Former Ohio Top Lawyer Marc Dann Fighting Suspension
Are a state attorney general’s poor judgment in hiring and failure to prepare for public office good reasons to let him off easy? That’s a question before the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday, as former state attorney general Marc Dann fights a proposed six-month suspension of his law license.
It is a case without precedent in Ohio. “Never before has the chief legal officer of the state of Ohio been subject to discipline,” wrote Jonathan Coughlan, the state’s disciplinary counsel, and Joseph Caligiuri, senior assistant disciplinary counsel, in a brief arguing to uphold the suspension.
The court’s own Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline recommended the suspension late last year, after Dann pleaded guilty to two criminal misdemeanors that also violated state rules for attorney professional conduct. Dann has his own law practice in Cleveland.
Coughlan’s complaint [PDF] states that Dann used over $37,000 in campaign funds to pay the Columbus living expenses of two senior aides, and that he failed to report in his 2006 and 2007 financial disclosure statements thousands of dollars in checks he received from his campaign account.
He also didn’t report his use of a private jet leased by a campaign contributor to fly himself, family members, and guests to a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona—at a cost of $20,000.
In his defense, Dann argued [PDF] that he made missteps due to his own hubris and arrogance.
Dann, a former Democratic state senator, explained that he didn’t expect to win the election for attorney general and wasn’t prepared to hire staff or organize his office. He said he used poor judgment and “hired people that [he] should not have,” then relied on their bad advice.
Dann was sworn in as Ohio attorney general in January 2007. The Ohio Ethics Commission opened an investigation into his conduct on May 2, 2008, and 12 days later he resigned.
The investigation continued and he was criminally charged in May 2010. He reached a plea agreement with prosecutors and expressed remorse for his behavior, for which he paid a fine and did 500 hours of community service.
Dann’s conviction precluded him from running for public office for seven years.
His attorney, Alvin Mathews, Jr., of Bricker & Eckler in Columbus, is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to stay Dann’s suspension from practicing law. Mathews argued in court filings that the penalty surpasses that in other cases involving public officials.
He also argued that Dann has suffered enough by voluntarily resigning his elected post, accepting the plea deal, and being barred from running for office for seven years.
Dann was never dishonest, Mathews wrote, and fully cooperated with investigators. Mathews added that Dann’s resignation and acceptance of criminal responsibility “represent significant factors which should mitigate the disciplinary sanction.”
The court is expected to take several months before filing its decision.