Official: Ohio board director practiced law without license


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Attorney General’s Office says the state funeral board authorized its former director to practice law without a license by letting her negotiate violation settlements.

The Columbus Dispatch reports (http://bit.ly/2akYO7Q ) Vanessa Niekamp resigned Friday and the board accepted the former director’s resignation on Tuesday.

The Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors voted last year to allow Niekamp to negotiate settlements with funeral directors over violations of state law. Two days later, the Attorney General’s Office in a letter to the board called the move “troubling.”

Susan Walker, the office’s chief of executive agencies section, said in the letter that only the office can negotiate agreements on behalf of the board. “This lack of attorney oversight of a non-lawyer employee likely constitutes the unauthorized practice of law,” she wrote.

Her letter was released Wednesday after the funeral board voted to waive attorney-client privilege.

Niekamp has said she was acting at the board’s direction by handling settlement agreements.

Marc Dann, who represents Niekamp, said board directors often negotiate without lawyers present and the letter could mean every board director would have to be a lawyer to negotiate disciplinary actions.

He said it’s up to the Ohio Supreme Court, not the attorney general, to decide who is authorized to practice law in the state. He noted that a complaint against Niekamp before court disciplinary officials is pending.

In October, board member Tommy Taneff called for a vote to suspend Niekamp, alleging she altered public records and practiced law without authorization. His attempt failed.

Taneff and Niekamp also have been at odds over the findings of a 2014 investigation by The Columbus Dispatch that the industry-dominated funeral board wasn’t identifying cases in which funeral homes failed to deliver services they were paid for. Niekamp sued Taneff in federal court in January, alleging harassment and discrimination.

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com

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