Cleveland Accuses Firefighter’s Attorney Of Misconduct

An already complicated retaliation case involving the Cleveland Fire Department just took a turn for the more complicated when attorneys for the city moved to disqualify the law firm representing the firefighter who brought the suit.

Former Battalion Chief Sean DeCrane claims he was passed over for promotion and retaliated against by city officials who believed he leaked information about former Fire Chief Daryl McGinnis while serving as the director of training. Chief DeCrane filed suit in 2016 using the services of a law firm, The Chandra Law Firm. The founder of the firm is a former city law director, Subodh Chandra.

The suit alleges that:

  • Cleveland Assistant Safety Director Edward Eckart, with assistance from James Votypka and Christopher Chumita from the City’s Office of Integrity Control and others, repeatedly retaliated against DeCrane based on Eckart’s mistaken belief that DeCrane disclosed to a reporter that a previous fire chief—Daryl McGinnis—lacked the required continuing education to maintain his professional certification, which led to McGinnis’s resignation.
  • This retaliation, which led to DeCrane’s constructive discharge, included repeated failures to promote him, seizing the Fire Training Academy’s records while he served as Director of Training, making false allegations against him about deficient record keeping at the Academy and trying to get him criminally prosecuted, concocting false administrative charges against him about Academy records, delaying a state audit that would determine that the Academy’s records are “exceptionally well kept and complete,” failing to clear him formally of the false administrative charges after the audit confirmed the Academy’s records were in order, relaying false information to the media about him, ignoring his emails and refusing to meet with him about City business, undermining his ability to perform his duties, trying to outsource the Academy’s training activities, and otherwise trying to damage his reputation and career.

The city’s defense counsel has accused The Chandra Law Firm of violating the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, the rules that govern the conduct of attorneys. From their motion to disqualify the firm:

Defendants together move the Court to disqualify The Chandra Law Firm LLC, in its entirety, from continuing to represent Plaintiff Sean DeCrane in this matter. This Court should disqualify Plaintiff’s counsel for three separate and distinct reasons:

(1) The Chandra Law Firm has had multiple conversations with Defendant City of Cleveland’s (“City”) former Chief of the Division of Fire, without instructing the former Chief not to disclose privileged communications he may have had with the City’s Law Department or outside counsel, and Plaintiff’s firm specifically questioned the former Chief about his postemployment communications with Defense attorney Jon Dileno. Furthermore, Plaintiff makes a number of specific allegations against the former Chief, about which The Chandra Law Firm failed to apprise the former Chief, instead, advising the former Chief to execute a declaration;

(2) Without notice to Defendants’ counsel, The Chandra Law Firm had numerous conversations with the City’s management employees, despite Defendants instructing Plaintiff’s counsel in their Initial Disclosures to contact, at least one of these employees, through Defense counsel; and

(3) The Chandra Law Firm, in litigating this case, relies on its law clerk Brian Bardwell, who interned for the City of Cleveland, in the summer of 2016, during which time he was privy to privileged communications and information directly pertinent to this matter. Despite multiple requests by Defense counsel to wall-off Mr. Bardwell from this matter, Plaintiff’s counsel refuses to do so.

Here is a copy of the city’s motion: Decrane v Eckart Motion to Disqualify

According to Cleveland.com, the Subodh Chandra claims his firm can prove that the allegations in the city’s court filing are not true, allowing a reporter to listen to recordings from the actual interviews that directly contradicted the claims of the city. Here is more on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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