fitness to practice law in violation of attorney ethics rules.

The Board of Professional Conduct had recommended a six-month suspension, with all of it stayed. But high court’s justices said Skolnick’s pervasive attacks called for a harsher sentence “to protect the public and the dignity of the legal system” and deter future misconduct by Skolnick and other Ohio attorneys. The court imposed a one-year sentence, with six months stayed.

″... he directed frequent profanity-laced verbal tirades toward and sexually harassed a vulnerable employee who needed her job to support her family,” they wrote in Wednesday’s opinion. “During [the paralegal’s] two-and a-half year tenure, Skolnick berated her for her physical appearance, dress, education, and parenting skills.”

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon Kennedy, Patrick Fischer and Patrick DeWine joined the opinion. Justice Judith French dissented without a written opinion; Justice Mary DeGenaro did not participate in the case.

To comment on this story, please visit Wednesday’s crime and courts comment section.

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