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Date: 09-15-2020

Case Style:

STATE OF OHIO - vs - KEVIN A. RINGS

Case Number: 19CA10

Judge: Robin N. Piper

Court: IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF OHIO FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT WASHINGTON COUNTY

Plaintiff's Attorney: Dave Yost, Attorney General, Andrea K. Boyd, Assistant Attorney General and Special
Prosecuting Attorney

Defendant's Attorney:


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{¶2} In 2017, Rings was the Washington County Prosecutor and became involved
in two criminal cases involving Amy Davis. The first case involved Davis as the criminal
defendant for her arrest on drug trafficking charges. The second criminal case involved
Davis as a victim and state's witness. While Davis was released on bond, she was severely
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 2 -
beaten by Jeremy Braun. Ryan Nichols observed the beating and did nothing to stop it.
Braun was indicted for felonious assault and kidnapping and Nichols was indicted on related
charges. Davis was to testify against Braun and Nichols regarding the charges against
them.
{¶3} Specific to the criminal charges against her, Davis pled guilty to an amended
drug charge and the remaining counts against her were dismissed. As part of Davis' agreed
plea and sentence, the state recommended a sentence of three years of community control,
60 days in jail, and Davis taking the first available opening at a drug treatment facility after
serving a minimum of 30 days in jail. Thus, Davis agreed to a minimum 30-day jail sentence
as part of her plea.
{¶4} Specific to the case in which Davis was the victim, Davis was the main witness
against Braun and Nichols. In preparing to prosecute Braun and Nichols, Rings was having
difficulty reaching Davis. Davis consented to her cell phone number being given to Rings
in order to contact her. Rings began to text Davis regarding her testimony and the pair also
exchanged a few telephone calls. The text messages between the two occurred between
June 30th and July 6th. Within these messages, both sent text messages of a flirtatious
nature. Davis sent Rings a photograph of herself in a negligee and other photographs that
could be considered provocative.
{¶5} On July 6, 2017, Davis met with Rings in his office. Davis claimed that when
she entered Rings' office, he began to rub her head, kissed her, forced her to kiss him, and
attempted to unbutton her shirt. After Davis rebuffed Rings' advances, the meeting
continued for another 60 minutes wherein they discussed her potential testimony. Davis
texted Rings later that evening suggesting, "maybe I'll show you what it's like to have fun.
You only live once. What's a life that's spent in a boring office 24/7? Strippers, casino
equal fun hahaha."
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 3 -
{¶6} Ten days after the meeting, a confidential informant told a West Virginia police
officer about the situation, and the Washington County Sherriff was informed of the text
messages between Davis and Rings. The Sherriff requested assistance from Ohio's
Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and an agent interviewed Davis. Davis admitted that she
flirted with Rings in an attempt to make him like her so that she would not "get in as much
trouble."
{¶7} The grand jury indicted Rings for two misdemeanor counts of coercion and
sexual imposition. Rings pled not guilty to the charges and the matter proceeded to trial.
Rings was found not guilty of sexual imposition by the jury, but guilty of coercion. The trial
court sentenced Rings to 60 days in jail.
{¶8} Rings now appeals his conviction, raising four assignments of error for our
review. However, finding the first assignment of error dispositive of the appeal, the other
assignments of error are moot.
{¶9} Assignment of Error No. 1:
{¶10} THE JURY'S VERDICT AS TO COERCION IS NOT SUPPORTED BY
SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE.
{¶11} Rings argues in his first assignment of error that his conviction was not
supported by sufficient evidence.
II. Insufficiency of the Evidence
{¶12} When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence underlying a criminal
conviction, an appellate court examines the evidence to determine whether such evidence,
if believed, would support a conviction. State v. Koster, 4th Dist. Lawrence No. 14CA25,
2016-Ohio-2851. The relevant inquiry is whether, after viewing the evidence in a light most
favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential
elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Johnson, 4th Dist. Ross
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 4 -
No. 14CA3459, 2016-Ohio-867. "To reverse a judgment of a trial court on the basis that
the judgment is not sustained by sufficient evidence, only a concurring majority of a panel
of a court of appeals reviewing the judgment is necessary." State v. Miller, 96 Ohio St.3d
384, 2002-Ohio-4931, ¶ 38.
{¶13} Rings was convicted of coercion in violation of R.C. 2905.12, which provides,
"no person, with purpose to coerce another into taking or refraining from action concerning
which the other person has a legal freedom of choice, shall do any of the following: take,
withhold, or threaten to take or withhold official action, or cause or threaten to cause official
action to be taken or withheld." Thus, the state had the burden to prove that the defendant
threatened with the purpose to "coerce another into taking or refraining from taking action
concerning which that person has a legal freedom of choice." State v. Conese, 102 Ohio
St.3d 435, 2004-Ohio-3889, ¶ 13. "Threat" includes a direct threat and a threat by innuendo.
R.C. 2905.12(E)(1).
{¶14} The state's theory of the case was, essentially, that Rings coerced Davis by
threatening her with official action if she did not respond to him in the ways he wanted
including answering his text messages and engaging in a sexual relationship with him.
During trial, the state presented text messages between Rings and Davis to show the
flirtatious nature of the messages, including overt and veiled reference to the sexual interest
Rings had for Davis and her responses indicating reciprocal interest. While it may be
reasonably inferred that Rings had a sexual attraction to Davis, the text messages do not
demonstrate that Rings threatened to use his power to either take or withhold official action
regarding Davis or her criminal case.
Power-Related Text Messages
{¶15} Some of the text messages were sent with the specific declaration that Rings
would not take or withhold action in any way that would wield power over Davis. Rings
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 5 -
expressly stated in one message that he would "NEVER want to use any power [he] might
have to coerce or manipulate" Davis. (Emphasis sic.) He also recognized the importance
of not doing "anything that would appear to be taking advantage of [Davis'] situation." Rings
also texted that he did not want "anyone to ever be able to say, well [Davis] only paid
attention to you because you threatened her with legal stuff. That simply cannot happen.
So …. I have to behave."
{¶16} While Davis testified that she believed Rings held power over her and her
criminal case, Rings' messages to Davis established that she held the power when it came
to the sexual suggestiveness of their text message exchanges. In one text, Rings told
Davis, "feel free to tell me to 'fuck off.'" He also asked Davis what she was thinking one
day and followed up his question with the statement, "I need to know where you are, so I
don't make a fool of myself." Later in their exchanges, Rings tells Davis to "please let me
know if my texts start to annoy you." Davis responded, "Awwwww im blushing!!! N no u
don't annoy me silly, loll I LOVE IT, MAKES ME FEEL IMPORTANT." [sic] (Emphasis sic.)
Davis then followed up her response with three emojis: a smiley face with hearts for eyes,
a red heart, and red lips.
{¶17} Rings also allowed the conversations to progress at Davis' pace. In one text,
after Rings asked for information on a woman Davis knew, Davis noted that she was
spending time with her family that day. Rings responded, "if you are into something good
with your family, do not let me mess it up. I can wait - - there is always tomorrow." Rings
made no demands of Davis, and never threatened her with the use of his office if she did
not want to continue the text message exchanges.
The July 4th Texts
{¶18} On July 4, 2017, Rings and Davis exchanged text messages that the state
offered as proof that Rings coerced Davis. When Davis did not answer Rings' text
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 6 -
messages from 11:06 that morning, Rings sent Davis the following message at 5:06 p.m.,
"Seems like you don't really want to chat with me. I guess we'll talk about all of this in court
someday soon." Even when viewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution, once the
text message is placed in the context of Davis' role as a key witness against the man who
beat her, Rings' statement was simply noting that Davis was expected to appear in court as
a witness and testify during which Rings would be asking her questions.
{¶19} In fact, Rings' text message noting Davis' unwillingness to chat was sent in
response to their earlier text message exchange in which Rings asked Davis to meet with
him to discuss the criminal case against Braun and Nichols. Rings texted Davis, "Your case
is important!! You are a true victim of a terrible crime." When Rings texted Davis on July
4th, he referenced meeting with Davis, and when she did not respond for several hours,
texted the comment indicating that the two would speak about the criminal matter in court
one day. Rings did not threaten the use of his office; he merely referenced Davis' role as a
witness in a future court case.
"Legal Stuff" Texts
{¶20} On July 5th, Rings texted Davis and told her he hoped she had fun watching
fireworks on the previous night. He then told Davis it was important for them to have time
to talk. This exchange came immediately after Rings texted Davis the evening before about
her role as a witness, "first thing is to get through the criminal stuff with Braun and Nichols.
Then, you can focus all your attention on your children, and yourself." After Davis did not
answer Rings for a few hours after his message to her on the morning of July 5th, Rings
texted, "wow. You really don't want to talk to me, do you??? All right. I am gonna leave
you alone, young lady. Good luck with all your legal stuff. Hope all of that works out for the
best. I will talk to you about Mr Braun after your sentencing hearing. I am certain where
you will be then." [sic.] While the state suggested this text message was threatening jail
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 7 -
time, the fact remained that Davis and the state had already negotiated an agreed sentence
whereby Davis would go to jail for a minimum of 30 days and then to a drug treatment facility
once there was an opening.
{¶21} Rings was correct that he was "certain" where Davis would be after
sentencing because she and the state had already agreed to a recommended sentence of
at least 30 days in jail, which would commence after sentencing. Everyone associated with
the situation, not just Rings, knew where Davis would be after sentencing given the agreed
sentence and signed plea form. Even when viewed in a light most favorable to the
prosecution there was simply no "official action" Rings could take or withhold (or even
threaten to take or withhold) in relation to Davis' sentencing. That remains true whether the
consideration is in the context of a threat or innuendo of a threat.
{¶22} To further place the specific text in its proper context, once Davis answered
Rings, he stated, "I don't mean to stress you out. It just seemed like you were trying very
hard to avoid speaking to me. Which makes me nervous about [my] ability to do my job."
As noted above, the only thing Rings stated he would do in the future was to talk to Davis
about Braun, which was specifically related to Rings' obligation as prosecutor. On this
occasion, Rings' text message was specific to Davis' role as a state's witness, not anything
of a sexual nature that coerced Davis into taking any specific action or inaction other than
testifying at a future trial.1
{¶23} Although there is no doubt that Rings texted sexually related messages and
returned Davis' flirtation, other messages were specific to Rings' prosecution of Braun.
During one exchange, Rings asked Davis, "what the hell am I gonna do with you?" Davis
responded, "whatever u want…" Rings then stated, "oh really? Here is what I want you to

