Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Lawyer Suspended for Intoxicating Teens and Groping One of Them

The Supreme Court of Ohio today suspended a Westlake attorney based on his criminal convictions for providing two teenage girls with alcohol and groping one of them.

A Supreme Court majority agreed that Daniel E. Perrico committed two ethics violations arising from the night he induced his then 15-year-old stepdaughter and her two 18-year-old friends into heavily drinking and then had inappropriate sexual contact with one of his stepdaughter’s friends.

The Court suspended Perrico for two years, with one year stayed on the condition that he commit no further misconduct. Justices Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, and Melody Stewart joined the per curiam opinion.

In a separate opinion, Chief Justice Sharon L. Kennedy stated that Perrico’s conduct amounted to the felony crime of gross sexual imposition and that he should have been suspended for two years with no stay. Justice Joseph T. Deters joined the chief justice’s opinion.

Justice Donnelly also wrote a separate opinion, expressing his concerns about the criminal process that formed the basis for Perrico’s discipline.  As the result of plea negotiations, Perrico was allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor assault, a crime that bore no legal or factual resemblance to the original charge of sexual imposition. This change, which occurred in the trial court without any explanation from the prosecution or trial court judge, allowed the lawyer to avoid having to register as a sex offender and permitted him to have his criminal record sealed. And it meant that his criminal conviction did not accurately represent to the board the nature or extent of Perrico’s misconduct. Justice Donnelly maintained that  “factually baseless plea agreement[s]” like Perrico’s could limit the disciplinary investigators’ ability to understand the true nature of an attorney’s alleged criminal conduct.

Justice Jennifer Brunner did not participate in the case.

Lawyer Gains Teens’ Confidence
Perrico married another attorney in 2007, and she had a 3-year-old daughter. The stepdaughter had a complicated relationship with her biological father and considered Perrico to be her father.

In 2019, the girl was a freshman in high school and joined the track team. She befriended two seniors on the team. Those girls also had complicated family relationships and began to regard Perrico as a father figure. Both the girls had Perrico’s cellphone number in their phones.

The stepdaughter remained friends with her track teammates after they graduated. In September 2019, the girls made plans to have a sleepover at Perrico’s house while Perrico’s wife was out of town. One of the girls was interested in going to culinary school and arranged to have Perrico teach her how to cook one of his recipes.

Perrico was 45 at the time, his stepdaughter was 15, and her friends were 18. On the evening of the sleepover, the stepdaughter attended a high school football game as her friend began her cooking lesson with Perrico. The other friend was at work and planned to join them later.

Perrico began providing the friend over for the cooking lesson with mixed alcoholic drinks and stood close to her as the two were alone in the kitchen. The teen would later testify that Perrico was softly caressing her arms and back in a way that made her “uncomfortable.”

When his stepdaughter returned home from the game around 10 p.m., Perrico began providing her and her friend alcoholic mixed drinks and then giving them shots of alcohol. The other friend arrived around midnight to find the stepdaughter and the friend intoxicated. Perrico handed the later-arriving friend an alcoholic drink, and soon after, they were all playing drinking games.

Intoxication Leads to Sexual Contact
Both of the stepdaughter’s friends drank too much and became sick. The friend over for the cooking lesson went to a bathroom in Perrico’s basement to vomit, while the other friend went to an upstairs bathroom.

The friend said Perrico came to the downstairs bathroom and sat on the floor next to the toilet. He then pulled her onto his lap and started sexually touching her over her clothes. The teen later said Perrico said, “All the dirty things I could do to you right now.”

Perrico’s stepdaughter checked on her friend and Perrico several times. She stated that each time she went to the basement, she found the bathroom door closed, even though she left it open each time she went back upstairs. Eventually, Perrico and his stepdaughter moved the teen out of the basement bathroom. The stepdaughter testified that she grabbed her friend’s feet while Perrico put his hands under the teen’s armpits and placed his hand on her breasts.

The friends left the next morning. Over the next several months, the friend who came over for cooking lesson stayed in touch with Perrico. She lived alone and had no family support, and she asked Perrico if he was willing to help her pay her rent and cosign a car loan. A text from Perrico indicated he gave her money for the rent.

At some point, the friend told Perrico’s stepdaughter and the other friend what Perrico had done to her, but the three young women agreed not to tell anyone. The stepdaughter told her friends that Perrico and her mother had a difficult relationship and disclosure of the events might further strain the marriage. However, the stepdaughter was upset about Perrico’s conduct with her friend, which caused her anxiety, and she began to see a therapist.

Almost a year and a half after the sleepover, the stepdaughter told her mother about Perrico’s behavior, and her mother demanded he move out of their Summit County home. The three young women then met with a Summit County sheriff’s deputy, who convinced the friend who was fondled to place a recorded call to Perrico. On the call, the teen accused Perrico of getting her “wasted” and groping her. He responded that he did not recall doing those things, and if he had, he was sorry.

Perrico was charged in Stow Municipal Court with furnishing alcohol to minors, and one count of sexual imposition. That same day, his wife filed for divorce.

Perrico agreed to plead guilty to furnishing alcohol to minors and assault. The assault offense to which Perrico plead is a higher degree crime, a first-degree misdemeanor, compared to the original charge of sexual imposition, a third-degree misdemeanor. However, a conviction for sexual imposition would have required Perrico to register as a sex offender. He received a 120-day suspended jail sentence and was placed on community control. After he received early release from community control, his conviction was sealed.

