Ward insisted it was proper for him to sue John "Bud" Koons III in a legal fight over Koons' $300 million estate. He insisted it was proper even though Ward and his father, a former president of the Cincinnati Bar Association, previously represented Koons on several issues – including Koons' financial planning and legal work for Koons' large estate.
Meanwhile, a Koons relative hired Nick Ward to sue Bud Koons.
But the Ohio Supreme Court last week decided Ward was wrong, finding it was improper for him to represent opposing sides. Ohio's high court suspended Ward from practicing law for a year.
Ward, who complained to The Enquirer in 2008-2009 about stories it was writing about his involvement in the suits, didn't return calls for this story.
Ward's suspension is the latest chapter in a years-long fight over Koons' $300 million estate. That fight caused the Cincinnati law firm Richard "Nick" Ward's father founded in 1958 to split. The original firm, Drew & Ward, split into the Drew Law Firm and the Ward Law Firm. The Drew firm later closed. The Ward firm appears to be only Richard "Nick" Ward.
"At a minimum the Supreme Court opinion validates your article," attorney Jim Helmer told The Enquirer about Ward's suspension. Helmer represented Koons' interests in the suits.
Helmer was blunt about what he believed was a conflict for Nick Ward in them.
"In my 33 years of doing this, I have never seen anything as unethical and illegal by any lawyer in Cincinnati," Helmer said in a 2008 Enquirer story about Ward and the suits.
Last week, Helmer added, "Even a cursory reading of (last week's) decision confirms what I said."
Ward's father, Richard "Dick" Ward was friends with Koons since at least the time both attended Walnut Hills High together. Koons and his family built a bustling business selling and delivering Burger Beer. Proceeds from that business were placed into two trusts – one for Koons and his descendants, the other for Koons' sister, Betty Lou Cundall, and her descendants. She is the mother of Michael "K.C." Cundall, the nephew who hired Nick Ward to sue Koons.
The Koons family used their part of the trust funds to invest and diversify, buying several Pepsi bottling and distribution companies in Florida and Ohio, and becoming, at one point, the seventh largest such distributor in the U.S. The Cundalls, it was alleged in the suits, spent much of their portion of the trust instead of reinvesting it.
Koons later sold the Pepsi distributorships for $340 million, a transaction Koons relied heavily on Dick Ward and his law firm to make. Nick Ward, a partner in his father's law firm, reviewed documents with his dad regarding Koons' estate.
That wasn't an issue until K.C. Cundall became upset when his family's portion of the trust was revealed to be millions while the Koons portion of the trust was more than $300 million.
Cundall hired Nick Ward to represent him in a suit against Koons and his company, accusing Koons of improperly handing the trusts to the Cundalls' economic detriment. Some of the information Cundall used to sue Koons came from the period when Nick Ward represented Koons. Using that information to later sue Koons was improper, the high court found.
Attorneys representing Koons' estate sued the Drew & Ward law firm (before it was split into two firms) for $10 million.
The suit was settled by the firm's insurance company for $5 million. That is known despite attempts to hide it. The Enquirer fought attempts to make private a settlement made in a public courtroom while on the record – and won.
All three of the Ohio lawsuits regarding that Koons have been resolved, either in Koons' favor or by settlement.
Cincinnati attorney Richard "Nick" Ward was suspended last week by the Ohio Supreme Court. He can't practice law for a year.
•Ohio attorney discipline like Ward's doesn't become public unless there is a finding of wrongdoing by the high court and disciplinary action is taken;
•A complaint is made about an attorney and referred to an arm of the Ohio Supreme Court, which investigates. If there is a finding of wrongdoing, it is referred to the Supreme Court justices, who then make their own ruling;
•In 2013, the last year for which statistics are available, the Ohio Supreme Court suspended 51 attorneys for wrongdoing.
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High court suspends lawyer Nick Ward for improprieties