1. The coercion statute expressly provides that prosecutors are not subject to the coercion statute when they
take certain good faith actions in the interests of justice. R.C. 2905.12(B).
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 8 -
do . . . . tell the truth about Braun [ ], and then we'll see what happens after that." Davis
then responded, "I did n I will." [sic.] As noted above, Rings referenced the case against
Braun and that Davis' participation as a witness was necessary for the case. He did not,
however, threaten to use his role as prosecutor against Davis during the text messages that
were of a sexual nature, and any perception otherwise is unreasonable given the context
of the text message exchanges.
Sentencing Texts
{¶24} The state attempted to show that Davis felt coerced into doing what Rings
wanted given her impending sentencing hearing. During her testimony, Davis stated that
she was afraid of Rings because "he's the prosecuting attorney. He can - - he could do
whatever he wanted to me. * * * max me out, prison sentence." However, Davis had signed
a plea agreement in which she had already agreed to a jail sentence. Moreover, during
their text messages, Ring explained more than once that only the judge would sentence
Davis.
{¶25} Despite Davis' testimony that she believed Rings controlled her sentence,
Rings and she texted about her sentencing hearing and her possibly missing a summer
vacation with her children. During this exchange, Rings stated, "Do you remember when
you are to be sentenced? When is vacation over?? I could TRY to get your sentencing
moved back until after vacation. That way, you could go with the family before going to
rehab. Maybe. I need you here on August 14 to testify." (Emphasis sic.) Rings
emphasized that he could "TRY" to have the date changed, and that changing the date was
only a "maybe." However, Rings never offered to try and change the length of the sentence
or to try and eliminate jail time for Davis' crime. At most, Rings offered to try and change
the date of sentencing, offering to assist her so that she might be more cooperative in
testifying against Braun and Nichols. Yet, he did not promise to do so, nor premise his
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 9 -
attempt to intervene on any sexual favors. Instead, Rings specifically noted that he needed
Davis to testify on August 14th as part of Braun's prosecution.
{¶26} In a series of text messages, Rings and Davis discussed Davis having a
meeting with probation for a presentence investigation. Davis asked Rings what a
presentence investigation report was, and Rings answered, "the report to the Judge about
your case to assist in imposing a sentence." In a follow up message, Davis suggested that
each judge should have to spend six months in jail before ever sentencing someone so that
judges could understand the impact jail had on people. Rings responded that he had never
wanted to be a judge for that reason and that he did not want "the responsibility for someone
else's fate." Davis testified that based on Rings' explanation of the presentence
investigation process, she "really understood" what the report was. Thus, Davis understood
that only the trial court could sentence her. Furthermore, Rings never implied, even by
innuendo, that he could take official action to override the agreed plea.
{¶27} Moreover, and as noted above, Davis negotiated a plea wherein she agreed
to spend 30 days in jail and participate in a drug rehabilitation program. While the sentence
was jointly recommended and the trial court could sentence as it saw fit, Davis knew the
responsibility of sentencing was solely on the judge. The state's attempt to show that Rings
implied the use of his official power to affect Davis' sentence is simply unsupported by
evidence where Davis already agreed to a jail sentence and understood that the judge
would impose the sentence, not Rings.
Children-Related Texts
{¶28} The state also suggested that Rings used Davis' children as a coercion tactic.
During some of the text messages, Davis referenced her children and that she did not have
custody of them. Davis told Rings that her children "r my, life, without them [I'm] nothing…..
Love my babies." Rings responded, "first thing is to get through the criminal stuff with Braun
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 10 -
[ ]. Then, you can focus all of your attention on your children, and yourself. I will help you
with all of that, if I can." However, Rings did not promise to take or withhold any official
action regarding Davis' child custody situation in exchange for Davis doing what he wanted,
and he specifically noted that he would help "if" he was able. (Emphasis added.) This text
message does not demonstrate Rings' use, or threatened use, of his position when he
acknowledged to Davis that he was unaware if he could even help Davis with her situation.
{¶29} Even if Rings had conditioned his willingness to potentially help Davis at a
future date with her children, he did so based on Davis' contribution to the prosecution of
Braun, which is something prosecutors can do legally and ethically as part of the process
of trying cases and ensuring witness participation. Even then, there simply was no quid pro
quo approaching "coercion."
{¶30} Davis also testified that she would have exchanged sexual activity for Rings
helping her with her children or her criminal case. However, no sexual exchange occurred.
Thus, the only inference to be made is that Davis knew that Rings could not, in fact, use his
power to help her with either her sentencing or her custody issues. Otherwise, and
according to her own testimony, Davis would have exchanged sexual favors for Rings' use
of power to assist her with her issues, which never happened.
Davis' Reaction to the Text Message Exchanges
{¶31} The state focused on the sexual nature of the text messages to show that
such caused Davis discomfort. While Davis testified that she felt "overwhelmed" and that
she sometimes did not understand why Rings was texting her, Davis' testimony clearly
demonstrates that the text messages were invited, welcomed, and not something she
perceived as threatening or coercive. Davis never testified that she was being coerced to
do something particular, and never testified that Rings threatened the use of his public office
against her.
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 11 -
{¶32} When asked how Rings' text messages made her feel, she replied "good. It
felt good." Davis also testified that when she responded to Rings' messages, including
when she sent pictures of herself in a negligée, that she was "flirting" because she wanted
Rings to know that she "wasn't that dirty person in orange."2 Rather than feeling coerced
or forced into any action, Davis testified that she felt comfortable texting Rings enough that
she "said what [she] wanted to" during the message exchanges. Davis testified that she
also felt "flattered" and "comfort[ed]," and that sending Rings pictures of herself in her
lingerie made her "feel better about myself."
{¶33} When asked why she chose to respond to Rings' text messages, rather than
indicating she felt coerced to do so, Davis testified that it was because she "didn't want to
just not text him back. I didn't want to be rude." Davis also testified that she exchanged text
messages with Rings because, "I thought it would be in my favor."3
{¶34} As noted earlier, Davis and Rings exchanged messages on the day of the
meeting wherein Davis alleged that Rings forced himself upon her sexually. In addition to
the text regarding strippers and casinos, Davis texted, "see, maybe we can both save each
other…. You only live once n you never know when you gonna go…. Take chances, have
fun, make memories, love your babies… [because] in the end, that is all that matters." Rings
later texted Davis, "so…. We still have a few things we need to talk about…. I think we
need [to] talk sometime where I can bring [a detective] along. He knows the case pretty
well. Probably better than I do." Davis responded, "ok cool." Soon thereafter, the text
message exchange between Davis and Rings ended when Rings blocked further
communication from Davis. However, Davis did not mention any discomfort she allegedly

