County prosecutor pleads not guilty; Official accused of coercion and sexual imposition

Washington County Prosecutor Kevin Rings, left, and his attorney Dennis W. McNamara, right, stand as Visiting Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove enters for Rings’ indictment and arraignment Thursday in Washington County Common Pleas Court.

Washington County Prosecutor Kevin Rings pleaded not guilty to charges of coercion and sexual imposition in Washington County Common Pleas Court Thursday.

Last year, Amy Davis, of Belpre, 32, alleged that Rings exhibited inappropriate behavior toward her in his office and in an exchange of text messages. Davis was the victim in a kidnapping case and was also convicted on drug charges in 2017.

Charges against Rings were formally filled at 12:24 p.m. Thursday after two days of testimony before a special grand jury. Rings has been prosecutor since 2015 and served as Washington County Assistant Prosecutor prior to that.

Both charges are misdemeanors. The first, coercion, is listed as a second-degree charge, which is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine. The second, sexual imposition, is a third-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Rings is accused in the indictment of having coerced “Jane Doe,” presumably Davis, per statements in court Thursday from prosecution saying only one victim is named in the case, on or about July 4, 2017.

Coercion in the legal sense would mean Rings unlawfully taking or refraining from action concerning which Davis had a legal freedom of choice to take, withholding, or threatening to take or withholding official action, or causing or threatening to cause official action to be taken or withheld.

“The offense is contrary to the form of the statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the State of Ohio,” notes the indictment.

The second charge, sexual imposition, alleges that Rings had unlawful sexual contact with Davis, knowing that said contact was offensive or reckless.

Rings appeared with his attorney Dennis W. McNamara, of Columbus, before Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove, a retired Summit County Common Pleas Judge appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court to preside over the case.

McNamara, on behalf of Rings, waived the reading of the indictment before the court Thursday and filed a plea of not guilty.

Rings declined to comment Thursday.

While Rings is an elected official and thus is under no obligation to step down from his office, Cosgrove did impose an order as a term of his personal recognizance bond that Rings have no contact with both Davis, and any witness to be called by Matthew J. Donahue, section chief of the Ohio Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions section.

McNamara contended that without a witness list yet presented in discovery for his and his client’s viewing, having no contact with potential witnesses would be a difficult order to follow.

“I don’t think there’s a problem with co-workers, but I don’t know who’s on the list,” said McNamara.

Joe Caligiuri, chief assistant disciplinary counsel with the Supreme Court of Ohio, explained Thursday that Rings’ elected position has no requirement for removal, barring felony conviction.

“There’s no mechanism for a county prosecutor to be forced to step down in that situation,” he explained. “And disciplinary action and criminal proceedings are not necessarily correlated. The criminal process would run its course and then there’s a chance a disciplinary investigation could occur as well.”

Caligiuri explained that the disciplinary counsel has purely practice power, not judicial power like in a criminal complaint.

“A disciplinary grievance doesn’t have criminal implications,” he said. “We can’t put anyone in jail, but an acquittal doesn’t preclude us from conducting an investigation either… Anybody can file a disciplinary grievance against any attorney or judge and we could also open our own investigation without one.”

The disciplinary counsel does have the power to suspend and disbar any Ohio attorney from practicing law in the state.

“Any criminal case, our office may investigate,” said Caligiuri. “But say a first offense OVI, while someone may have been convicted of that, may not be disciplined from us.”

The only time an automatic suspension of the license to practice occurs, he explained, would be if a lawyer is convicted of a felony.

“Though hypothetically speaking in situations where there is sexual misconduct there are rules, assuming it’s proven, that are in place to deal with any conduct that reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law,” explained Caligiuri.

Though the Washington County Commissioners’ only influence over the office of the prosecutor is financial, Commissioner Ron Feathers did make a comment after Rings was indicted Thursday.

“The Washington County Board of Commissioners does not tolerate misconduct and these are serious charges,” said Feathers. “We are confident that this case will continue through the legal system properly… The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has not yet contacted us to say whether he can or cannot be in the building at this time. But we have other prosecutors so I hope the work will still get done.”

Cosgrove set the first date for a pre-trial hearing on the case for July 12 and set Rings’ bond as a $25,000 signature bond, meaning he will remain out of custody on personal recognizance.

Though the case concerns only misdemeanor charges, it will remain in the court of common pleas under Cosgrove through its conclusion.

At a glance

¯ Washington County Prosecutor Kevin Rings was indicted by a special grand jury Thursday on charges of coercion and sexual imposition.

¯ Rings was arraigned in Washington County Common Pleas Court Thursday and pleaded not guilty to both charges.

¯ Both charges are misdemeanors:

¯ Coercion, a second-degree misdemeanor.

¯ Sexual imposition, a third-degree misdemeanor.

¯ Rings remains out of law enforcement custody on his personal recognizance and a $25,000 signature bond.

¯ Rings is scheduled to appear for a pretrial before the appointed judge, Patricia A. Cosgrove, July 12 at 11 a.m.

Source: Times research.