COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A lawyer whose emails to Ohio State University'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 represented or intended to represent a tattoo parlor owner who bought or traded tattoos for Ohio State memorabilia such as jerseys and championship rings.
Cicero, who faces penalties from a short suspension to disbarment, said the only goal of his meeting with Edward Rife on April 15, 2010, was to confirm that Rife's partner, a former client of Cicero, wasn't involved with drug dealing or memorabilia sales.
Rife's house had been raided earlier in the month 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 Ohio Supreme Court's Disciplinary Counsel has alleged that Cicero violated professional conduct rules by revealing information from interviews with Rife, a potential client.
A decision by the court's Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline is not expected for several weeks.
The Disciplinary Counsel says Rife met with Cicero twice, on April 2 and April 15, to discuss the possibility of Cicero representing him in his drug case. Rife testified under oath Monday that both meetings took place.
Cicero and his attorneys deny that Rife met with him on April 2.
It was emails Cicero sent to former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel in April 2010, warning him that players were selling memorabilia or trading them for tattoos, that helped launch the scandal and end Tressel's Ohio State career.
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.
The NCAA is expected to rule this year on what type of punishment the university should receive.
Cicero and his attorneys say 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 was not a client, they say.
"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 as a potential client looking for legal advice, argued Joseph Caliguiri, representing the court's Disciplinary Counsel.
Cicero quoted a figure of $10,000 to handle his 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.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.