2. Davis referenced her mug shot in some of the text messages and also suggested that she "cleaned up
nice" as compared to her appearance when she was arrested and appeared in jail clothing.

3. Davis' testimony directly contradicts the state's theory of coercion contained in the Bill of Particulars, that
Davis felt threatened and thus needed to respond to Rings' texts.
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 12 -
felt. Nor did she raise the issue that Rings was using or threatening to use official power to
make her do something she did not want to do.
III. Conclusion
{¶35} The state clearly established Rings' behavior in multiple ways was morally
unacceptable and inappropriate for a prosecutor. The state repetitively impugned Rings'
character with evidence inferring that Rings intended to develop a relationship at some point
in time that was sexual in nature with Davis. However, neither the text messages, nor Davis'
testimony, demonstrate that Rings attempted to purposely coerce Davis into taking or
refraining from taking action concerning which she had a legal freedom of choice. Nor does
the evidence demonstrate that Rings threated by innuendo that Davis do whatever he
wanted in order for her to avoid the use of his power. Evidence of poor judgment and poor
character is not sufficient to satisfy the specific elements of coercion. After viewing the
evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, we find that any rational trier of fact
could not have found the essential elements of coercion proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
{¶36} Having found that Rings' conviction for coercion is not supported by sufficient
evidence, we sustain his first assignment of error. Given this disposition, we find Rings'
three other assignments of error moot.4
{¶37} Judgment reversed, and the matter is remanded so that Rings may be
discharged.
M. POWELL, P.J., concurs.
S. POWELL, J., dissents.
S. POWELL, J., dissenting.
{¶38} The standard of review an appellate court applies when reviewing whether a

4. We would not disagree with the Dissent's resolution of Rings' Fourth Assignment of Error were we to
consider such.
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 13 -
conviction is supported by sufficient evidence is well established. "When a court reviews a
record for sufficiency, '[t]he relevant inquiry is whether, after viewing the evidence in a light
most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential
elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt.'" State v. Maxwell, 139 Ohio
St.3d 12, 2014-Ohio-1019, ¶ 146, quoting State v. Jenks, 61 Ohio St.3d 259 (1991),
paragraph two of the syllabus; Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781 (1979). In
making this determination, "[t]he court must defer to the trier of fact on questions of
credibility and the weight assigned to the evidence." State v. Dillard, 4th Dist. Meigs No.
13CA9, 2014-Ohio-4974, ¶ 27, citing State v. Kirkland, 140 Ohio St.3d 73, 2014-Ohio-1966,
¶ 132. Whether a conviction is supported by sufficient evidence is a question of law that
we review de novo. State v Jackson, 4th Dist. Highland No 18CA7, 2018-Ohio-4289, ¶ 10;
State v. Allah, 4th Dist. Gallia No. 14CA12, 2015-Ohio-5060, ¶ 8.
{¶39} Applying this standard of review, I believe the text message exchanges
between Rings and Davis, coupled with testimony elicited at trial, established each of the
essential elements of coercion in violation of R.C. 2905.12. Davis, having the legal freedom
of choice whether she would text message, sext, or engage in sexual relations with Rings,
was faced with a prosecutor who wanted those things and was implying to Davis the
vigorous or lackluster prosecution of her attackers if she did not respond favorably to his
advances, thus leaving Davis vulnerable to her attackers' future retribution. Therefore,
when viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, I believe the state
provided sufficient evidence to support Rings' conviction for coercion in violation of R.C.
2905.12. Accordingly, because I would find the state provided sufficient evidence to support
Rings' conviction, I must dissent from the majority's decision as it relates to Rings' first
assignment of error.
{¶40} However, although I believe the state provided sufficient evidence to support
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 14 -
Rings' conviction for coercion in violation of R.C. 2905.12, I would nevertheless reverse
Rings' conviction and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings based
upon Rings' fourth assignment of error. In his fourth assignment of error, Rings argues the
trial court abused its discretion by (1) permitting David Andrew Wilson, the former
Prosecutor for Clark County, Ohio, to give his expert opinion on the manner in which Ohio's
Rules of Professional Conduct pertain to prosecutors, and by (2) permitting Wilson to testify
that the text messages Rings' sent to Davis violated Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct.
I agree.
{¶41} The trial court determined that Wilson's expert testimony regarding his
knowledge of Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct as it pertains to prosecutors was
admissible as it would provide "a discussion of the standards of conduct contained within
the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct," something which the trial court found relevant to
the "understanding of a lay jury." However, although the trial court determined that Wilson
could provide expert testimony regarding his knowledge of Ohio's Rules of Professional
Conduct, the trial court determined that Wilson was not permitted to "render opinions" as to
whether Rings "violated any particular rule or criminal statute." But, despite the trial court's
ruling, and over multiple objections, Wilson nevertheless testified:
[B]ased on my knowledge, my training, and my experience in
the field of prosecution and my knowledge and training on the
Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, I - - I find no legitimate or
appropriate reason under [Rule 3.8], in light of the prosecutor's
duty to be a minister of justice, for these types of texts or
communications between a - - a prosecutor and a - - and a
witness or a victim.5
{¶42} Thereafter, when asked what he based his opinion on, Wilson testified:
[M]any years of training in - - in this field. Many years of work in

