Dann’s Attorneys Appeal Suspension, Draw Parallels To Taft

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Former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann makes his way out of the Ohio Supreme Court building while declining to take questions from reporters on Tuesday.(Photo: Karen Kasler, Ohio Public Radio)
Former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann makes his way out of the Ohio Supreme Court building while declining to take questions from reporters on Tuesday.(Photo: Karen Kasler, Ohio Public Radio)

The question of how to penalize Democratic former Attorney General Marc Dann came before the Ohio Supreme Court yesterday.

The court likely won’t release its ruling for weeks, but the case is already making history.

It’s the first time a former Ohio attorney general has faced the Ohio Supreme Court with his law license in jeopardy. Marc Dann watched from a seat in the audience in the courtroom and not at the table next to his lawyer. Alvin Mathews argued for a stayed suspension of Dann’s law license rather than an actual six month suspension, which is recommended by the disciplinary counsel.

“We believe that is the appropriate sanction for two misdemeanor convictions – ok? One involving the filling out of a financial disclosure form, the other involving improper compensation to employees,” Mathews argued.

Dann is facing sanctions because of those ethics violations, not because of the sexual harassment scandal which caused him to resign in May 2008. Mathews said the fact that Dann was the state’s chief lawyer when he committed these ethics violations is important, but it’s not the only thing to consider.

“Obviously that should be a factor. We don’t think that should be given as much weight as the board appeared to give it. We look at the Attorney General office very similar to the office of Governor.”

Mathews argued that a suspension of Dann’s law license would be a much stiffer penalty than the public reprimand given to Republican former Gov. Bob Taft, who also admitted to ethics violations but remained in office.

But Joseph Caligiuri, representing the disciplinary counsel, said Dann’s position is a critical factor here – and he knows it.

“The respondent, when he committed this misconduct, was actively engaged in the practice of law. He was serving as this state’s chief legal officer. And the respondent himself agrees with the board’s finding that the respondent’s position as Attorney General set him apart from other lawyers, and that he should be held to a higher standard.”

Caligiuri says Dann had also been disciplined by the Ohio Supreme Court only three years before committing the ethics violations he pleaded guilty to in May 2010.

But Mathews says that reprimand came from a single instance of neglect and is unrelated to this case. On that subject, Caligiuri said Dann has been blaming former staffers instead of owning up to his conduct. Mathews said Dann has just tried to explain what happened while admitting responsibility – which he said he did before the disciplinary board last year.

“Mr. Dann was physically shaken on the stand in terms of talking about how sorry he is about this conduct. So to suggest that he’s not taking responsibility is completely incorrect,” Mathews said.

But Caligiuri said he pleaded guilty to the violations, but then testified in the disciplinary hearing that he didn’t know he’d done anything wrong.

“It’s entirely appropriate for an attorney to come in and defend themselves and to mitigate, to present mitigation evidence. That’s not what happened in this case. What happened in this case is what the board found – and that’s that he did not accept full responsibility for his misconduct.”

The 2008 scandal in which two women accused a top Dann aide of sexual harassment , also had brought out stories of alcohol-fueled partying among Dann’s staffers and Dann’s admitted affair with his scheduler. It was never mentioned directly in court, but Caligiuri touched on it.

“The respondent resigned for – reasons that are outside the record in this case.”

And so did Justice Paul Pfeifer, in recalling the Inspector General’s investigation of Dann.

“If I’m remembering this correctly, they were looking under every bed and sheet and maybe that’s a poor choice of words.”

Pfeifer and all but one of the justices on the court are Republicans.

Mathews said after the arguments that in spite of the somewhat sordid stories about his client in the past, he feels the court will decide based on the record alone.

“And that’s the facts of the case that he pled to, and then also the precedent that the court hast to follow, not any extraneous factors.”

All but one justice are Republicans, but Mathews said he feels confident that the court will decide based on the record and not on other outside factors. Dann wouldn’t comment to reporters after the arguments. He is now practicing law in the Cleveland area.

Mathews said Dann is doing a lot of free legal work for people facing foreclosure, and that they would be devastated if he lost his license for six months. Caligiuri said that’s one thing to consider, but it doesn’t outweigh Dann’s misconduct.

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