Board urges ban for Jim Tressel's tipster

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The lawyer whose email tips about Ohio State players trading memorabilia for tattoos triggered a far-reaching scandal and the harshest NCAA punishment in the university's history should lose his law license for six months, a disciplinary board said Tuesday.

The Ohio Supreme Court's Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline also recommended that attorney Christopher Cicero pay $2,800 in court costs.

The board's ruling Tuesday now goes to the Supreme Court, which can accept, reject or change the recommendation.

Cicero's lawyer said he's hopeful the court will look at the issue differently.

"If they make a finding of misconduct, we hope they will not recommend a suspension," said attorney Alvin Mathews.

Cicero sent emails to former coach Jim Tressel in April 2010, warning him that players were selling memorabilia or trading them for tattoos. The correspondences helped launch the scandal and end Tressel's Ohio State career.

An NCAA investigation also led to a bowl ban this year, reductions in scholarships and the loss of Ohio State's $389,000 share of the Big Ten bowl pot a year ago. The entire 2010 season was also vacated.

At issue before the court is whether Cicero violated professional rules of conduct that prohibit revealing information from meetings with a client or a prospective client.

Cicero met with Columbus tattoo parlor owner Edward Rife on April 2, 2010, according to court documents, and again on April 15, 2010 to discuss whether Cicero would represent him in a federal drug trafficking case, according to a complaint against him by the Disciplinary Counsel of the Ohio Supreme Court.

Cicero, an Ohio State football player in the early 1980s, denies meeting with Rife on April 2, and says the goal of his meeting with Rife on April 15 was to confirm that Rife's partner, a former client of Cicero, wasn't involved with drug dealing or memorabilia sales.

Rife's house had been raided April 1 by federal drug investigators and Cicero wanted to know if his client, Joseph Epling, who was Rife's business partner, was involved in the case.

"Eddie Rife was never going to be my client in this case at all," Cicero told a three-member disciplinary panel at the Ohio Supreme Court last year. "I saw him as an ally and resource for Mr. Epling. That's how I viewed Mr. Rife's purpose in my office."

Rife pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering this year and was sentenced to three years in prison.

The Disciplinary Counsel of the Ohio Supreme Court alleged that Cicero violated professional conduct rules by revealing information from interviews with Rife, a potential client.

In the emails to Tressel, Cicero seemed to make it clear that he may have taken on Rife as a client.

"If he retains me, and he may, I will try to get these items back," Cicero wrote in an April 16, 2010 email.

"I have to sit tight and wait to see if he retains me, but at least he came in last night to do a face to face with me," Cicero wrote later that day.

Cicero denied he ever intended to represent Rife, but in last year's hearing he acknowledged telling Rife how much he would charge him as his lawyer. The lawyer who went on to represent Rife testified the amount was $10,000.

Cicero said he sent the emails to Tressel to protect the players and the program.

"However, he could easily have given the coach a heads-up without identifying Rife as a potential client," the board said Tuesday.