I wrote this post back on March 10, 2011, the day that Christopher T. Cicero was identified by The Columbus Dispatch as the attorney who sent e-mails to Buckeye football coach Jim Tressel warning that OSU players like Terrelle Pryor were giving away signed memorabilia in exchange for tattoos from Edward Rife, the owner of Fine Line Ink.
My post was not about the developing scandal at Ohio State (There has been plenty of press coverage on that topic. Too much in the opinion of this Buckeye fan). Instead, my post took the lawyer’s perspective since the Dispatch’s article suggested that Cicero obtained the information he sent to Tressel from Ed Rife in a meeting regarding Cicero’s potential representation of Rife in a drug trafficking investigation. The question in a lot of attorneys’ minds was whether Cicero breached his duties to Rife by passing along attorney-client privileged information to Tressel.
The question has gathered significant steam today. Catherine Candisky from the Dispatch reported earlier today:
The Columbus lawyer at the center of controversy surrounding former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel may lose his license to practice law.
The Ohio Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel today filed a complaint against Christopher T. Cicero, accusing him of violating attorney-client confidentiality when he sent three e-mails to Tressel telling him that players had been given free tattoos in exchange for signed memorabilia.
Cicero, a criminal-defense lawyer, learned of the situation when the owner of the tattoo parlor came to him for legal advice about a federal-drug investigation against him.
Eddie Rife, owner of Fine Line Ink on the West Side, met with Cicero twice but never hired him, opting to retain another lawyer to represent him.
“Even when no client-lawyer relationship ensues, a lawyer who has had discussions with a prospective client shall not use or reveal information learned in the consultation,” Disciplinary Counsel Jonathan E. Coughlan, wrote in a seven-page complaint filed with the Ohio Supreme Court.
Cicero faces punishment ranging from a public reprimand to permanent suspension of his license to practice law in Ohio.
This is not the first time Cicero, who played football for Ohio State in the early 1980s, has been in trouble with the legal profession. In 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court suspended his law license for misconduct after he told lawyers and others that he was having sex with then-Judge Deborah P. O’Neill, who had appointed Cicero to defend a client in a criminal case.
Cicero ultimately admitted that he had overstated the affair and that it did not start until after O’Neill stepped down from the case.
According to the complaint filed today, Cicero met with Rife April 2, 2010, after federal authorities raided his house as part of a criminal drug investigation. Immediately after the meeting, Cicero e-mailed Tressel and told him about the raid and seizure of 70,000 in cash and Ohio State memorabilia.
Cicero and Rife met again April 15, 2010. the next morning, Cicero sent a second e-mail to Tressel, giving the coach a detailed accounting of the number of jerseys, footballs and championship rings Rife had in his possession.
In a third e-mail sent the same day, Cicero told Tressel that he would try and get the memorabilia back if Rife retains him and suggesting Tressel keep the players away from his tattoo parlor and tell them not to call him because authorities are likely to review his phone records.
Tressel resigned May 30, under enormous pressure after he admitted keeping quiet about withholding information that his players may have violated NCAA rules.
Cicero’s fate will not be decided quickly as the disciplinary process has multiple layers and can take months to complete.
If Cicero agrees to the charges in the complaint, he could more quickly face a reprimand or license suspension.
If he fights the charges, the matter would go before a public hearing in front of a three-member panel of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline. The panel would make a recommendation to the full board.
If Cicero disagreed with the outcome, the matter would be set for a public hearing in front of the Supreme Court. That might not happen for several months.
As I’ve said before, I do not know Mr. Cicero and do not have any personal knowledge of any of the allegations in the Complaint. However, if true, it’s the kind of thing that gives all lawyers a bad reputation just because of the actions of a single person. I’m sure that complaint sounds familiar to Ohio State.