5. Rule 3.8 of Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct sets forth a prosecutor's responsibilities. It does not say
anything about texting to, communicating to, or having a romantic interest in, a victim or witness. The idea
that prosecutors are "ministers of justice" is only in a comment to the rule.
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 15 -
this field. Many hours of interactions with victims, especially
victims who are vulnerable. Victims of physical or emotional
abuse, and many, many hours of training in professional
conduct and ethics."
{¶43} The state then relied on Wilson's testimony in its closing argument by telling
the jury that "it's pretty clear what everyone thought after reading these messages. It's a
violation of [the] code."
{¶44} In State v. Searfoss, 6th Dist. Wood Nos. WD-18-005, WD-18-007, and WD18-008, 2019-Ohio-4619, the trial court permitted the state to use the Trust Code, R.C.
Chapters 5801 to 5811, as well as Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct, as evidence at a
jury trial where the appellant was being tried for aggravated theft, money laundering,
engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, grand theft, theft, and aggravated theft. The state
then relied upon the Trust Code and Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct as part of its
closing argument to establish appellant's guilt. After being found guilty, appellant appealed
his conviction to the Sixth District Court of Appeals and argued that the trial court erred
when it "allowed the state to reference the Trust Code and the Rules of Professional
Conduct in its closing argument, thereby supplanting the trial court's exclusive role" to
instruct the jury as to the applicable law. Id. at ¶ 123. The Sixth District agreed.
{¶45} In so holding, the Sixth District determined that the trial court's decision
allowing the state to use the Trust Code and Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct as
evidence of appellant's guilt "set the stage for the jury to improperly hold appellant criminally
accountable for his alleged violation of non-criminal statutes pertaining to a trustee's
fiduciary duty and rules governing the practice of law." Id. at ¶ 126. The Sixth District found
this was "further solidified" when "the state relied upon appellant's violation of the prohibition
against trustee commingling contained in R.C. 5808.10(B) to make its case concerning the
charges of theft, money laundering, and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity." Id. This,
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 16 -
according to the Sixth District, may have "confused the jury by inviting a criminal conviction
premised upon the violation of civil laws." Id. at ¶ 129. As the Sixth District stated:
[A]ppellant's knowledge of appropriate trustee conduct under
the Trust Code is not a concern in this case, where appellant is
charged with criminal, not civil, wrongdoing. As stated above,
this is a theft case. Even if appellant violated the Trust Code
and the Rules of Professional Conduct, such violations do not
constitute crimes.
Id. at ¶ 128.
{¶46} I believe the Sixth District's rationale in Searfoss applies here. Similarly to the
facts set forth in Searfoss, Wilson's expert testimony regarding Rings' alleged violation of
Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct was highly prejudicial to Rings. This is because,
through Wilson's expert testimony, the state was able to suggest that Rings must be held
to a higher standard given the ethical obligations of prosecutors as set forth by Ohio's Rules
of Professional Conduct. The higher standard imposed on Rings through Ohio's Rules of
Professional Conduct, coupled with Wilson's expert testimony that the text messages
exchanged between Rings and Davis were inappropriate and unethical, made it much more
difficult, if not impossible, for the jury to treat Rings the same as any other public official
charged with coercion. This higher standard instead allowed the jury to infer Rings was
guilty by virtue of his alleged breach of Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct. Just like in
Searfoss, this connection was further solidified during the state's closing argument when
the state relied upon Rings' alleged violation of Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct to
establish Rings' guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
{¶47} Similar to the state in Searfoss, the state in this case used Rings' alleged civil
wrongdoing to bolster its criminal case against him. The Sixth District found this constituted
reversible error. I agree with the Sixth District. This becomes even more clear in this case
when considering the state argued to the jury that the public deserved better than the
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 17 -
actions taken by Rings and implored the jury to "expect more. Expect more from your
elected official. Expect more from our society." However, while I agree that we should
expect more from our elected officials, even when assuming Rings' conduct was a violation
of Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct, such inappropriate and unbecoming behavior by
an elected official does not necessarily mean it was also a crime under the Ohio Revised
Code.
{¶48} Just as in Searfoss, I believe the trial court's decision to admit Wilson's expert
testimony may have misled the jury into believing a prosecutor's violation of Ohio's Rules
of Professional Conduct was the professional equivalent to a criminal defendant's violation
of the Ohio Revised Code. Given the potential confusion that may have arisen within the
members of the jury, I believe the trial court's decision to admit Wilson's expert testimony
was an abuse of discretion. Therefore, while I find the state did provide sufficient evidence
to support Rings' conviction of coercion in violation of R.C. 2905.12, I would nevertheless
sustain Rings' fourth assignment of error, overrule as moot Rings' second and third
assignments of error, reverse Rings' conviction, and remand this matter to the trial court for
further proceedings.
Piper, J., of the Twelfth Appellate District, sitting by assignment of the Chief Justice,
pursuant to Section 5(A)(3), Article IV of the Ohio Constitution.
M. Powell, J., of the Twelfth Appellate District, sitting by assignment of the Chief
Justice, pursuant to Section 5(A)(3), Article IV of the Ohio Constitution.
S. Powell, J., of the Twelfth Appellate District, sitting by assignment of the Chief
Justice, pursuant to Section 5(A)(3), Article IV of the Ohio Constitution.

Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 18 -
JUDGMENT ENTRY
[Cite as State v. Rings, 2020-Ohio-4342.]
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF OHIO
FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT
WASHINGTON COUNTY
STATE OF OHIO,
Plaintiff-Appellee,
- vs -
KEVIN A. RINGS,
Defendant-Appellant.
:
:
:
:
:
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Case No. 19CA10
DECISION AND
JUDGMENT ENTRY
RELEASED 8/28/2020
APPEARANCES:
Dave Yost, Attorney General, Andrea K. Boyd, Assistant Attorney General and Special
Prosecuting Attorney, 150 East Gay Street - 16th Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215, for
appellee
Dennis W. McNamara, 88 East Broad Street, Suite 1350, Columbus, Ohio 43215, for
appellant
Piper, J.
{¶1} Defendant-appellant, Kevin Rings, appeals his conviction in the Washington
County Court of Common Pleas for a single count of coercion.
I. Facts
{¶2} In 2017, Rings was the Washington County Prosecutor and became involved
in two criminal cases involving Amy Davis. The first case involved Davis as the criminal
defendant for her arrest on drug trafficking charges. The second criminal case involved
Davis as a victim and state's witness. While Davis was released on bond, she was severely
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 2 -
beaten by Jeremy Braun. Ryan Nichols observed the beating and did nothing to stop it.
Braun was indicted for felonious assault and kidnapping and Nichols was indicted on related
charges. Davis was to testify against Braun and Nichols regarding the charges against
them.
{¶3} Specific to the criminal charges against her, Davis pled guilty to an amended
drug charge and the remaining counts against her were dismissed. As part of Davis' agreed
plea and sentence, the state recommended a sentence of three years of community control,
60 days in jail, and Davis taking the first available opening at a drug treatment facility after
serving a minimum of 30 days in jail. Thus, Davis agreed to a minimum 30-day jail sentence
as part of her plea.
{¶4} Specific to the case in which Davis was the victim, Davis was the main witness
against Braun and Nichols. In preparing to prosecute Braun and Nichols, Rings was having
difficulty reaching Davis. Davis consented to her cell phone number being given to Rings
in order to contact her. Rings began to text Davis regarding her testimony and the pair also
exchanged a few telephone calls. The text messages between the two occurred between
June 30th and July 6th. Within these messages, both sent text messages of a flirtatious
nature. Davis sent Rings a photograph of herself in a negligee and other photographs that
could be considered provocative.
{¶5} On July 6, 2017, Davis met with Rings in his office. Davis claimed that when
she entered Rings' office, he began to rub her head, kissed her, forced her to kiss him, and
attempted to unbutton her shirt. After Davis rebuffed Rings' advances, the meeting
continued for another 60 minutes wherein they discussed her potential testimony. Davis
texted Rings later that evening suggesting, "maybe I'll show you what it's like to have fun.
You only live once. What's a life that's spent in a boring office 24/7? Strippers, casino
equal fun hahaha."
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 3 -
{¶6} Ten days after the meeting, a confidential informant told a West Virginia police
officer about the situation, and the Washington County Sherriff was informed of the text
messages between Davis and Rings. The Sherriff requested assistance from Ohio's
Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and an agent interviewed Davis. Davis admitted that she
flirted with Rings in an attempt to make him like her so that she would not "get in as much
trouble."
{¶7} The grand jury indicted Rings for two misdemeanor counts of coercion and
sexual imposition. Rings pled not guilty to the charges and the matter proceeded to trial.
Rings was found not guilty of sexual imposition by the jury, but guilty of coercion. The trial
court sentenced Rings to 60 days in jail.
{¶8} Rings now appeals his conviction, raising four assignments of error for our
review. However, finding the first assignment of error dispositive of the appeal, the other
assignments of error are moot.
{¶9} Assignment of Error No. 1:
{¶10} THE JURY'S VERDICT AS TO COERCION IS NOT SUPPORTED BY
SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE.
{¶11} Rings argues in his first assignment of error that his conviction was not
supported by sufficient evidence.
II. Insufficiency of the Evidence
{¶12} When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence underlying a criminal
conviction, an appellate court examines the evidence to determine whether such evidence,
if believed, would support a conviction. State v. Koster, 4th Dist. Lawrence No. 14CA25,
2016-Ohio-2851. The relevant inquiry is whether, after viewing the evidence in a light most
favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential
elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Johnson, 4th Dist. Ross
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 4 -
No. 14CA3459, 2016-Ohio-867. "To reverse a judgment of a trial court on the basis that
the judgment is not sustained by sufficient evidence, only a concurring majority of a panel
of a court of appeals reviewing the judgment is necessary." State v. Miller, 96 Ohio St.3d
384, 2002-Ohio-4931, ¶ 38.
{¶13} Rings was convicted of coercion in violation of R.C. 2905.12, which provides,
"no person, with purpose to coerce another into taking or refraining from action concerning
which the other person has a legal freedom of choice, shall do any of the following: take,
withhold, or threaten to take or withhold official action, or cause or threaten to cause official
action to be taken or withheld." Thus, the state had the burden to prove that the defendant
threatened with the purpose to "coerce another into taking or refraining from taking action
concerning which that person has a legal freedom of choice." State v. Conese, 102 Ohio
St.3d 435, 2004-Ohio-3889, ¶ 13. "Threat" includes a direct threat and a threat by innuendo.
R.C. 2905.12(E)(1).
{¶14} The state's theory of the case was, essentially, that Rings coerced Davis by
threatening her with official action if she did not respond to him in the ways he wanted
including answering his text messages and engaging in a sexual relationship with him.
During trial, the state presented text messages between Rings and Davis to show the
flirtatious nature of the messages, including overt and veiled reference to the sexual interest
Rings had for Davis and her responses indicating reciprocal interest. While it may be
reasonably inferred that Rings had a sexual attraction to Davis, the text messages do not
demonstrate that Rings threatened to use his power to either take or withhold official action
regarding Davis or her criminal case.
Power-Related Text Messages
{¶15} Some of the text messages were sent with the specific declaration that Rings
would not take or withhold action in any way that would wield power over Davis. Rings
Washington App. No. 19CA10
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expressly stated in one message that he would "NEVER want to use any power [he] might
have to coerce or manipulate" Davis. (Emphasis sic.) He also recognized the importance
of not doing "anything that would appear to be taking advantage of [Davis'] situation." Rings
also texted that he did not want "anyone to ever be able to say, well [Davis] only paid
attention to you because you threatened her with legal stuff. That simply cannot happen.
So …. I have to behave."
{¶16} While Davis testified that she believed Rings held power over her and her
criminal case, Rings' messages to Davis established that she held the power when it came
to the sexual suggestiveness of their text message exchanges. In one text, Rings told
Davis, "feel free to tell me to 'fuck off.'" He also asked Davis what she was thinking one
day and followed up his question with the statement, "I need to know where you are, so I
don't make a fool of myself." Later in their exchanges, Rings tells Davis to "please let me
know if my texts start to annoy you." Davis responded, "Awwwww im blushing!!! N no u
don't annoy me silly, loll I LOVE IT, MAKES ME FEEL IMPORTANT." [sic] (Emphasis sic.)
Davis then followed up her response with three emojis: a smiley face with hearts for eyes,
a red heart, and red lips.
{¶17} Rings also allowed the conversations to progress at Davis' pace. In one text,
after Rings asked for information on a woman Davis knew, Davis noted that she was
spending time with her family that day. Rings responded, "if you are into something good
with your family, do not let me mess it up. I can wait - - there is always tomorrow." Rings
made no demands of Davis, and never threatened her with the use of his office if she did
not want to continue the text message exchanges.
The July 4th Texts
{¶18} On July 4, 2017, Rings and Davis exchanged text messages that the state
offered as proof that Rings coerced Davis. When Davis did not answer Rings' text
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 6 -
messages from 11:06 that morning, Rings sent Davis the following message at 5:06 p.m.,
"Seems like you don't really want to chat with me. I guess we'll talk about all of this in court
someday soon." Even when viewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution, once the
text message is placed in the context of Davis' role as a key witness against the man who
beat her, Rings' statement was simply noting that Davis was expected to appear in court as
a witness and testify during which Rings would be asking her questions.
{¶19} In fact, Rings' text message noting Davis' unwillingness to chat was sent in
response to their earlier text message exchange in which Rings asked Davis to meet with
him to discuss the criminal case against Braun and Nichols. Rings texted Davis, "Your case
is important!! You are a true victim of a terrible crime." When Rings texted Davis on July
4th, he referenced meeting with Davis, and when she did not respond for several hours,
texted the comment indicating that the two would speak about the criminal matter in court
one day. Rings did not threaten the use of his office; he merely referenced Davis' role as a
witness in a future court case.
"Legal Stuff" Texts
{¶20} On July 5th, Rings texted Davis and told her he hoped she had fun watching
fireworks on the previous night. He then told Davis it was important for them to have time
to talk. This exchange came immediately after Rings texted Davis the evening before about
her role as a witness, "first thing is to get through the criminal stuff with Braun and Nichols.
Then, you can focus all your attention on your children, and yourself." After Davis did not
answer Rings for a few hours after his message to her on the morning of July 5th, Rings
texted, "wow. You really don't want to talk to me, do you??? All right. I am gonna leave
you alone, young lady. Good luck with all your legal stuff. Hope all of that works out for the
best. I will talk to you about Mr Braun after your sentencing hearing. I am certain where
you will be then." [sic.] While the state suggested this text message was threatening jail
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 7 -
time, the fact remained that Davis and the state had already negotiated an agreed sentence
whereby Davis would go to jail for a minimum of 30 days and then to a drug treatment facility
once there was an opening.
{¶21} Rings was correct that he was "certain" where Davis would be after
sentencing because she and the state had already agreed to a recommended sentence of
at least 30 days in jail, which would commence after sentencing. Everyone associated with
the situation, not just Rings, knew where Davis would be after sentencing given the agreed
sentence and signed plea form. Even when viewed in a light most favorable to the
prosecution there was simply no "official action" Rings could take or withhold (or even
threaten to take or withhold) in relation to Davis' sentencing. That remains true whether the
consideration is in the context of a threat or innuendo of a threat.
{¶22} To further place the specific text in its proper context, once Davis answered
Rings, he stated, "I don't mean to stress you out. It just seemed like you were trying very
hard to avoid speaking to me. Which makes me nervous about [my] ability to do my job."
As noted above, the only thing Rings stated he would do in the future was to talk to Davis
about Braun, which was specifically related to Rings' obligation as prosecutor. On this
occasion, Rings' text message was specific to Davis' role as a state's witness, not anything
of a sexual nature that coerced Davis into taking any specific action or inaction other than
testifying at a future trial.1
{¶23} Although there is no doubt that Rings texted sexually related messages and
returned Davis' flirtation, other messages were specific to Rings' prosecution of Braun.
During one exchange, Rings asked Davis, "what the hell am I gonna do with you?" Davis
responded, "whatever u want…" Rings then stated, "oh really? Here is what I want you to

