Prosecute public officials when they break law

Ohio officials have done something unusual – perhaps even precedent-setting – about wrongdoing by public officials. They are holding a man accountable for criminal misdeeds.

Thursday, former state Deputy Tax Commissioner Rick Anthony pleaded guilty in Franklin County Municipal Court to dereliction of duty. His crime was that he oversaw a state Tax Department unit that withheld more than $30 million in business tax refunds from companies that were due them.

After the scandal was reported last year, a new state law was enacted to prevent such misbehavior.

Anthony personally was aware of improper withholding of some of the money. He personally delayed some refunds.

The simple fact state government prosecuted one of their own is important.

In state and national scandals – such as that involving mistreatment of veterans by the federal government – those responsible sometimes are not punished at all. Occasionally, they are required to resign. That does nothing to deter criminal misbehavior by other officials.

Ohio’s action sets a standard: When public officials commit crimes, they will be prosecuted. Let’s hope that becomes a trend, possibly starting with school administrators who lied about student records to make themselves look like they were doing better jobs.