Legal Ethics

Former Ohio AG Loses Law License for 6 Months Over Ethics Violations While In Office

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A former state attorney general has had his law license suspended for six months by the Ohio Supreme Court.

An attorney discipline board previously found that Marc Edward Dann engaged in conduct that adversely reflected on his fitness to practice law by soliciting improper compensation and filing false financial disclosures while serving as attorney general. In a slip opinion (PDF) Tuesday, the supreme court approved the sanction the discipline board recommended.

Dann resigned in 2008 in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal involving the AG’s office and subsequently pleaded guilty to one ethics misdemeanor and did not contest another concerning the handling of campaign funds. He was fined $500 on each count and ordered to perform community service, the supreme court notes.

Although facts in the consent-to-discipline case were stipulated, Dann objected to the board’s call for a suspension of his law license (he and the state’s disciplinary counsel had agreed earlier to a six-month stayed suspension, to which the board did not agree).

The board had noted that Dann cooperated with the investigation, has a good reputation and had already been punished by losing his job, the misdemeanor conviction and the humiliation associated with these experiences. He also has done pro bono work in mortgage foreclosure cases, the supreme court notes in its opinion. However, weighing in favor of stricter discipline was prior discipline—a 2004 reprimand for being inadequately prepared—and the fact that the matter at issue concerned his work as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.

The opinion says a campaign contributor paid over $20,000 to send Dann, a senior staff member and minor children of the two men to a Democratic Attorneys General Association seminar in Arizona in January 2007 and that Dann used campaign funds to cover over $37,000 in living expenses for two senior members of his staff.

Some of these expenses were not included on required financial disclosure forms, and Dann falsely reported, the opinion says, that the Democratic Attorneys General Association had paid $7,687.14 in travel expenses for the January 2007 trip.

“While Dann has offered substantial mitigating evidence,” the court writes, “he has previously been disciplined by this court, he has admitted that he knowingly engaged in the conduct that resulted in his criminal conviction for soliciting improper compensation, and his conduct with respect to his financial-disclosure statements was at best reckless. He also engaged in this unlawful conduct while serving as the state’s chief legal officer.”

This last factor apparently may have weighed most heavily with the supreme court, which emphasized Dann’s importance as the state’s law-enforcement leader.

“Like judges, the attorney general has a heightened duty to the public by virtue of his elected office. 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,” the court 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 law firm of which Dann is a partner issued a statement and Dann Doberdruk & Harshman partner Michael Harshman said they are “saddened” by suspension but prepared to handle it and will drop Dann’s name from the firm’s title during his suspension, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.

“We have been upfront 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,” Harshman said in the statement. “We are confident in our ability to continue to successfully represent our clients.”

The Associated Press also has a lengthy story detailing the saga that led to the suspension of Dann’s law license. Neither it nor the Plain Dealer article includes any current comment from Dann or his legal counsel.

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog.

Earlier coverage: “Ohio AG Marc Dann Resigns, But State Probe of His Office May Continue” “Report: Ex-AG Who Quit After Sex Harass Scandal to Plead Guilty to Ethics Misdemeanors” “Ohio’s Top Court Hears Arguments by Ex-Attorney General Seeking Stay of 6-Month License Suspension”

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