1. The coercion statute expressly provides that prosecutors are not subject to the coercion statute when they
take certain good faith actions in the interests of justice. R.C. 2905.12(B).
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 8 -
do . . . . tell the truth about Braun [ ], and then we'll see what happens after that." Davis
then responded, "I did n I will." [sic.] As noted above, Rings referenced the case against
Braun and that Davis' participation as a witness was necessary for the case. He did not,
however, threaten to use his role as prosecutor against Davis during the text messages that
were of a sexual nature, and any perception otherwise is unreasonable given the context
of the text message exchanges.
Sentencing Texts
{¶24} The state attempted to show that Davis felt coerced into doing what Rings
wanted given her impending sentencing hearing. During her testimony, Davis stated that
she was afraid of Rings because "he's the prosecuting attorney. He can - - he could do
whatever he wanted to me. * * * max me out, prison sentence." However, Davis had signed
a plea agreement in which she had already agreed to a jail sentence. Moreover, during
their text messages, Ring explained more than once that only the judge would sentence
Davis.
{¶25} Despite Davis' testimony that she believed Rings controlled her sentence,
Rings and she texted about her sentencing hearing and her possibly missing a summer
vacation with her children. During this exchange, Rings stated, "Do you remember when
you are to be sentenced? When is vacation over?? I could TRY to get your sentencing
moved back until after vacation. That way, you could go with the family before going to
rehab. Maybe. I need you here on August 14 to testify." (Emphasis sic.) Rings
emphasized that he could "TRY" to have the date changed, and that changing the date was
only a "maybe." However, Rings never offered to try and change the length of the sentence
or to try and eliminate jail time for Davis' crime. At most, Rings offered to try and change
the date of sentencing, offering to assist her so that she might be more cooperative in
testifying against Braun and Nichols. Yet, he did not promise to do so, nor premise his
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 9 -
attempt to intervene on any sexual favors. Instead, Rings specifically noted that he needed
Davis to testify on August 14th as part of Braun's prosecution.
{¶26} In a series of text messages, Rings and Davis discussed Davis having a
meeting with probation for a presentence investigation. Davis asked Rings what a
presentence investigation report was, and Rings answered, "the report to the Judge about
your case to assist in imposing a sentence." In a follow up message, Davis suggested that
each judge should have to spend six months in jail before ever sentencing someone so that
judges could understand the impact jail had on people. Rings responded that he had never
wanted to be a judge for that reason and that he did not want "the responsibility for someone
else's fate." Davis testified that based on Rings' explanation of the presentence
investigation process, she "really understood" what the report was. Thus, Davis understood
that only the trial court could sentence her. Furthermore, Rings never implied, even by
innuendo, that he could take official action to override the agreed plea.
{¶27} Moreover, and as noted above, Davis negotiated a plea wherein she agreed
to spend 30 days in jail and participate in a drug rehabilitation program. While the sentence
was jointly recommended and the trial court could sentence as it saw fit, Davis knew the
responsibility of sentencing was solely on the judge. The state's attempt to show that Rings
implied the use of his official power to affect Davis' sentence is simply unsupported by
evidence where Davis already agreed to a jail sentence and understood that the judge
would impose the sentence, not Rings.
Children-Related Texts
{¶28} The state also suggested that Rings used Davis' children as a coercion tactic.
During some of the text messages, Davis referenced her children and that she did not have
custody of them. Davis told Rings that her children "r my, life, without them [I'm] nothing…..
Love my babies." Rings responded, "first thing is to get through the criminal stuff with Braun
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 10 -
[ ]. Then, you can focus all of your attention on your children, and yourself. I will help you
with all of that, if I can." However, Rings did not promise to take or withhold any official
action regarding Davis' child custody situation in exchange for Davis doing what he wanted,
and he specifically noted that he would help "if" he was able. (Emphasis added.) This text
message does not demonstrate Rings' use, or threatened use, of his position when he
acknowledged to Davis that he was unaware if he could even help Davis with her situation.
{¶29} Even if Rings had conditioned his willingness to potentially help Davis at a
future date with her children, he did so based on Davis' contribution to the prosecution of
Braun, which is something prosecutors can do legally and ethically as part of the process
of trying cases and ensuring witness participation. Even then, there simply was no quid pro
quo approaching "coercion."
{¶30} Davis also testified that she would have exchanged sexual activity for Rings
helping her with her children or her criminal case. However, no sexual exchange occurred.
Thus, the only inference to be made is that Davis knew that Rings could not, in fact, use his
power to help her with either her sentencing or her custody issues. Otherwise, and
according to her own testimony, Davis would have exchanged sexual favors for Rings' use
of power to assist her with her issues, which never happened.
Davis' Reaction to the Text Message Exchanges
{¶31} The state focused on the sexual nature of the text messages to show that
such caused Davis discomfort. While Davis testified that she felt "overwhelmed" and that
she sometimes did not understand why Rings was texting her, Davis' testimony clearly
demonstrates that the text messages were invited, welcomed, and not something she
perceived as threatening or coercive. Davis never testified that she was being coerced to
do something particular, and never testified that Rings threatened the use of his public office
against her.
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 11 -
{¶32} When asked how Rings' text messages made her feel, she replied "good. It
felt good." Davis also testified that when she responded to Rings' messages, including
when she sent pictures of herself in a negligée, that she was "flirting" because she wanted
Rings to know that she "wasn't that dirty person in orange."2 Rather than feeling coerced
or forced into any action, Davis testified that she felt comfortable texting Rings enough that
she "said what [she] wanted to" during the message exchanges. Davis testified that she
also felt "flattered" and "comfort[ed]," and that sending Rings pictures of herself in her
lingerie made her "feel better about myself."
{¶33} When asked why she chose to respond to Rings' text messages, rather than
indicating she felt coerced to do so, Davis testified that it was because she "didn't want to
just not text him back. I didn't want to be rude." Davis also testified that she exchanged text
messages with Rings because, "I thought it would be in my favor."3
{¶34} As noted earlier, Davis and Rings exchanged messages on the day of the
meeting wherein Davis alleged that Rings forced himself upon her sexually. In addition to
the text regarding strippers and casinos, Davis texted, "see, maybe we can both save each
other…. You only live once n you never know when you gonna go…. Take chances, have
fun, make memories, love your babies… [because] in the end, that is all that matters." Rings
later texted Davis, "so…. We still have a few things we need to talk about…. I think we
need [to] talk sometime where I can bring [a detective] along. He knows the case pretty
well. Probably better than I do." Davis responded, "ok cool." Soon thereafter, the text
message exchange between Davis and Rings ended when Rings blocked further
communication from Davis. However, Davis did not mention any discomfort she allegedly

