Zach Klein was sworn in as Columbus City Attorney on January 1, 2018, after previously serving as a member of Columbus City Council since January 2011, including two years as Council President from 2016-2017. He was re-elected to serve a second term as City Attorney beginning in 2022.
Zach began his career in public service as a judicial law clerk, first with the Ohio Third District Court of Appeals and then with the Honorable Terence P. Kemp and the Honorable John D. Holschuh, United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Following his clerkships, he served in the White House as Deputy Director of Management and Administration in the Office of Vice President Joe Biden. Zach also was appointed an Assistant Ohio Attorney General, the Deputy Chief of Legal Services in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and worked as a Special Assistant United States Attorney. Additionally, he has spent time in private practice at the law firm Jones Day and as general counsel for the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.
While serving on city council, Zach focused on helping community members struggling with addiction by increasing access to substance abuse and treatment centers. After seeing repeated and constant criminal activity occurring in some hotels and motels, Zach convened community leaders, business leaders within the industry, and the Columbus Division of Police to establish licensing requirements and regulations to clean up and shut down problem hotels and motels that were magnets of crime, drugs, and violence.
To increase transparency for both residents and law enforcement, Zach worked to create and authorize the city’s body-worn camera program for the Division of Police.
As City Attorney, Zach continuously challenges himself and his team to think differently about how the legal system can help people and communities—whether that is ensuring a fair prosecution of misdemeanor crimes, using civil litigation to shut down nuisance properties, protecting civil rights, promoting social justice reform, or encouraging private sector investments to turn neighborhood blight into neighborhood assets. During his first year as City Attorney, Zach spearheaded the city’s efforts to implement common-sense and effective gun laws, including a ban on deadly weapon accessories like bump stocks and increased accountability for domestic violence offenders.
Zach is committed to finding new, bold and creative ways to use the full-breadth of the City Attorney’s Office to better serve all Columbus residents. To that end, he created a Solicitor General position to protect the legal rights of Columbus residents through litigation and promote important public policy changes. Under Zach’s leadership, the City of Columbus has filed, joined, or supported several lawsuits aimed at protecting workers’ rights, health care access, civil rights, and safeguarding taxpayer dollars.
One of Zach’s top priorities as City Attorney is to make Columbus’ criminal justice system more equitable, efficient, and impactful. In 2018, Zach helped lead a statewide, bipartisan effort to change criminal justice policy and reform Ohio’s drug sentencing laws to focus on rehabilitation and treatment over incarceration, all while enhancing penalties and enforcement for traffickers who prey upon those afflicted by addiction.
Under his leadership in 2019, the City Attorney’s Office created the nation’s first-of-its-kind program to divert those accused of non-violent misdemeanor crimes to community resources rather than sending them to jail. By seeking to identify and treat the underlying reason a crime is committed (for example: substance abuse, food insecurity, unstable housing), Columbus prosecutors can now connect the defendant with community services, jobs, and health care with goal of driving down recidivism rates and promoting public safety. With an over 90% success rate thus far, Zach believes this tailored approach to accountability and crime is the future of the criminal justice system.
Further, with the belief that no one should sit in jail pretrial solely because of poverty, Zach also reformed Columbus’ bail policy by essentially eliminating cash bail for nonviolent misdemeanor crimes. Additionally, he ended the criminal prosecution of misdemeanor marijuana possession and created a program with the Columbus State Community College to repair broken vehicle equipment like headlights and taillights in order to prevent unnecessary police interactions.
Zach has lead Columbus through some of its most challenging moments, whether in the community or a courtroom. When the protests began in Columbus following the murder of George Floyd, Zach stepped-up as a leader to wade into the complex relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. He initiated important conversations with police leadership, concerned citizens and activists, faith leaders, NAACP leadership, and city leadership—leaving no stone unturned in his effort to make our city safer for all residents and officers. This led to many policing reforms in Columbus, such as community immersion training requirements for new recruits, bans on chemical pepper spray, policies favoring summons over arrest for low-level nonviolent offenders and more.
Zach grew up in Belpre, Ohio, just across the river from West Virginia. The values he learned growing up in Appalachian Ohio helped shape the leader he is today, with a unique understanding of the circumstances and challenges facing both rural and urban areas. His experience living and leading in both a small town and a big city leads to robust, well-informed decision-making on complex issues ranging from tackling the opioid epidemic to how poverty is intrinsically linked to our criminal justice system.
Zach is a proud graduate of The Ohio State University and Capital University Law School. He also is a Division I NCAA women’s basketball referee. He and his family live in Clintonville.