Marc Dann, who resigned in disgrace as Ohio's attorney general in 2008 after making a mockery of it through a series of ethical blunders, can add one more blot to his career: The state's highest court has lifted his law license for six months.
The sanction ordered by the Ohio Supreme Court is an appropriate punishment for a man who was chosen by voters to be the state's chief legal officer and showed absymal judgment in his personal and professional conduct during the 17 months he held office.
The high court was correct in holding Dann to a higher standard because of the position he held. "Poor judgment is not an aggravating factor," the justices wrote. "However, whether or not his explanations were sensible or credible, they are not an excuse. The panel cannot help but wonder at the harm to the reputation of the legal profession and to the confidence of the public in the office of attorney general when the chief law officer in the state has committed ethical errors and tries to explain them away as (Dann) has."
Dann could have received a one-year suspension of his law license, but the court opted to credit him for the community service he has performed and his payment of fines. It also took into consideration the character references several judges had submitted on his behalf.
The court's decision apparently marks the final chapter in the comedy of errors that characterized Dann's tenure following his upset victory in the 2006 election. Dann was swept into office in a Democratic landslide, defeating former Attorney General Betty Montgomery. He has acknowledged he didn't expect to win and was overwhelmed by the duties of the office, which may earn him points for candor but ultimately is no excuse for the behavior in office that led to his downfall.
He resigned in May 2008 after admitting he had an affair with an employee. News of his relationship surfaced along with allegations that he had misused campaign funds as well as state transition money to benefit two aides who shared a house with him in the Columbus area.
He also used state money to purchase an expensive Chevy Suburban SUV from a campaign donor for traversing the state, used state funds to install security fencing at his home and issued BlackBerry devices to nearly a third of his staff, costing the state almost $30,000 per month.
Two years after his resignation, he pleaded guilty in Franklin County Municipal Court to illegally using campaign funds. He was ordered to do community service and fined.
His plea led to the review of his status as a practicing attorney by the Supreme Court's disciplinary counsel, which recommended a one-year suspension of his law licenses.
"Never before has the chief legal officer of the state of Ohio been subject to discipline," Joseph Caligiuri, senior assistant disciplinary counsel, wrote in a February filing with the Supreme Court. "As Ohio's attorney general, (Dann) was responsible for protecting the public; consequently, it is imperative that the citizens of Ohio have the utmost confidence in the integrity of its chief legal officer."
Marc Dann abused the trust of the voters who elected him as attorney general. Whether it was due to inexperience or ignorance, he discredited himself and, by extension, the office he held. And he broke the law he had sworn to uphold.
He's fortunate the Supreme Court didn't lift his law license entirely.