A month after CityBeat reported that Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters raked in at least $2 million since declaring himself a part-time public official in 2009, Ohio state Sen. Cecil Thomas says he's introducing a bill that would prohibit prosecutors from engaging in private practice in counties of 400,000 or more residents.
Although elected to serve as one of the county's top law-enforcement officials, Deters has spent an undisclosed amount of his time working for private lawyers such as the disbarred Stan Chesley and the suspended Eric Deters. Between 2009 and 2004, he was paid $200,000 a year by the now-defunct Chesley firm in Cincinnati. He also received a $990,000 slice of a civil lawsuit settlement negotiated by that firm.
More recently, Deters represents plaintiffs who have filed a wave of lawsuits against the fugitive Abubakar Atiq Durrani, a Mason doctor criminally charged with performing numerous unnecessary surgeries and billing federal health care programs. Those lawsuits were filed by Eric Deters — no relation to Joe Deters — before his suspension in Kentucky.
Nowhere must Deters report how much time he spends on his elected duties versus his sideline practice, nor must he disclose to the state how moonlighting pads his $87,502 annual salary as prosecutor. CityBeat came upon his post-2009 compensation in his 2013 divorce file in Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court.
Among prosecutors in Ohio's 10 most-populated counties, Deters is the only one who works part time. Thomas' proposed bill would cover Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Summit, Montgomery and Lucas counties. It would allow prosecutors to lecture or teach at academic institutions and at bar association events.
"A county prosecutor interacts with judges and attorneys on a daily basis in his or her official capacity as prosecutor. Engaging in a separate law practice invites conflicts of interest," Thomas said in a statement.
"Prosecutors in large counties also take on very demanding caseloads. If the prosecutor has a private practice, there will always be concern that the taxpayers' interests are not a priority. Ohioans expect and deserve their county prosecutor to be engaged and in the office on a daily basis."
Joe Deters' forays into private practice have resulted in ethically murky situations. In one, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman was scolded by the Ohio Supreme Court for blocking the collection of a $42 million civil judgment against Chesley, Deters' recent employer and benefactor. Deters represented Ruehlman in his capacity as prosecuting attorney. Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke said Deters has "carried those ethical issues over the edge."
Efforts to reach Deters through his spokeswoman Julie Wilson were unsuccessful Friday morning.
If Deters is barred from moonlighting, he would have to settle for the prosecutor's full-time rate of $124,429 a year.