Lawyer denies misconduct claims
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A lawyer whose emails to Ohio State's former football coach triggered an ongoing scandal and NCAA investigation that cost the coach his job and led to several players' suspensions denied Monday he broke any legal misconduct rules.
Attorney Christopher Cicero testified he never intended to represent a tattoo parlor owner who bought or traded tattoos for Ohio State memorabilia such as jerseys and championship rings.
Cicero met with Columbus tattoo parlor owner Edward Rife on April 2, 2010, according to court documents, and again on April 15, 2010 to discuss whether Cicero would represent him in a federal drug trafficking case, according to a complaint against him by the Disciplinary Counsel of the Ohio Supreme Court.
Cicero, an Ohio State football player in the early 1980s, denied meeting with Rife on April 2, and said the goal of his meeting with Rife on April 15 was to confirm that Rife's partner, a former client of Cicero, wasn't involved with drug dealing or memorabilia sales.
Cicero sent emails to former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel in April 2010, warning him that players were selling memorabilia or trading them for tattoos. Those emails helped launch the Ohio State scandal and end Tressel's tenure as the Buckeyes' coach.
In an interview with ESPN's "Outside The Lines" in March, Cicero said he gave Tressel the names of two players -- starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor and receiver DeVier Posey -- because he wanted Tressel to be aware that the players were associating with Rife, who was then a subject in a federal criminal investigation.
"As a result of that, I also heard that they had been exchanging memorabilia with this particular person. And I outlined that in the email. I threw it out there, quite frankly, it was just to tell him [Tressel] that that's what it was," Cicero told ESPN in March.
Rife's house had been raided April 1 by federal drug investigators and Cicero wanted to know if his client, Joseph Epling, who was Rife's business partner, was involved in the case.
"Eddie Rife was never going to be my client in this case at all," Cicero told a three-member disciplinary panel at the Ohio Supreme Court. "I saw him as an ally and resource for Mr. Epling. That's how I viewed Mr. Rife's purpose in my office."
Rife pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering this year and was sentenced to three years in prison. He has not begun that sentence and testified against Cicero on Monday.
The Disciplinary Counsel has alleged that Cicero violated professional conduct rules by revealing information from interviews with Rife, a potential client.
Joseph Caliguiri, representing the court's Disciplinary Counsel, asked a panel of the court's Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline to suspend Cicero's license for six months. A decision is not expected for several weeks.
At the end of Monday's six-hour hearing, Cicero told reporters he wrote the emails the way he did to protect Epling. But he also said he's had second thoughts about whether he should have tipped Tressel.
"In hindsight I would never have given them to Jim Tressel knowing that the messages weren't passed on down to the kids," Cicero said.
In those emails, Cicero seems to make it clear that he may have taken on Rife as a client.
"If he retains me, and he may, I will try to get these items back," Cicero wrote in an April 16, 2010 email.
"I have to sit tight and wait to see if he retains me, but at least he came in last night to do a face to face with me," Cicero wrote later that day.
Ohio's legal conduct rules generally prohibit attorneys from divulging any information they received from someone who might be a prospective client.
News of the memorabilia sales emerged in December 2010, but not until March did the university discover that Tressel had known about the sales since the previous April and said nothing. That was a violation of both NCAA rules and Tressel's contract, which required the prompt reporting of any knowledge of such player infractions. Tressel resigned under pressure in May.
Cicero and his attorneys said the emails he sent Tressel were only meant to warn the coach about his players' actions and shouldn't be read as a breach of confidentiality, since Rife, they say, was not a client.
"This case exemplifies that things are not always as they appear," said Alvin Mathews, an attorney for Cicero. "The emails that were sent may not actually reflect what they appear to reflect."
The evidence was clear that Rife visited Cicero twice as a potential client looking for legal advice, on April 2 and April 15, Caliguiri told the panel.
Cicero quoted a figure of $10,000 to handle Rife's case, according to court documents and Rife's testimony Monday.
"I was thinking about hiring him to take my case and wanted him to know things about my case," Rife testified.
Information from ESPN reporter John Barr and The Associated Press was used in this report.