Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Former Top Mahoning County Official’s Law License Suspended

The Ohio Supreme Court today suspended former Mahoning County Commissioner and Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally from practicing law based on criminal convictions for his role in the “Oakhill scandal.”

In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court disregarded the Board of Professional Conduct’s recommendation that McNally receive a public reprimand, and issued a one year suspension, with six month stayed.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, and R. Patrick DeWine joined the opinion. Justices Patrick F. Fischer and Mary DeGenaro did not participate in the case.

Opposition to Property Purchase Led to Criminal Convictions
The Mahoning County Bar Association alleged in 2017 that McNally violated multiple rules governing the conduct of Ohio attorneys when he served as a county commissioner in 2006 and 2007. McNally opposed the county’s purchase of the Oakhill Renaissance Center. A subsequent criminal investigation into the efforts by McNally and other local officials to thwart the purchase led to McNally pleading guilty to four misdemeanor charges.

Since the early 1980s, the Mahoning County Department of Job and Family Services had been located in spaced leased in the Ohio Valley Mall Company’s Garland Plaza. In 2006, the Southside Community Development Corporation, owners of Oakhill, sought to sell the county the property, which the county intended to use to relocate the job and family services offices. The Oakhill owners filed for bankruptcy, and the majority of county commissioners voted to purchase Oakhill and assume its debt.

McNally, the county treasurer, and the county auditor filed objections in the bankruptcy case, seeking to prevent the sale. The Carfaro Company, the Ohio Valley Mall’s parent company, also filed legal actions to block the sale and prevent the department’s relocation.

In 2008, the Youngstown Vindicator began to publish articles suggesting McNally and others acted unethically when opposing the Oakhill purchase. A special prosecutor was appointed to investigate, and in 2010, McNally, the county treasurer, and the county auditor were indicted on multiple criminal charges.

While the 2010 indictment against McNally was later dismissed, he was indicted again in 2014. In 2016, McNally pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors, including attempted unlawful use of a telecommunications device, attempted disclosure of confidential information acquired in the course of a public official’s duties, and making false statements in an official proceeding. The other counts were dismissed. He was sentenced to one year of community control, and agreed to place his law license on inactive status during that period. He also was ordered to perform 20 hours of community service, and to pay a $3,500 fine and $3,098 in court costs.

McNally completed his sentence, and he was returned to active status as a lawyer.

Bar Association Files Complaint
The county bar association filed a complaint against McNally with the Board of Professional Conduct alleging eight rule violations. The parties stipulated to the facts and the misconduct as well as to aggravating circumstances and mitigating factors that the board considers when recommending a sanction. A three-member board hearing panel agreed with the parties’ request to dismiss six of the eight charges, and found that McNally engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, and that he committed an illegal act that reflected on his honesty and trustworthiness.

Court Considers Sanction
The board recognized that rule violations involving dishonesty typically lead it to recommend that the Supreme Court suspend a lawyer from practicing law. But citing evidence, that McNally introduced at his disciplinary hearing to challenge the facts of his criminal convictions, the board concluded that McNally’s conduct should not lead to a suspension of his license to practice law.

The Court, however, recognized that once a lawyer pleads guilty to criminal charges, the facts of those charges cannot be challenged in a related attorney-discipline proceeding.

“Those facts cannot be explained away by the parties or the board,” the Court stated.

The opinion noted that among the charges McNally contested was giving false testimony in an official proceeding. The Court stated that had McNally told the truth during the proceeding, it would have raised additional questions about his association with the Carfaro Company and his motives for opposing the Oakhill purchase.

The Court concluded that the “seriousness of McNally’s conduct” warranted the suspension, which was stayed for six months on the condition that he not commit further misconduct. If he fails to comply with the condition, the stay will be lifted and he must serve the full year.

2017-1743. Mahoning Cty. Bar Assn. v. McNally, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-3719.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

Adobe PDF PDF files may be viewed, printed, and searched using the free Acrobat® Reader
Acrobat Reader is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated.