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Former Ohio Parole Chief, Parole Attorney Alliance Raises Ethical Concerns

A business partnership between former head of the Ohio Parole Board, Margarette Ghee, and Ohio prisoner-turned-parole attorney, Derek Farmer, has raised ethical concerns in the legal and criminal justice communities.

After serving 18 years on a 1974 conviction of accessory to murder of a policeman, Farmer was paroled in 1992. With Ghee's help, he was granted admission to the University of Akron law school, and in November 1999, passed the Ohio bar exam. Farmer went to work for a Cincinnati law firm, but was soon forced to leave town because of unrelenting criticism from local police, prosecutors, and a common pleas judge.

Ghee, who supplied one of the votes granting Farmer parole, retired from the parole board on March 29, 2002. Although it is unclear exactly when, sometime in 2003 Farmer hired her to evaluate prisoners seeking parole for his Columbus law firm.

This partnership has drawn criticism from some. Boise State University prison law professor and ethical columnist for the journal of the American Probation and Parole Association, Craig Hemmens, says Farmer's assertion that Parole Board members still view Ghee as "the boss" fosters the belief that if prisoners hire the duo they are in effect buying their parole.

"I have no doubt that that's exactly what they think," said Hemmens. "With that association ... all the attorney has to say is, `This is what this person used to do,' and people can put two and two together. Can you legally do it? Yes. It just smells."

However, Ghee may have violated Ohio law, which prohibits officeholders from "feathering their nests" by even negotiating business deals that involve their former employers within one year of leaving office, says Ethics Commission executive director David Freel.

Canton attorney Norman Sirak, who filed a lawsuit against Ghee and the parole board in 2001 alleging they had denied prisoners certain constitutional rights and had perpetuated illegal parole criteria, has also filed a lawsuit against Farmer and Ghee. The suit alleges that Ghee incorrectly informed one of Sirak's clients that the state had already prevailed in his 2001 lawsuit.

"This woman promulgated guidelines which have added, on average, 5.2 years to the minimum trial court sentences," said Sirak. "The audacity of this woman to solicit money from the people that she has violated completely appalls me."

Farmer and Ghee deny any wrongdoing. "You know that I was chair for 10 years," said Ghee. "I loved what I did, I have respect for what I did, and I would never do anything to bring any negativeness on the department of corrections or myself."

Farmer also defended the partnership in a letter sent to clients in July 2003. "Be assured that neither Ms. Ghee or I have done anything unethical or illegal," wrote Farmer. "If someone feels threatened by my success and wants to join others in exploiting that success, then there is really nothing I can do but rumble. And rumble is what I intend to do."

Farmer's Akron attorney, Thomas Adgate, believes Farmer and Ghee did nothing wrong. "I think it's very ethical, and probably very smart, to hire someone who's well-connected," Adgate said. "Who doesn't want someone like that on your team? It's like hiring [Norman] Schwarzkopf as your defense consultant. That's a good person to have."

Source: The Cleveland Plain Dealer

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