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VW attorney faces state discipline, lawsuit

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

A veteran Van Wert attorney is the subject of a complaint filed by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel for allegedly misappropriating funds and failing to properly handle the legal responsibilities related to a trust and a guardianship/estate. Attorneys representing the trust beneficiary have also filed a civil lawsuit in federal district court in Toledo to recoup funds allegedly misappropriated.

Local attorney C. Allan Runser faces discipline from the Ohio Supreme Court and a federal lawsuit over charges his violated professional standards and misappropriated more than $500,000 from clients' accounts. (VW independent file photo)
Local attorney C. Allan Runser faces discipline from the Ohio Supreme Court and a federal lawsuit over charges his violated professional standards and misappropriated more than $500,000 from clients’ accounts. (VW independent file photo)

C. Allan Runser, an attorney with nearly 47 years of experience, is the subject of a three-count complaint filed September 17 with the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline of the Ohio Supreme Court (click here to read the full complaint).

The first count charges Runser mishandled the guardianship, and, later, the estate of the late Jeanne Koch, while also alleging the attorney misappropriated more than $90,000 from the estate. The second count alleges Runser failed in his legal duties to the Barbara Mary Shackley Trust and may have misappropriated more than $471,000 from that trust, and the final count involves alleged improprieties within Runser’s IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer Trust Account).

According to the complaint, during his 5½ years as either emergency or permanent guardian of Koch, until her death June 13, 2011, Runser was charged with repeatedly failing to meet deadlines for making and filing an inventory of her assets, and of filing periodic guardian’s reports – despite numerous notices sent him by Van Wert County Probate Court.

The complaint charges that Runser didn’t file an inventory of Koch’s assets until June 26, 2008, more than two years after being appointed her permanent guardian. His first – and last – guardian’s report was filed June 20, 2008.

Also, despite agreeing to file a final account within 30 days of the termination of the guardianship, which ended with Koch’s death on June 23, 2011, Runser did not do so until more than a year later.

Koch’s will nominated Runser to be executor/administrator of her estate and, in that role, he was to distribute proceeds of a revocable trust to her stepdaughter and stepgrandchildren, and to distribute the net proceeds from the sale of her residential property in equal parts to First Baptist Church in Van Wert and The Van Wert County Foundation. The rest of her real and personal property was to be disbursed in equal parts to two nieces and a nephew.

On August 9, 2011, Runser and law partner Shaun Putman, as attorney for the estate, filed an application to probate Koch’s will and Runser was appointed that same day as executor/administrator of the estate. The complaint alleges that Runser again failed to meet several deadlines for filing an inventory, which wasn’t filed until more than 15 months after his appointment, and also charged him with misappropriating funds from the estate.

Runser allegedly wrote more than $90,000 worth of checks on the estate to either himself or Runser & Putman, and, when asked by Scott Drexel, the attorney investigating the complaint for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, about the funds, “attempted to minimize his conduct by stating that the funds were for attorney and executor fees for him and Putman.”

According to the complaint, Runser neither requested, nor received, permission from the County Probate Court to receive attorney or executor fees from the Koch estate.

In the second count, Runser as trustee for the Shackley Trust, is charged with writing 50 unauthorized checks either to himself or Runser & Putman worth $471,350 between March 2, 2011, and September 13, 2013. The estate was worth $802,788.86 as of March 31, 2011. The complaint stated that Mary Ann Jensen, beneficiary of the trust, did not authorize, nor was she aware of, any of the transactions.

He also failed to provide Jensen, a Michigan resident, with annual reports on the trust’s property, liabilities, receipts and distributions. After Jensen failed in her attempts to get information about the trust, A. Thomas Christiensen, a trust attorney with the law firm of Marshall & Melhorn LLC, then sent Runser a letter requesting a list of those items Jensen was seeking.

On May 9 of this year, Runser replied to Christiensen’s letter, admitting that he had “not done a good job in handling Trust activity during the last several years” for Jensen, who he said was a childhood friend, but added that he would provide the accountings, when complete.

After failing to do so for more than two months, Runser appointed Jensen as co-trustee on July 17 and resigned as trustee the same day. Approximately a week later, Christiensen said Runser called him and told him that he had “inappropriately borrowed funds from the trust”.

On August 1, a temporary restraining order was issued preventing both Runser and Putman from acting on behalf of Jensen in any capacity. That order continues at present in the form of a preliminary injunction.

In addition to the complaint, a civil lawsuit has been filed against Runser, Putman and their law firm in the Federal District Court of Northern Ohio in Toledo to recover money allegedly taken from the Shackley Trust by the defendants (click here to read a copy of that lawsuit).

The third count involves the alleged use by Runser of money from his IOLTA, an attorney’s repository for trust funds, to repay a personal or business line of credit, and the account’s being overdraft on at least two occasions. According to the complaint, Runser “… also withdrew funds from his IOLTA on an ‘as needed’ basis, rather than ‘as earned,’ and he ran estate funds through his IOLTA, rather than depositing them in a separate estate account.”

The complaint also alleges that Runser misappropriated client funds from his IOLTA, resulting in a shortage of $15,739.36.

Drexel, an attorney with the Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel, charges that Runser’s conduct violates the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically the sections requiring lawyers to hold property of clients separate from their own and prohibiting them from engaging in conduct involving  dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. Drexel also said Runser is “chargeable with misconduct” and requested the local attorney be disciplined.

Joe Caligiuri, assistant chief disciplinary counsel for the Ohio Supreme Court, said Tuesday afternoon the complaint has now been stayed by the Supreme Court because Runser has filed an application to retire or resign and give up his attorney’s license. Caligiuri said his office typically recommends resignation, with an added note that a disciplinary action is pending, in such cases, but such a recommendation is not automatic.

Caligiuri also could not say whether a similar complaint has been filed against Putman, citing confidentiality in pending investigations. Putman, who remains a defendant in the federal court lawsuit, has opened a new office and issued a statement Tuesday afternoon by email:

“I have a deep respect for the legal system, for the plaintiffs, and for the Court, and as such I will not speak to any specifics of the pending lawsuit other than to say that I look forward to continuing to distance myself from the allegations at hand,” Putnam wrote. “I can assure you that my personal integrity and ethics were never, and will never, be compromised.

“I am excited to begin my own firm under the name of Putman Law Offices, LLC, and look forward to providing the same high standards of legal counsel as I have in the past,” he added. “The current matter is certainly unfortunate, shocking, and disappointing, but it has also given me a new eagerness and determination that will only enhance my current practice.”

POSTED: 10/15/14 at 6:15 am. FILED UNDER: News