2. Davis referenced her mug shot in some of the text messages and also suggested that she "cleaned up
nice" as compared to her appearance when she was arrested and appeared in jail clothing.

3. Davis' testimony directly contradicts the state's theory of coercion contained in the Bill of Particulars, that
Davis felt threatened and thus needed to respond to Rings' texts.
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 12 -
felt. Nor did she raise the issue that Rings was using or threatening to use official power to
make her do something she did not want to do.
III. Conclusion
{¶35} The state clearly established Rings' behavior in multiple ways was morally
unacceptable and inappropriate for a prosecutor. The state repetitively impugned Rings'
character with evidence inferring that Rings intended to develop a relationship at some point
in time that was sexual in nature with Davis. However, neither the text messages, nor Davis'
testimony, demonstrate that Rings attempted to purposely coerce Davis into taking or
refraining from taking action concerning which she had a legal freedom of choice. Nor does
the evidence demonstrate that Rings threated by innuendo that Davis do whatever he
wanted in order for her to avoid the use of his power. Evidence of poor judgment and poor
character is not sufficient to satisfy the specific elements of coercion. After viewing the
evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, we find that any rational trier of fact
could not have found the essential elements of coercion proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
{¶36} Having found that Rings' conviction for coercion is not supported by sufficient
evidence, we sustain his first assignment of error. Given this disposition, we find Rings'
three other assignments of error moot.4
{¶37} Judgment reversed, and the matter is remanded so that Rings may be
discharged.
M. POWELL, P.J., concurs.
S. POWELL, J., dissents.
S. POWELL, J., dissenting.
{¶38} The standard of review an appellate court applies when reviewing whether a

4. We would not disagree with the Dissent's resolution of Rings' Fourth Assignment of Error were we to
consider such.
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 13 -
conviction is supported by sufficient evidence is well established. "When a court reviews a
record for sufficiency, '[t]he relevant inquiry is whether, after viewing the evidence in a light
most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential
elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt.'" State v. Maxwell, 139 Ohio
St.3d 12, 2014-Ohio-1019, ¶ 146, quoting State v. Jenks, 61 Ohio St.3d 259 (1991),
paragraph two of the syllabus; Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781 (1979). In
making this determination, "[t]he court must defer to the trier of fact on questions of
credibility and the weight assigned to the evidence." State v. Dillard, 4th Dist. Meigs No.
13CA9, 2014-Ohio-4974, ¶ 27, citing State v. Kirkland, 140 Ohio St.3d 73, 2014-Ohio-1966,
¶ 132. Whether a conviction is supported by sufficient evidence is a question of law that
we review de novo. State v Jackson, 4th Dist. Highland No 18CA7, 2018-Ohio-4289, ¶ 10;
State v. Allah, 4th Dist. Gallia No. 14CA12, 2015-Ohio-5060, ¶ 8.
{¶39} Applying this standard of review, I believe the text message exchanges
between Rings and Davis, coupled with testimony elicited at trial, established each of the
essential elements of coercion in violation of R.C. 2905.12. Davis, having the legal freedom
of choice whether she would text message, sext, or engage in sexual relations with Rings,
was faced with a prosecutor who wanted those things and was implying to Davis the
vigorous or lackluster prosecution of her attackers if she did not respond favorably to his
advances, thus leaving Davis vulnerable to her attackers' future retribution. Therefore,
when viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, I believe the state
provided sufficient evidence to support Rings' conviction for coercion in violation of R.C.
2905.12. Accordingly, because I would find the state provided sufficient evidence to support
Rings' conviction, I must dissent from the majority's decision as it relates to Rings' first
assignment of error.
{¶40} However, although I believe the state provided sufficient evidence to support
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 14 -
Rings' conviction for coercion in violation of R.C. 2905.12, I would nevertheless reverse
Rings' conviction and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings based
upon Rings' fourth assignment of error. In his fourth assignment of error, Rings argues the
trial court abused its discretion by (1) permitting David Andrew Wilson, the former
Prosecutor for Clark County, Ohio, to give his expert opinion on the manner in which Ohio's
Rules of Professional Conduct pertain to prosecutors, and by (2) permitting Wilson to testify
that the text messages Rings' sent to Davis violated Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct.
I agree.
{¶41} The trial court determined that Wilson's expert testimony regarding his
knowledge of Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct as it pertains to prosecutors was
admissible as it would provide "a discussion of the standards of conduct contained within
the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct," something which the trial court found relevant to
the "understanding of a lay jury." However, although the trial court determined that Wilson
could provide expert testimony regarding his knowledge of Ohio's Rules of Professional
Conduct, the trial court determined that Wilson was not permitted to "render opinions" as to
whether Rings "violated any particular rule or criminal statute." But, despite the trial court's
ruling, and over multiple objections, Wilson nevertheless testified:
[B]ased on my knowledge, my training, and my experience in
the field of prosecution and my knowledge and training on the
Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, I - - I find no legitimate or
appropriate reason under [Rule 3.8], in light of the prosecutor's
duty to be a minister of justice, for these types of texts or
communications between a - - a prosecutor and a - - and a
witness or a victim.5
{¶42} Thereafter, when asked what he based his opinion on, Wilson testified:
[M]any years of training in - - in this field. Many years of work in

