Ohio Supreme Court rules prosecutors need not wait for investigation by OEC
On October 18, 2022, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors don’t need to wait for an investigation by the Ohio Ethics Commission before prosecuting a public official charged with violating Ohio’s ethics laws. In the case, State of Ohio v. Towns, the appellant Steven Towns, a former Williams County sheriff, appealed a misdemeanor conviction for violating O.R.C. 102.03(B), which prohibits unauthorized disclosure of confidential information by a public official who obtained the information in the course of the official’s duties. Towns argued that the confidential information disclosure charge required prior review by the Ethics Commission.
According to the opinion, Ohio law grants the Ethics Commission the ability to initiate ethics investigations and refer possible violations to prosecutors, but Ohio Revised Code Section 102.06 does not require the Ethics Commission’s participation or permission prior to a prosecutor pursuing a criminal prosecution.
While the present case dealt with disclosure of confidential information, the decision applies to any violation of Ohio ethics laws contained in Chapter 102 of the Revised Code.