Taft pays for his mistakes

By John McCarthy The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Gov. Bob Taft’s failure to report golf outings and other gifts while in office is grounds for discipline, the state agency that monitors lawyers’ behavior said yesterday.

Taft, a Republican, pleaded no contest in August to the ethics violations and was fined $4,000. He was the first Ohio governor to be charged with a crime while in office.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, an arm of the state Supreme Court, said yesterday that Taft violated Ohio’s code of professional conduct for lawyers, which states that a lawyer shall not “engage in any other conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law.”

The final decision on punishment lies with the Supreme Court, controlled 6-1 by Republicans. Taft could face a penalty ranging from a reprimand to loss of his license to practice law. The court also could decide against issuing a punishment.

The charges against Taft and the recommendation yesterday stemmed from the governor’s failure to report 52 gifts worth nearly $6,000 that he received over four years while in office. The case had spiraled off a scandal over state losses from investments in rare coins.

Taft, a great-grandson of President and later Chief Justice William Howard Taft, never considered resigning, but he forced out several staff members in the past for improperly accepting gifts.

Taft expects the panel that evaluates the discipline recommendation will examine the entire chain of events surrounding the case, spokesman Mark Rickel said.

“The governor is hopeful that the disciplinary panel will consider that his failure to report gifts was unintentional and that he self-reported it to the (Ohio) Ethics Commission as soon as he became aware of it,” Rickel said.

The recommendation will have little effect on political campaigns, said Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party.

“It’s bitter medicine for Bob Taft, but he should know the score,” Rothenberg said. “Most Ohioans wish it were November so they could vote in change.”

A message seeking comment was left for Ohio GOP spokesman John McClelland.

Ohio Disciplinary Counsel Jonathan Coughlan, who made the recommendation, said Taft could file evidence or request a hearing before a three-member panel of the Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline.