Investigation found fault with two Trumbull public defender’s employees


By Ed Runyan

runyan@vindy.com

WARREN

After a three-day investigation, the Ohio Public Defender’s office on May 6 concluded that two employees of its Trumbull County branch deserved discipline for poor performance, poor judgment, “disruptive, offensive, abusive behavior or language towards an employee, client or member of the public,” and other things.

The employees are Rachel Zban, who was terminated May 10 from her job as program administrator; and Atty. David Rouzzo, who resigned his position as director of the office the same day and now works as a private attorney.

The Trumbull County branch has provided legal representation since 1984 to low-income defendants throughout the county’s court system.

The investigation, which began April 24, included interviews with Zban and Rouzzo, as well as eight other employees.

It focused on issues raised by co-workers of poor service and disrespect to clients.

In one instance cited, Rouzzo was accused of threatening bodily harm to a male defendant. The incident happened in a courtroom with the judge present.

In an interview with The Vindicator, Rouzzo agreed that he did “have words” with the defendant and apologized to the defendant and to the judge, but Rouzzo said the investigative report contains “a lot of untruths.” Rouzzo threatened to sue The Vindicator if it published an article containing false allegations.

Rouzzo said he has represented thousands of clients since 2007. To suggest that the way he treated the male client is indicative of the way he treats clients in general is untrue, he said.

The report also cited an instance in which Rouzzo is alleged to have upset murder defendant Claudia Hoerig and damaged the relationship between her and her attorneys by passing her a note that suggested she was lying.

It was during an early meeting Hoerig had with her attorneys in which she told them her story of what happened the night she killed her husband in their Newton Falls home. She was later convicted of the crime and sentenced to 28 years to life in prison. She confessed to shooting her husband to death.

Atty. John Cornely, head of the trial division of the Ohio Public Defender’s office, took over some Trumbull County cases last August when former Trumbull County office director Matt Pentz retired. Rouzzo was initially lead attorney in Hoerig’s case, but Cornely became the lead attorney later.

When The Vindicator asked Rouzzo whether the allegation about the note is true, he said, “These are all allegations that are largely false.” He said he could not talk more specifically about that one because of his obligation to keep communications with a client confidential.

Rouzzo declined to answer questions about other allegations in the report and ended the interview.

Zban’s termination letter says one of the agency rules she violated was “acts of discrimination or insult on the basis of race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, disability, political affiliation, military service or sexual orientation.”

The termination letter does not say what specific acts took place, but the investigative report mentions a remark she is alleged to have made about a black female attorney who stopped at the office to inquire about a job as an attorney.

Zban told The Vindicator the alleged remark “never happened.” She also said her termination was “a total surprise to me,” and “I have a 25-year career with tons of people who will speak up for me.”

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