Lawyer faces public reprimand
- Joshua Engel pleaded guilty last October to three misdemeanors in the email case.
The Columbus Dispatch Thursday October 13, 2011 7:52 AM
Joshua Engel, former top lawyer for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, should get a public reprimand for illegally intercepting all agency emails for several months, a state panel has recommended.
The Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline rejected the court disciplinary counsel’s push for a six-month suspended sentence of Engel’s law license. Instead, the panel said Tuesday that the Harvard-educated lawyer lacked a “dishonest or selfish motive” in intercepting emails between the Ohio inspector general or The Dispatch and anyone in the agency.
Although he secretly obtained confidential material, including inspector-general probes and federal criminal and grand-jury investigations, no one was harmed by the electronic “bug” but Engel himself, the commissioners determined. The panel cited an Engel character witness who said his ethics “are above reproach” and that he is “an extraordinarily caring and competent attorney.”
Commissioners acknowledged he should have had the email filter removed when he first got confidential material, but they said ongoing battles within and without the agency distracted him.
“The panel believes the stress of the ‘turf war’ undoubtedly obscured his focus. We believe it was not his knowing intent to ‘trap’ confidential information.”
And the board also noted, “His personal suffering, beginning with job-related stress in 2008, and as exacerbated by both criminal and disciplinary proceedings, have resulted in severe depression and suicidal thoughts. We note that he voluntarily sought psychiatric care and psychological counseling before being terminated from his position at DPS in late 2010.”
The board pointed out that former Gov. Bob Taft also was given a public reprimand in 2006 after he was found guilty of four misdemeanor ethics charges.
Last October, Engel was fined $750 and given a 30-day suspended jail sentence for each of three misdemeanors.
A technologies manager who obeyed Engel’s request to install the email filter was suspended but returned to work after receiving a written reprimand. Another department lawyer resigned for collaborating with Engel.
Engel’s attorney, Larry James of Columbus, told the panel, “The mistake made by (Engel) could have happened to anyone” as he tried to pursue the source of leaks from the department.
The recommendation now goes to the Supreme Court for final action.