Hamilton County Commissioner Stephanie Summerow Dumas doesn't intimidate easily - even if it's Joe Deters, the county prosecutor making threats.
For the second time in 10 days, Deters has publicly criticized his own clients, the Board of Commissioners, by and through his subordinates. On December 8th, Deters sent Assistant Prosecutor, Nee Fong Chin to the commissioners' staff meeting to read a statement into the public record critical of his client's position regarding the passing of rules to regulate the solid waste industry,
[I]f you do proceed on the 16th, it will be against the prosecutor's advice and at your own peril.
Well, you're not allowed to do that.
Under the Code of Professional Conduct, an attorney cannot publicly criticize their client nor provide legal advice in a public forum without their client's permission. You just don't do that. An attorney - even if a prosecutor - surely can't threaten or intimidate a client. It's unethical and worthy of a complaint to the Ohio Supreme Court's Disciplinary Counsel.
But that didn't deter Deters from "reiterating" his prior position, this time, through Assistant Prosecutor, Michael Friedman, counsel to the Board of Commissioners. Nor did ethics stop County Administrator, Jeff Alutto from double-teaming the board with him. The statements of both men sought to prevent the board from adopting rules related to the solid waste industry.
Alutto led the oppostion. He denied having knowledge as to why rules had never been adopted before, despite serving as the Solid Waste Manager. During his tenure, rules were brought up by Colerain township officials during the ratification process for the solid waste plan in January 2000, per meeting minutes. He didn't mention that the issue was dismissed and that at the next meeting Bill Rumpke, Jr. was appointed to the Solid Waste Policy Committee, in violation of Ohio law.
Rules were never brought up again, according to a historical review of meeting minutes.
Instead, he suggested, just as the vote was being called, that the board could use another mechanism (at 2:07:00) to introduce rules through the plan update process. He didn't mention that that process can take up to 18 months to complete.
It didn't matter. Dumas didn't chase that bait.
Dumas summarized the facts (at 2:08:00) during the commissioners' meeting. The prosecutor had advised them to hire expert counsel after the committee had waited over 6 months for a legal opinion from the prosecutor's office that never came, the board followed that advice, and now the prosecutor wants to review the work of the expert despite already admitting that his office didn't have the subject matter knowledge to even issue an opinion on the issue a month earlier. "I'm just really puzzled how the prosecutor is saying, the expert developed these rules and now you have to give them back to me, that I'm not (even) an expert in. It doesn't make sense."
It really doesn't make sense.
She was determined and took the bull by the horns. Dumas made it clear that she supported the adoption of rules (at 2:10:00):
I felt it was imperative, as the leader of this group...and with the overwhelming interest from the community ... that we need to move forward... I think this delay is ... - just a distraction. That's how I see it. We were basically threatened. And, I'll just say it, you'll 'be in peril' (referring to Deters' threat at the previous meeting.) So -- well, I've been in peril before, and I just have to do the right thing and I think the right thing is to pass the rules."
After she finished, Friedman injected himself onto the record, first, duly notifying the board that they have the right to remove the prosecutor from this issue, altogether. He then said, "I would like to reiterate - and do not take this as a threat... but the prosecutor's position stands. ... [Deters] requests that the board not act, today, on this."
"Huh ---," Dumas uttered barely audible, taken aback by the disrespect. At one point, she leaned back in her chair a bit, threw her hands up slowly as if to say, "bring it on!" Instead, remaining composed, she leaned in as Friedman finished, and said in a stern manner, "Well - I would also ask - as the president of this board - ... that the prosecutor's office realizes that it has the authority and responsibility to fight as hard for this, as they would for anything else."
The board's legal counsel conceded and went back to his seat. The vote was called.
For the first time in county history, Hamilton County passed a resolution establishing rules to protect its residents and the environment.