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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
May 19, 2006

Phillips is suing Marc Dann again, this time for slander

Warren, Ohio--State senator and attorney general candidate Marc Dann was hit with a third lawsuit last week by a gay man who served four months in jail for a nonexistent sex crime while in Dann�s legal care.

Keith Phillips, now living in Youngstown, is suing Dann for defamation by slander, for a comment to a reporter after a candidate forum last month. The suit seeks $100,000 in damages.

In 2003, Phillips, while represented by Dann and his employee Ben Joltin, pleaded no contest to �importuning�--asking someone of the same sex for sex--months after the Ohio Supreme Court struck the law as unconstitutional and the city of Warren repealed their companion ordinance.

Phillips, 20 at the time, didn�t discover that the law no longer existed until he got out of jail.

The case became an issue in Dann�s Democratic primary campaign for Ohio attorney general against former Cleveland law director Subodh Chandra. Dann won that race, and will face Republican Betty Montgomery in the fall.

Dann�s handling of it came up in a heated exchange between him and Chandra during an April 17 forum at the Cleveland City Club.

Afterward, Dann told reporter Stephen Oravacez of the Warren Tribune Chronicle, �The fact is what we were facing at the time is the fellow was charged with a felony, trying to expose himself sexually to a child.�

The newspaper printed the quote the next day.

However, Phillips had already been cleared of any wrongdoing by two courts, the Warren Municipal Court and the Eleventh Ohio District Court of Appeals.

Phillips is already suing the Warren municipal judge that convicted him for another comment to the same paper that �He has a habit of pulling his pants down around young boys.�

Phillips has filed complaints against Dann, Joltin and others in federal and state courts related to his conviction and jailing.

The federal court dismissed Dann as a defendant after he told Judge Christopher Boyko he did not represent Phillips.

However, two months before the suit was filed, Dann told the Gay People�s Chronicle he did represent Phillips. He also claimed credit for representing him well.

�I stand behind the decision [Phillips] made and the advice we gave him,� said Dann in September, 2003.

Dann said Phillips would have spent more time in jail had the case gone to trial, so he and Joltin advised him to plead to the nonexistent gay sex crime instead.

Neither Dann nor Joltin presented evidence, including Phillips� time card and testimony from four co-workers, showing that Phillips was at work and there was no way he could have propositioned a 14-year-old boy, as he was accused of doing.

The attorneys also did not show the court that the youth�s description of the man to the police did not resemble Phillips, nor did the vehicle description match his car.

Before the City Club incident, Phillips had sued Dann for fraud, then backed off the suit after being challenged by Dann�s attorney, John O�Neil of Reminger and Reminger.

Phillips� attorney, Randi Barnabee, said the fraud claim was a matter of �unsettled law� and appealing would have slowed the claims against the others in the suit, so Dann was let out.

The new slander suit was filed May 10 in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.

Before filing it, Barnabee asked the Tribune Chronicle to verify that the quote was accurate, and that Dann had not sought a retraction.

The newspaper delayed that information until Barnabee threatened to include them in the suit and let a jury sort out who was responsible for the comment.

The Tribune Chronicle is in Dann�s district, and endorsed him early in the attorney general campaign.

According to Phillips� complaint, Dann �knowingly made in a public forum with media representatives present, which statement Dann knew or should have known to be either false or without any evidentiary support and basis in fact, which statement alleged or imputed a charge of an indictable offense involving moral turpitude, and which Dann either knew or should have known would be published in the media to the detriment of [Phillips and his] reputation.�

Two days later, O�Neil sent Barnabee a fax calling the suit frivolous, threatening sanctions and challenging Barnabee�s competence.

Barnabee faxed back: �Your bellicose demands will get your client nowhere this time.�

�Keith Phillips has a strong case for slander against Mr. Dann,� wrote Barnabee. �Mr. Dann has essentially characterized my client as a pedophile.�

�The fact is Keith Phillips was never charged with trying to expose himself sexually to a child,� she continued. �Mr. Dann�s comments suggesting otherwise are nothing more than a pathetic attempt to defend questions about his apparent failure as an attorney by vilifying my client.�

Barnabee then told O�Neil that if he asked the court for sanctions, she would have him sanctioned.

Phillips says he will also be filing an ethics complaint against Dann with the Ohio Supreme Court Disciplinary Counsel. Such a complaint could lead to Dann�s disbarment.

The case has been assigned to Judge John Stuard.

Neither Dann, his campaign, nor O�Neil responded to requests for comment.

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