After his conviction was sealed and his divorce finalized, Perrico’s ex-wife reported his conviction to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

In February 2023, disciplinary counsel filed a complaint against Perrico with the Board of Professional Conduct based on the criminal convictions.

Board Considers Attorney’s Actions
Perrico, his stepdaughter, and her two friends testified at a board hearing. Perrico suggested the girls were experienced drinkers and voluntarily drank that night. He admitted he provided mixed drinks, but suggested his stepdaughter was the one pouring the shots. The three young women all testified that Perrico was pouring all the drinks and encouraging them to drink.

At the hearing, Perrico admitted that he said, “All the things I could do to you.” But he claimed he made the statement in the kitchen, and it was not sexual in nature. He could not explain at the hearing why he made the statement.

Perrico also testified that he pleaded guilty to assault because he felt that giving the teen alcohol caused her to get sick, which was a form of assault. But during the disciplinary investigation leading up to the hearing, he stated he agreed to plead to assault to avoid the sexual imposition conviction and being labeled a sex offender. He also testified in a deposition that he pled to assault based on “an unwanted touch, apparently.”

The board found that Perrico touched the teen in a sexual manner and that his conduct constituted sexual imposition, even though he was not convicted of that crime. The board found that Perrico violated the rules prohibiting a lawyer from committing an illegal act that adversely affects a lawyer’s honesty or trustworthiness, and for engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on Perrico’s fitness to practice law.

The board reported that while knowing it was against the law, Perrico furnished alcohol to the teenagers and “aggressively pushed them to drink.” The board found he knew the drinks would impair their judgment, and his “planned and predatory conduct” made the young women physically ill and gave him the opportunity to be alone with his stepdaughter’s friend and to engage in unwelcomed sexual contact with her.

The board noted Perrico’s stepdaughter testified that nearly four years after the incident, she was still being treated for anxiety. The board found that she was  “clearly devastated” at the hearing as she had lost the only father figure she had ever known, and he had essentially called her a liar on the witness stand.

The Court adopted the board’s recommendation that Perrico be suspended for two years with one year stayed. If he seeks reinstatement, he must submit proof that he had an alcohol assessment conducted by the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program or a qualified chemical dependency professional and that he is complying with any treatment recommendations that arise from that evaluation. The Court also ordered Perrico to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.

Harsher Sanction Appropriate, Concurrence Maintained
In her concurrence, Chief Justice Kennedy disagreed with the majority’s decision to rely on Perrico’s alleged cooperation in the disciplinary proceedings when deciding to stay one year of Perrico’s suspension. That “ignores the lie-filled testimony and evasive behavior that Perrico engaged in during his disciplinary hearing in an effort to avoid responsibility for his actions,” she stated.

The concurrence also noted that Perrico touched his stepdaughter’s friend in a sexual manner, knowing that she was heavily intoxicated. In explaining that Ohio courts have determined that such intoxication constitutes substantial impairment under Ohio law, Chief Justice Kennedy concluded that Perrico’s behavior constituted gross sexual imposition under R.C. 2907.05. While Perrico was not convicted of that felony, the Court can consider that behavior when determining a sanction for professional misconduct.

The chief justice wrote the Court can protect the public by demonstrating that the Court will not tolerate this type of behavior by an attorney.

“A two-year suspension with no stay would make such a statement,” she wrote.

Court Should Change Rule to Disallow Baseless Plea Deals, Concurrence Stated
In his concurrence, Justice Donnelly addressed how the circumstances of Perrico’s guilty plea showed how factually baseless pleas can hamper the board’s ability to assess an attorney’s conduct. The criminal complaint accused Perrico of offensive sexual contact with one of daughter’s teenaged friends.  Yet, Perrico pleaded to misdemeanor assault. These are two different crimes,  Justice Donnelly wrote. Sexual imposition, which involves sexual contact, is in no way related to assault, which involves physical harm. Perrico was allowed to change his plea to misdemeanor assault without any further explanation from the prosecutor or trial court and despite the criminal complaint making no accusation that Perrico had physically harmed his stepdaughter’s friend.

Justice Donnelly then observed that Perrico benefitted from pleading to this new, unrelated offense in several ways. But of greatest concern here was that the lack of a record explaining the basis for the change in offense that Perrico pleaded to, gave Perrico the ability to change the narrative and nature of his misconduct in a way that best suited him. A benefit Perrico took full advantage of throughout the disciplinary process, the concurrence noted. Had it not been for the three young women testifying about Perrico’s actions, the board would have had only the simple fact of Perrico’s conviction and whatever narrative Perrico crafted when it tried to assess his criminal conduct.

Acknowledging that the board was able to craft an appropriate sanction here, Justice Donnelly went on to state that this case nevertheless showed the problems with factually baseless plea agreements. Both the public and institutions like the board need to rely on the “integrity of the conclusions and outcomes reached by the criminal process,” including the process’s factfinding role, he wrote.But when the criminal justice system abdicates that role by allowing guilty pleas to crimes that are not related to the alleged conduct without any explanation, then it deprives the board of information necessary for it to do its job, the concurrence stated.  Justice Donnelly concluded that this case is another example of why Ohio should change its criminal rules to only allow a guilty plea to a charge that has a “factual basis in the conduct defendants actually commit.”

2023-1274. Disciplinary Counsel v. Perrico, Slip Opinion No. 2024-Ohio-1540.

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