5. Rule 3.8 of Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct sets forth a prosecutor's responsibilities. It does not say
anything about texting to, communicating to, or having a romantic interest in, a victim or witness. The idea
that prosecutors are "ministers of justice" is only in a comment to the rule.
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 15 -
this field. Many hours of interactions with victims, especially
victims who are vulnerable. Victims of physical or emotional
abuse, and many, many hours of training in professional
conduct and ethics."
{¶43} The state then relied on Wilson's testimony in its closing argument by telling
the jury that "it's pretty clear what everyone thought after reading these messages. It's a
violation of [the] code."
{¶44} In State v. Searfoss, 6th Dist. Wood Nos. WD-18-005, WD-18-007, and WD18-008, 2019-Ohio-4619, the trial court permitted the state to use the Trust Code, R.C.
Chapters 5801 to 5811, as well as Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct, as evidence at a
jury trial where the appellant was being tried for aggravated theft, money laundering,
engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, grand theft, theft, and aggravated theft. The state
then relied upon the Trust Code and Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct as part of its
closing argument to establish appellant's guilt. After being found guilty, appellant appealed
his conviction to the Sixth District Court of Appeals and argued that the trial court erred
when it "allowed the state to reference the Trust Code and the Rules of Professional
Conduct in its closing argument, thereby supplanting the trial court's exclusive role" to
instruct the jury as to the applicable law. Id. at ¶ 123. The Sixth District agreed.
{¶45} In so holding, the Sixth District determined that the trial court's decision
allowing the state to use the Trust Code and Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct as
evidence of appellant's guilt "set the stage for the jury to improperly hold appellant criminally
accountable for his alleged violation of non-criminal statutes pertaining to a trustee's
fiduciary duty and rules governing the practice of law." Id. at ¶ 126. The Sixth District found
this was "further solidified" when "the state relied upon appellant's violation of the prohibition
against trustee commingling contained in R.C. 5808.10(B) to make its case concerning the
charges of theft, money laundering, and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity." Id. This,
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 16 -
according to the Sixth District, may have "confused the jury by inviting a criminal conviction
premised upon the violation of civil laws." Id. at ¶ 129. As the Sixth District stated:
[A]ppellant's knowledge of appropriate trustee conduct under
the Trust Code is not a concern in this case, where appellant is
charged with criminal, not civil, wrongdoing. As stated above,
this is a theft case. Even if appellant violated the Trust Code
and the Rules of Professional Conduct, such violations do not
constitute crimes.
Id. at ¶ 128.
{¶46} I believe the Sixth District's rationale in Searfoss applies here. Similarly to the
facts set forth in Searfoss, Wilson's expert testimony regarding Rings' alleged violation of
Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct was highly prejudicial to Rings. This is because,
through Wilson's expert testimony, the state was able to suggest that Rings must be held
to a higher standard given the ethical obligations of prosecutors as set forth by Ohio's Rules
of Professional Conduct. The higher standard imposed on Rings through Ohio's Rules of
Professional Conduct, coupled with Wilson's expert testimony that the text messages
exchanged between Rings and Davis were inappropriate and unethical, made it much more
difficult, if not impossible, for the jury to treat Rings the same as any other public official
charged with coercion. This higher standard instead allowed the jury to infer Rings was
guilty by virtue of his alleged breach of Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct. Just like in
Searfoss, this connection was further solidified during the state's closing argument when
the state relied upon Rings' alleged violation of Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct to
establish Rings' guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
{¶47} Similar to the state in Searfoss, the state in this case used Rings' alleged civil
wrongdoing to bolster its criminal case against him. The Sixth District found this constituted
reversible error. I agree with the Sixth District. This becomes even more clear in this case
when considering the state argued to the jury that the public deserved better than the
Washington App. No. 19CA10
- 17 -
actions taken by Rings and implored the jury to "expect more. Expect more from your
elected official. Expect more from our society." However, while I agree that we should
expect more from our elected officials, even when assuming Rings' conduct was a violation
of Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct, such inappropriate and unbecoming behavior by
an elected official does not necessarily mean it was also a crime under the Ohio Revised
Code.
{¶48} Just as in Searfoss, I believe the trial court's decision to admit Wilson's expert
testimony may have misled the jury into believing a prosecutor's violation of Ohio's Rules
of Professional Conduct was the professional equivalent to a criminal defendant's violation
of the Ohio Revised Code. Given the potential confusion that may have arisen within the
members of the jury, I believe the trial court's decision to admit Wilson's expert testimony
was an abuse of discretion. Therefore, while I find the state did provide sufficient evidence
to support Rings' conviction of coercion in violation of R.C. 2905.12, I would nevertheless
sustain Rings' fourth assignment of error, overrule as moot Rings' second and third
assignments of error, reverse Rings' conviction, and remand this matter to the trial court for
further proceedings.
Piper, J., of the Twelfth Appellate District, sitting by assignment of the Chief Justice,
pursuant to Section 5(A)(3), Article IV of the Ohio Constitution.
M. Powell, J., of the Twelfth Appellate District, sitting by assignment of the Chief
Justice, pursuant to Section 5(A)(3), Article IV of the Ohio Constitution.
S. Powell, J., of the Twelfth Appellate District, sitting by assignment of the Chief
Justice, pursuant to Section 5(A)(3), Article IV of the Ohio Constitution.

Washington App. No. 19CA10

Outcome: It is ordered that the JUDGMENT IS REVERSED, and that the CAUSE IS
REMANDED so that appellant may be DISCHARGED. Appellee shall pay the costs.

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:

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