The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered Marc Dann, the state's ex-attorney general who resigned in 2008 amid a sexual harassment scandal, to give up his law license for six months.
The court's decision means Dann can't earn a living as an attorney during the term of the suspension, but he'll continue to be employed at his firm, Doberdruk and Harshman, which is removing Dann's name from the masthead during the suspension.
Firm spokeswoman Katherine Bulava of Hatha Communications said Dann will ''assist the other attorneys'' in compliance with high court rules.
The firm will determine the best way to ''utilize his services'' and Dann will not have ''direct contact'' with clients, she said in emails.
Although the punishment marked a small victory for Dann: The 6-month suspension was half the one-year term that was at one time recommended, justices said Dann's position set him apart from other lawyers, his conduct displayed poor judgment, and his reasons for the conduct were ultimately unsatisfactory.
"Poor judgment is not an aggravating factor," they 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 Respondent has."
The court gave Dann credit for fulfilling his community service obligations, paying his fines and submitting a pile of letters from judges attesting to his character.
Dann did not respond to an email seeking comment on Tuesday's sanction. Instead, Bulava released a statement from Dann's law partner, Mark Harshman, saying he was saddened by the decision but respected it.
Harshman said the firm has been open with its clients about the possible suspension and is confident they will continue with the firm.
"We are proud of the work that we do to protect the rights of the hard working people that we count among our clients," he said.
The ruling was the final step in an ordeal dating to Dann's turbulent 17 months in office beginning in 2007.
The 50-year-old Democrat was a surprise winner in the 2006 race for attorney general, defeating popular Republican Betty Montgomery, then state auditor and a former two-term attorney general. Dann has acknowledged he didn't expect to win and was overwhelmed by the duties of the office.
That didn't keep him from making a big splash initially. In his first 11 months, he took on the nation's largest insurance brokerage, the mortgage lending industry, student loan providers, the big three credit rating agencies and MySpace.
But he also had missteps. He used state money to purchase an expensive Chevy Suburban SUV from a campaign donor for traversing the state. A TV camera caught him cursing a reporter over a negative story outside a fundraiser for then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama. He also issued BlackBerry devices to nearly a third of his staff, costing the state almost $30,000 per month.
Dann resigned in May 2008 following his admission he had an affair with an employee.
In 2010, he pleaded guilty in Franklin County Municipal Court to using campaign funds he allegedly gave to two employees to pay rent and utilities for a house they shared near downtown Columbus and a condominium they later moved into in the northwest suburbs. The charge also involved a $5,000 gift or loan Dann made from his elected office's transition account to one of those aides.
A second charge alleged that Dann knowingly filed a false financial disclosure form.
A lawyer for the Supreme Court's disciplinary counsel, a type of prosecutor of legal misdeeds, cited Dann's failure to take full responsibility for his actions in pushing for a suspension.
"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.