COLUMBUS — Disgraced former Ohio attorney general Marc Dann lost his license to practice law for six months on Tuesday. The action followed unanimous state Supreme Court rejectiion of his argument that the punishment was out of line.
The court cited the public reprimand in 2004 for his mishandling a client’s case as one reason it upheld the proposed six-month suspension. That reprimand did not prevent the Democrat from being elected two years later.
“Like judges, the attorney general has a heightened duty to the public by virtue of his elected office,” the court wrote. “As the chief law officer for the state, the attorney general is charged with providing legal representation and advice to all officers, boards, heads of departments, and institutions of this state.
“For that reason, the work of the attorney general touches upon virtually all areas of our state government,” it wrote. “Thus, Dann’s criminal and ethical violations reflect poorly on his fitness to practice law and the legal profession as a whole, but also cause incalculable harm to the public perception of the attorney general’s office and those government agencies, departments, and institutions that the attorney general advises and represents.”
The six-month suspension was immediately included on Mr. Dann’s attorney directory listing on the Supreme Court’s Web site.
In reaction to requests for comments from Mr. Dann, the Cleveland law firm in which he is a partner—Dann, Doberdruk, & Harshman LLC — issued a written statement noting it was temporarily removing Mr. Dann’s name from the letterhead.
“We have been up front with all of our clients about the possibility of such a decision; disclosing the pending complaint in our client agreements and providing email, letter, and blog updates on the matter,” partner Michael Harshman said. “We are confident in our ability to continue to successfully represent our clients.”
Mr. Dann was pressured into resigning after less than a year and a half as attorney general after allegations of sexual harassment were brought against a top aide and allegations of cronyism were leveled against him. In the midst of the resulting investigation, he admitted to his own consensual affair with his office scheduler.
He pleaded guilty to two first-degree misdemeanors for using campaign and inauguration accounts to funnel extra pay to two top aides and for failing to disclose income and gifts on ethics forms.
Among the gifts was $20,000 in air travel to a 2007 Arizona conference for himself and family members that was financed by a Texas lobbyist for a firm doing business with the Ohio Lottery at the time.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which acts as prosecutor in attorney discipline cases, had initially recommended a stayed six-month suspension that would have allowed Mr. Dann to continue making a living as a practicing attorney.
But it was overruled by the state attorney disciplinary board, which recommended a flat six-month suspension. The Supreme Court, including the sole Democrat on the panel, has upheld the decision.
Among other examples made in his argument that a six-month suspension was out of line, Mr. Dann had pointed to the public reprimand handed former Republican Gov. Bob Taft, who pleaded no contest in 2005 to four first-degree misdemeanor counts of failing to disclose golf outings and other gifts worth $75 or more.
“ … [W]e publicly reprimanded Governor Robert A. Taft II for filing false disclosure statements,” the court noted. “But the combined value of the omitted gifts was less than $6,000, and the [disciplinary] board attributed Taft’s nondisclosure ‘to oversight, rather than a conscious effort to conceal certain relationships.’
“In contrast, Dann falsely reported that the Democratic Attorneys General Association paid $7,687.14 for his travel to an Arizona seminar, thereby concealing the fact that a company closely affiliated with a campaign contributor paid more than $20,000 for his travel by private jet,” the court wrote.
“Moreover, he admitted that he was aware of the ethical problems posed by the supplementation of his employees’ state salaries, stating, ‘We were operating in a gray area. I knew we were operating in a gray area, even though I thought we may have been right, that was—that in the position that I was in, that was the wrong decision to make, and I take full responsibility for it,’ ” the court added. “Thus, Dann’s conduct is more serious that Taft’s.”
Among the sources of the gifts to Mr. Taft was Tom Noe, a former Toledo-area coin dealer and past chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, who is now serving an 18-year state sentence for the theft of $13 million from a $50 million investment he ran for the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation.
That Republican scandal had helped fuel a Democratic election wave in 2006 that helped to carry Mr. Dann, then a state senator from Youngstown, into office. He was gone by May of 2007, admitting that even he didn’t expect to win and was ill prepared for running the office. He cannot hold public office again for seven years.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.