Norwalk attorney battling with the bottle

Cary Ashby • Oct 29, 2015 at 1:04 PM

Reese M. Wineman doesn't know when he became an alcoholic.

"It's hard to tell exactly, but I probably drank too much over the years," the Norwalk attorney said.

He suspects alcoholism became an issue 10 to 12 years ago.

Wineman, 61, remembers drinking in the morning, afternoon and evening, saying he "couldn't get enough."

"I didn't experience a lot of blackouts, but I had some blackouts," he said. "(It's) no way to live.

"I believe it's a disease," Wineman said. "I've been sober since July '07."

Alcohol-related incidents from August 3, 2006 in Huron County Common Pleas Court and May 9, 2007 in Norwalk Municipal Court have landed him in hot water. As a result, the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Disciplines, in its final Dec. 17, report, ruled Wineman would be suspended from practicing law for two years.

The board stayed its decision, putting him essentially on probation, and said Wineman had to comply with the recommendations from the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program. It's set up for attorneys with drug, alcohol and emotional problems. He must also make quarterly reports to a "monitoring attorney" and "must not commit any further misconduct" to continue practicing law.

In the 2006 incident, a Huron County sheriff's deputy handling courthouse security suspected Wineman was intoxicated, according to a document from the Supreme Court of Ohio.

"Opposing counsel in one of (the) respondent's cases came to the same conclusion after trying to discuss the case with him. The lawyer reported his suspicions to the magistrate and the magistrate confirmed the lawyer's impressions with the deputy sheriff," the document states.

During the 2007 incident, Judge John Ridge and a prosecutor "detected the odor of alcohol" on Wineman, according to the court record. Wineman said both Huron County Magistrate Danita Conway and Ridge told him "you can't come to court like this."

"You've got to do something about this," he said they told him, recalling the conversations.

And he has been doing something: He usually goes to three or four Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings each week something he started before the court ordered him to do so. In 2008, Wineman drove to Tiffin for the intensive outpatient program through Firelands Counseling & Recovery Services twice a week for three or four months.

"He's not appeared in court before when there's been any problems," Huron County Common Pleas Judge Jim Conway said.

Magistrate Danita Conway was handling cases in Ottawa County on Friday. Ridge declined to comment.

Former prosecutor, bartender

Wineman became an attorney in 1976 and served as an assistant county prosecutor until 1984. From 1980 until 1994, he was the Norwalk law director.

While working his way through law school, Wineman was in sales, was a Sylvania Optical manager and worked in the Lucas County Common Pleas Court work release program.

Ironically, he also was a bartender in Toledo for about two years.

The defense attorney was asked if he realized he was an alcoholic at the time.

"To be honest, I didn't know much about definitions about it," he said.

Wineman helped start the Toledo Celtics rugby team, in which he was a player-coach. While in his 40s, he continued playing the demanding sport in a now defunct Sandusky team when he worked for the Huron County prosecutor's office.

He recalled there was a lot of partying when he played rugby.

'I didn't learn enough'

In 1995, Wineman was found guilty of driving under the influence (DUI) after pleading no contest in Norwalk Municipal Court, which resulted in a six-month driver's license suspension. There was another DUI conviction n Marietta.

"I spent 20 days in jail in Marietta. That was a second offense," Wineman said.

"I didn't learn enough. ... You'd think after a second offense," he said, his voice trailing off. "That's how insidious the disease is."

Luckily, Wineman said he doesn't think his alcoholism got to the point it affected his mental functions in court. However, he said that's not something he can "completely answer" and admitted his addiction started affecting his work three or four years ago.

"It wasn't that I wasn't showing for hearings," Wineman said, but he turned to drinking as a release from both minor and major frustrations.

Wineman believes going to AA has been very helpful.

"It's readily available. It's out there," he said.

The recovering alcoholic intends to maintain his sober lifestyle. Addressing alcoholism is a daily struggle.

"You have to be more disciplined in the things you do," Wineman said.

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