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IN RE RUFFALO, 390 U. S. 544 (1968)

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U.S. Supreme Court

In re Ruffalo, 390 U.S. 544 (1968)

In re Ruffalo

No. 73

Argued March 4, 1968

Decided April 8, 1968

390 U.S. 544


Petitioner, a trial lawyer who handled many Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) cases, was charged by the Ohio Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline with 12 misconduct counts. Two charges involved soliciting FELA plaintiffs as clients through Orlando, a railroad employee. At the hearings before the Board, both Orlando and petitioner testified that Orlando did not solicit clients for petitioner, but merely investigated cases for him, in some of which Orlando's employer was a defendant. Thereafter, the Board added a misconduct charge, No. 13, based on petitioner's hiring of Orlando to investigate Orlando's own employer. The Board found petitioner guilty of seven counts of misconduct, including No. 13, concerning which the Board relied solely on the testimony of petitioner and Orlando. On review, the Ohio Supreme Court found the evidence sufficient to sustain only No. 13 and one other charge. The court's order indefinitely suspending petitioner from the practice of law became final, and is not here on review. There followed proceedings based on the state court's suspension order to bar petitioner from practicing in the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals, relying solely on the Ohio court's record and findings, held that one charge, No. 13, justified petitioner's disbarment in that court.

Held: The lack of notice to petitioner, prior to the time he and Orlando testified, that petitioner's employment of Orlando would be considered a disbarment offense deprived petitioner of procedural due process. Pp. 390 U. S. 547-552.

(a) Though state disbarment action is entitled to respect, it is not conclusively binding on the federal courts. Theard v. United States, 354 U. S. 278, 354 U. S. 281-282. P. 390 U. S. 547.

(b) A lawyer charged with misconduct in a disbarment proceeding is entitled to procedural due process, which includes fair notice of the charge. P. 390 U. S. 550.

(c) Petitioner had no notice that his employment of Orlando would be considered a disbarment offense until after both petitioner and Orlando had testified. Pp. 390 U. S. 550-551.

370 F.2d 447, reversed. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 390 U. S. 545

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