WILMINGTON — A local longtime attorney has been accused of instances of inappropriate behavior.
A 42-page ethics complaint, filed Oct. 30 by the Disciplinary Counsel to the Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court of Ohio, alleges that attorney and sometimes court-appointed legal counsel Richard Federle of Wilmington “has violated the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct by engaging in inappropriate communications and conduct with female court staff and clients.”
The complaint details multiple alleged incidents between Federle and six clients/would-be clients over parts of 15 years, including many pages of text messages and social media exchanges allegedly between Federle and the women.
When reached for comment Tuesday, Federle told the News Journal, “As the matter is still pending, I cannot comment on the allegations, facts or lack of facts at this time.”
In a recent story by Debra Cassens Weiss in the national publication ABA Journal, the self-described “flagship publication of the American Bar Association”, she noted the ethics allegations filed Oct. 30 include in part:
• Federle allegedly “told the client that sex was in lieu of legal fees,” Cassens Weiss reported.
• “Federle made comments of a sexual nature to a woman who worked as an administrative assistant and victim service coordinator at the Clinton County Municipal Court” and inappropriately touched her.
• “After being appointed to represent a drug client, Federle told the woman that she needs a man to take care of her. He also allegedly said the client can’t hustle drugs if she has any interest in a relationship.”
• “While discussing possible criminal representation with a client at his home” he allegedly tried to inappropriately touch her.
• “While representing a woman accused of telephone harassment, Federle allegedly made ‘multiple unsolicited and unwelcome personal comments’ to her on Facebook Messenger.”
Clinton County Municipal Court Judge Mike Daugherty told the News Journal Tuesday, “I was sorry to see the ABA Journal article earlier this month. News is supposed to report the facts, not editorialize. Even the headline of that article sensationalizes events which have not yet been adjudicated. I would have expected it from the Weekly World News, but I was disappointed to see it in that publication, which I had previously respected.”
Daugherty continued, “Mr. Federle has always been a fine attorney. Like several other attorneys, he accepts court appointments, and he always does an excellent job for his clients. I saw the article in March which included accusations found in some complaints. To my knowledge, the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct has not made any rulings on those complaints. Like every American accused of wrongdoing, Mr. Federle is presumed to be innocent, and should be treated as innocent. I cannot and will not guess what actions the Board may take, nor do I have any information about proceedings in other Courts.”
The ABA Journal article reported “Federle didn’t have an office and met with clients at his home or other secluded places” according to the complaint.
The complaint also notes that one of Federle’s accusers “settled her case against respondent, the City of Wilmington, and the two city officials who had served as her supervisors, for $145,000.”
The ABA Journal article reported that Federle did not immediately respond to the ABA Journal’s voicemail seeking comment. Cassens Weiss confirmed to the News Journal Monday that Federle had not responded.
The 42-page complaint is online at bit.ly/2IN32Yn .
In March the News Journal reported that “the attorney [Federle] for a suspect in a recent homicide case has been removed after police and court officials say that attorney was apparently under the influence of alcohol during a meeting” according to several law enforcement and court officials.
When reached by phone for comment in March about those allegations, Federle told the News Journal, “I am not in a position to comment at this time.”
The News Journal also reached out to Clinton County Prosecutor Andrew McCoy about the recent ethics complaint. He told the News Journal Tuesday, “Mr. Federle has never been employed by the Clinton County Prosecutor’s Office. He has been appointed as legal counsel for criminal defendants who qualify for public defender representation when that office had a conflict of interest with another co-defendant or victim. In that capacity he has previously served as appointed counsel in both the common pleas court and municipal court.”
McCoy added, “I am not aware if either court has appointed him to current cases, or if he is still on either’s list of available appointed counsel. That question should be directed to the respective judges.
“The complaint also referenced Mr. Federle’s prior employment as acting judge for the Clinton County Municipal Court. I would note that, although a court of county-wide jurisdiction, that court functions as a branch of City of Wilmington government,” McCoy said.