TIFFIN - The Ohio State Bar Association yesterday chided Seneca County Prosecutor Ken Egbert, Jr., for attacking his opponent in the Nov. 4 election for doing his job.
Gary J. Leppla, president of the association, said Mr. Egbert has crossed the line by criticizing his opponent, Derek Devine, for his work as a criminal defense attorney.
"While some attacks are legitimate and fair game, attacks upon attorneys for simply fulfilling their constitutional obligations are unacceptable," Mr. Leppla said in a statement. "A criminal defense attorney is duty bound to fight for the rights of his/her client in the same fashion that a prosecuting attorney has a duty to properly present evidence for the government."
Mr. Egbert, a Republican who is seeking his third term in office, posted a video on his campaign Web site that says he recently put 17 drug dealers in prison for a total of 193 years, while "Derek Devine has fought as a defense attorney to keep them in our neighborhoods. Ken Egbert has stood strong against criminals. His opponent has stood with them."
In a recent letter to the editor in the Tiffin newspaper, Mr. Egbert said Mr. Devine "should stop trying to hide from voters his own background of fighting for criminals in court."
Mr. Devine, a Tiffin attorney who worked as an assistant Seneca County prosecutor from 1994 to 1999, said he has represented only one criminal defendant this year, a defendant who was part of the "Operation Blockbusta" investigation referenced in Mr. Egbert's video. Mr. Devine said he frequently is asked to work as a special prosecutor in out-of-county jurisdictions and does civil litigation. That really is not the point, though.
"He characterizes me as a criminal defense attorney, which in my mind isn't even accurate, and even if it was, who cares?" Mr. Devine said, adding that everyone charged with a crime has a constitutional right to counsel, plain and simple.
Mr. Egbert could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Contacted by telephone, Mr. Leppla, an attorney in Dayton, said he did not know either of the candidates or even what their political party was. He said the bar association monitors attacks on attorneys who are candidates for office and had received "multiple complaints from attorneys up there" about this race.
"I think it's a matter of trying to make sure the public is educated on these issues," Mr. Leppla said. "We don't think it's fair. It's not fair to the public. It's not fair to the campaign, and it's surely not fair to the attorney who was trying to do a constitutional duty particularly where that attorney is appointed by the court and by a judge to represent a criminally charged person because the Constitution requires it. For that person to be criticized is very disappointing."