More attorneys join complaint against Rings
Local attorneys and law enforcement are heading a public call for the removal of Washington County Prosecutor Kevin Rings.
Retired Judge Janet R. Burnside, of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, was assigned by the Ohio Supreme Court Wednesday to preside over the civil complaint.
The complaint filed relies on Ohio Revised Code Section 309.05, one of the three options for a forced dismissal–all three within the judicial system but stemming from public taxpayers for the first, from the governor for the second and from the Ohio Supreme Court for the third.
Rings, 56, of 100 Maple Shade Drive, Marietta, was convicted of coercion, a second-degree misdemeanor, on Friday by a Washington County Jury. The charge stems from a relationship Rings had with Amy Davis, 33, of Belpre, who was both the defendant in one case and victim in another case being handled by Rings. The trial also revealed accusations from other women of misconduct.
On Tuesday, attorney Ethan Vessels, of Fields, Dehmlow and Vessels, filed the complaint for the removal of the prosecuting attorney in Washington County Common Pleas Court. The complaint listed 13 plaintiffs, 12 of which are local attorneys. The other was Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.
An additional six attorneys joined the suit Wednesday and Vessels amended the complaint to reflect their additions.
“Put simply, allowing Kevin Rings to retain any power related (to) his public office, whatsoever, will cause irreparable harm to the public,” wrote Vessels in the complaint. “Indeed, immeasurable harm has been done to the public’s confidence in the legal system by permitting Mr. Rings to remain in office during the pendency of his criminal prosecution.”
Vessels expounded upon the complaint Wednesday, saying the justice community heard the plea of the jury foreman quoted in The Marietta Times’ weekend edition.
“‘Please system, don’t let that happen'” recalled Vessels, referring to the allowance for Rings to continue to practice post-conviction. “Well, we heard that and whomever you believe the system to be, we cannot continue to allow Mr. Rings to retain the power he currently has.”
His powers include the hiring and firing of employees, including an assistant prosecutor who testified against him in his trial, deciding which cases to prosecute and impacting the outcomes of those cases.
Mincks, the lead plaintiff in the complaint, said Wednesday that Rings staying in office after conviction mires the reputation and credibility of the office and its relationship with law enforcement.
“We feel he needs to be immediately removed from office. We are directly affected because of the numerous cases that go through his office,” said Mincks. “But so are defense counsel. I think he’s demonstrated at this point that he should not be permitted to perform the duties of prosecuting attorney for Washington County.”
The rest of the plaintiffs on the complaint include:
• Susan Vessels, former assistant prosecutor.
• Colleen Cook.
• Jerry Brock.
• Dale Leeper.
• Abe Sellers.
• Khadine Ritter.
• Matthew Carlisle.
• Craig Wakefield, former Washington County Bar Association president.
• Daniel Corcoran.
• Kristopher Justice.
• Adam Schwendeman.
• Rolf Baumgartel, defense attorney.
• Ray Smith, public defender.
• John Halliday.
• John Dehmlow.
• Bill Burton.
• Jim Huggins.
• Bob Ellis.
Public Defender Ray Smith said he joined the complaint Wednesday because Rings’ position calls into question the legitimacy of trials the prosecutor has handled in the past.
“We will look back and see what cases (Rings) pertains to,” Smith said. “We will start with the ones who are incarcerated first.”
Vessels explained that there are three routes which could forcibly remove Rings from office. The approach filed Tuesday offers the swiftest option but would be dismissed if Rings resigns voluntarily.
“This is more like an impeachment proceeding but brought on by taxpayers,” said Vessels. “He had criminal liability which was dealt with last week. We have asked for a temporary restraining order, eventually an injunction and (asking for) ultimately a court-ordered removal from the position. But separately there’s a statute that the governor of Ohio could call for his removal and the Ohio Supreme Court has jurisdiction over whether an attorney can keep their license.”
The restraining order and injunction requests ask that Rings not be allowed to:
1. Enter the Washington County Prosecutor’s Office (he has not been in the office this week).
2. Conduct any business on behalf of the state or the citizens of Washington County.
3. Make any court appearances on behalf of the state or citizens of Washington County.
4. Exercise any direction or control over the disposition (outcomes) of any cases or matters being handled by the Washington County Prosecutor’s Office.
5. Exercise any direction or control over the employees of the office during the pendency of the action.
“Of course the preference would be for voluntary resignation,” said Washington County Republican Party Chairman Mike Webber. “It’s going to happen but do you want to go through with it on your own or be forced?”
Vessels said the current complaint would be dismissed if Rings resigns on his own.
Rings did not return a call to comment Wednesday.
According to Vessels, a disciplinary process anticipated from the Ohio Supreme Court could take longer–up to two years– and results would be up to the justices to decide between no reprimand, private reprimand, public reprimand, suspension for a length of time or disbarment.
The governor’s option to file for removal of an elected official falls under Ohio Revised Code Section 3.08. Titled, “Removal of public officers” it states that if the officer sought to be removed is the prosecuting attorney of a county, the governor may sign and file such written or printed complaint in Washington County Common Pleas Court. If that route was taken, there could be a financial impact for Rings.
“Our suit would be dismissed if Mr. Rings resigns because that’s the whole goal, but where the governor can file for removal it does include a potential call back of wages while serving with clear neglect and gross misconduct,” explained Vessels.
Webber said Wednesday that if Rings resigns or is removed from office, the first step would move to the Washington County Commissioners for a temporary appointment.
An interim prosecutor would then be appointed by the party.
“And then the party central committee would have to meet, and we have been talking about it,” said Webber. “Several people are interested and some who have said they are not interested in either the temporary or full appointment.”
Rings was appointed in 2015 after former Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider retired that summer. Rings then fulfilled Schneider’s term and ran unopposed for election in the November 2016 election.
“Whether (Rings) would commit this same crime again or not, he still has great power over everything in his office (but) the public has no confidence in him and frankly it’s generally a disgrace,” said Vessels. “We’re going to move as fast as we can on this, we’re going to press this.”
Chad Plauche-Adkins contributed to this story.
• Possible resignation or removal from office of Rings.
• If removed:
The Washington County Commissioners would then have the power to appoint a lead prosecutor temporarily.
Then the Washington County Republican Central Committee would need to meet and appoint an interim lead prosecutor through the remainder of the term, Jan. 3, 2021.
• Rings is expected to appear for sentencing for his criminal conviction of coercion in Washington County Common Pleas Court on May 16.
• Read the full complaint by searching for civil action 19OT99 under the public records search of the Washington County Clerk of Courts’ website.
Source: Washington County Clerk of Courts, Attorney Ethan Vessels, Washington County Republican Chairman Mike Webber.