This month’s “Jackass of the Month” award featured many fine contestants. Each exhibited the qualities of a true jackass — arrogance, intentional disregard of the law, superiority, and narcissim, to name a few.
But one attorney stood out head and shoulders above the crowd for his truly loathsome behavior as not only an officer of the court but as a prosecutor sworn to follow and uphold the law.
And so without further adieu, it is with great disgust I announce this month’s award for Jackasss of the Month goes to . . . . . . . .
Jason Richard Phillabaum, of Cincinnati, Ohio.
And Justice For All
According to public records and news reports, in 2010, Phillabaum was working as a prosecutor in the Butler County, Ohio prosecutor’s office.
In December 2010, another prosecutor in the same office presented evidence in a criminal case against one Tyler Johnson to a Butler County grand jury. The other prosecutor instructed the grand jury to vote on charges of aggravated robbery and felonious assault, but failed to present any evidence on any gun specifications related to the crime.
The next week, Phillabaum reviewed the indictment, noted it did not include any gun specifications, and instructed a legal assistant to add gun specifications to the indictment. The legal assistant told Phillabaum no gun specifications were included in the indictment because the prosecutor who had actually presented the case to a grand jury had not presented such specifications to the grand jury.
The legal assistant “felt uncomfortable” adding them to the indictment. After she was pressed by Phillabaum to add non-existent charges to the indictment, the legal assistant complied. The prosecutor who had actually presented the case to the grand jury, however, refused to sign the altered indictment because it was untrue — he had not presented any such evidence to the grand jury.
Undaunted by the inconvenience of truth, Phillabaum signed the indictment knowing it contained a false statement and further knowing the forged indictment would be filed with the clerk of the court.
On May 3, 2012, Phillabaum was indicted on two counts of forgery, one count of dereliction of duty, two counts of tampering with records, one count of interference with civil rights, and one count of using a sham legal process, all arising out of his conduct in the Johnson case. He pleaded guilty to a single count of dereliction of duty, a second-degree misdemeanor, and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, all suspended on the conditions that he successfully complete one year of community control and perform at least 75 hours of community service.
Interestingly, Phillabaum requested that taxpayers pay his legal defense bill. As reported, under Ohio law payment of legal fees only is warranted if the attorney was “acting in good faith and if he was properly performing his duties as a public official.” Phillabaum’s request was denied.
The Disciplinary Action
On March 3, 2014, a probable-cause panel of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline certified a two-count complaint filed against Phillabaum. The complaint alleged that while employed as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Butler County, Phillabaum had engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by failing to disclose exculpatory evidence to a criminal defendant and by signing two separate criminal indictments containing charges he knew had not been presented to the grand jury.
A panel of the board conducted a hearing and issued a report finding that by causing gun specifications that were not presented to the grand jury to be included in a criminal indictment, Phillabaum had knowingly made a false statement of fact to a tribunal, engaged in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, and prejudiced the administration of justice—all of which adversely reflected on his fitness to practice law.
On October 27, 2015, the Supreme Court of Ohio entered an opinion and order suspending Phillabaum from the practice of law for one year. See Disciplinary Counsel v. Phillabaum, Slip Op. No. 2015-Ohio-4346 (Ohio Oct. 27, 2015). The Supreme Court rejected a panel’s recommendation for a six-month stay of the one-year suspension. The Ohio court concluded a one-year suspension, with no stay, is the appropriate sanction.
After being fired from his job as a prosecutor, Phillabaum hung a shingle touting his experience as an assistant prosecutor for over ten years.
Ironically, as of July 2015, Phillabaum’s website promised his clients with “a level of professionalism and excellence that will be unparalleled.” Despite his suspension, Phillabaum’s LinkedIn profile continues to tout his current status as a practicing attorney and repeats his promise of “unparalleled professionalism.”
This case was first reported by the Legal Profession Blog.