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Assistant prosecutor avoids discipline

WARREN — A complaint filed against a Trumbull County assistant prosecutor was dropped by the disciplinary counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio, who determined the official’s actions did not rise to the level of professional misconduct.

In a letter dated March 31, assistant disciplinary Counsel Adam P. Bessler states Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Becker did not violate the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, noting the state body dismissed the grievance made by a California man and closed the case.

“The First Amendment protects an attorney as it would any ordinary citizen, except for when the attorney is acting in some professional capacity in the matter in which the speech occurs,” Bessler wrote to complainant Tim R. Tolka of San Francisco.

In late October 2019, several people on social media had collected screenshots, or photographs, of comments and posts that Becker made on Twitter. They then shared some of the posts in online groups or personal social media pages. Some, including Tolka and relatives of some defendants, had accused Becker of being insensitive to the defendants he is charged with prosecuting.

At the time, Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said Becker had adhered to the office’s policy concerning conduct and behavior as well as to the code of professional responsibility.

Now, the state Supreme Court’s disciplinary counsel has agreed with Watkins, saying no ethics policy was violated.

Still, in a letter to Tolka, Bessler stated: “Please understand that we do not condone Mr. Becker’s actions. In fact, we are hard-pressed to find any professionalism and civility in Mr. Becker’s actions. He has certainly brought shame and embarrassment to the legal profession.”

Bessler added in the letter that he hopes the filing of the grievance has impressed upon Becker the importance of maintaining a high degree of professionalism.

In response, Becker said he is thankful after the long and exhaustive investigation, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel concluded there was no “substantial and credible evidence of misconduct on my part.”

“As (the investigation) further found, I in no way impugned the integrity of a specific public official or engaged in professional misconduct relating to any specific case, defendant, lawyer or judge,” Becker said.

The assistant prosecutor said there was never an allegation by “any defense lawyer or judge that I made inappropriate statements in any case wherein I have represented the State of Ohio and the hard-working people of Trumbull County.”

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