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Published: Saturday, 7/8/2006

Taft to get reprimand under deal

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

The pact, referred to as a consent to discipline and similar to a plea agreement, must gain approval of the Supreme Court s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline

and the seven member high court.

I admit the violation as outlined in this agreement, Mr. Taft wrote in an affidavit attached to the six-page agreement that The Blade obtained yesterday.

When the Supreme Court s disciplinary counsel, Jonathan Coughlan, filed the complaint against Mr. Taft in April, the governor could have faced a suspension of his law license from six months to two years, a minimum suspension of two years in which he would have had the burden to show why he should be reinstated, or a permanent loss of his law license.

Mr. Coughlan said he signed off on a consent to discipline because Mr. Taft admitted to the violation of the Code of Responsibility for attorneys that states: A lawyer shall not engage in any conduct that adversely refl ects on the lawyer s fitness to practice law.

He wasn t denying anything. Our assessment is it is a public reprimand case, and he was admitting the violation. There was nothing for me to try. I m not likely to pursue a case just to pursue a case, he said.

But Catherine Turcer, legislative director for Ohio Citizen Action, said the penalty is not tough enough on Mr. Taft.

We can never discipline people in a way that is truly meaningful, she said.

Public humiliation simply is not enough. If it were, we would not have all the problems in government.

I understand the plea agreements, but we have had a series of slaps on the wrist and not having the kind of enforcement

that would discourage bad behavior, Ms. Turcer continued.

The complaint filed against Mr. Taft said he should be disciplined for failing to report golf outings and other gifts on his annual ethics statements. Mr. Taft, a Republican who is the great-grandson of a U.S. president, pleaded no contest

in August, 2005, to four misdemeanor violations of state ethics laws.

In his court-ordered apology to Ohioans, Mr. Taft admitted that over seven years he failed to report 45 golf outings, including one in 2002 with Toledo-area coin dealer Tom Noe, as well six other social events and a Senior Open gift set from Noe.

The governor was fined $4,000. He was the first sitting governor in Ohio to be convicted of a crime. Mr. Taft s criminal convictions for violating ethics law grew out of the scandal that erupted after The Blade reported in April, 2005, that the Bureau of Workers Compensation had continued to invest in rare-coin funds controlled by Tom Noe despite warnings from a bureau internal auditor. A Lucas County grand jury has indicted Noe on 53 felony counts, accusing him of stealing millions from the state coin funds he managed. A trial is set for October on those

charges.

A total of 14 people have been convicted or charged in relation to the Noe scandal, including the bureau s former chief financial officer, Terrence Gasper; Brian Hicks, Mr. Taft s former chief of staff and now a lobbyist, and two former aides to Mr. Taft and then-Gov. George Voinovich, Doug Talbott and Doug Moormann, both lobbyists.

The next step in Mr. Taft s disciplinary case is for a three member panel of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline to determine whether a public hearing should be held or whether to accept or reject the agreement based on the documents filed, said Ruth Bope Dangel, the board s staff attorney.

The panel s members are Jeffrey Heintz of Akron, Judge Ronald Suster of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court,

and Jean M. McQuillen, who lives in the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River.

The panel will forward its recommendation to the full 28-member board, which then reports to the Supreme Court. If the panel, the 28-member board, or the Supreme Court rejects the agreement between the governor and the disciplinary counsel for the governor to receive a public reprimand, a hearing would be held. Mr. Taft could face the full range of santions, up to a permanent loss of his law license, or the case could be dismissed, Mr. Coughlan

said.

The timeline is unclear, but it s possible that the 28-member board may not consider Mr. Taft s case until late this year,

and the Supreme Court may not release a decision until spring of 2007, Mr. Coughlan said.

Mark Rickel, Mr. Taft s press secretary, said: The governor has been upfront and has taken personal responsibility in these matters and he continues to do the same in this matter.

The governor s law license has been inactive since 2002, which means he doesn t have to pay a registration fee or take continuing education courses. State Rep. Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said a public reprimand of Mr. Taft is probably appropriate.

This whole sad chapter in the governor s life, he can use it as a way to press for legislation that will increase penalties for these kinds of lapses, and he can go about the job of finding out how the likes of Tom Noe or anybody else can buy access to state government. My goal is to reform the system, not make a whipping boy out of the governor, Mr. Redfern said.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496



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