State Reps. Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Nicholas J. Celebrezze (D-Parma) sent a letter today to Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder asking him to consider legislation, House Bill 628, that would authorize the state’s Inspector General (IG) to investigate the Attorney General’s (AG) office for any wrongful acts or omissions following continued allegations of harassment in the office.
As reported by Associated Press Thursday, staff failed to properly report an incident where a senior lawyer made violent, derogatory comments to a legal secretary last year. In an almost unprecedented move, the senior lawyer’s supervisor was allowed to appeal the decision against him, ultimately clearing his name.
“With this latest revelation, it would certainly seem that the Attorney General’s office may be a hostile workplace for women,” said Rep. Antonio. “When allegations of harassment under a Democratic AG surfaced, we came together in a bipartisan way to protect the integrity of the office and ensure taxpayers had answers. Instead of the media chipping away at allegations of impropriety, it is time for the state to be accountable.”
In an unrelated incident in April 2013, AG Mike DeWine personally involved himself in the office’s only review of sexual harassment allegations, pressuring an internal compliance officer to name the sexual harassment whistleblower—a misstep he was told at the time was improper. Ultimately, DeWine talked to the whistleblower personally and the allegations where dropped.
“Taxpayers deserve to know why this supervisor was allowed special treatment to clear his name from such a clear and unacceptable omission,” said Rep. Celebrezze. “This latest misstep raises serious concerns about the integrity of the Attorney General’s office, especially with incidents in which female employees are involved. We need an investigation to determine if this is commonplace.”
A copy of the legislators’ letter can be seen below:
Dear Speaker Batchelder,
Recent investigative news reports have uncovered a series of troubling allegations that suggest the Attorney General’s office has mishandled investigations into allegations of workplace harassment targeting women.
In April 2013, the Attorney General personally involved himself in the only review allegations of sexual harassment against a female employee in the office. The Attorney General pressured an internal compliance officer to name the sexual harassment whistleblower, a misstep he was told at the time was improper. The complaints were retracted following the Attorney General’s meeting with the whistleblower.
Thursday it was reported that a supervisor failed to properly report an incident where an assistant attorney made violent, derogatory comments toward a legal secretary. This supervisor seems to have been given special treatment in determining whether he had failed to properly report the situation. And for the first time in five years, the finding that established he had neglected his reporting duty was overturned.
Mr. Speaker, in the past the legislature has come together in a bipartisan way to address allegations of harassment in the Ohio Attorney General’s office. In 2008, Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly voted for Senate Bill 3, which contained a bipartisan provision that required the state’s Inspector General to investigate then-Attorney General Marc Dann’s office after an allegation of sexual harassment surfaced through the news media. As you probably recall, the investigation led to deeper findings of gross misconduct that ultimately led to Mr. Dann’s resignation as Ohio Attorney General.
We feel that no one is above the law, and that when circumstances necessitate a greater understanding of alleged wrongdoing, it is incumbent upon the legislature to exercise its oversight capacity to compel integrity and accountability in state government. It is in this spirit that lawmakers came together in 2008 to ensure taxpayers had a complete picture of how the Attorney General’s office was functioning. And, it is in this same spirit that we recently introduced House Bill 628 to once again authorize the Inspector General to investigate the Office of Attorney General to determine whether wrongful acts or omissions have, or are being, committed.
We appreciate your attention to this request and advocate for the passage of this stand-alone legislation. However, we acknowledge that tight-knit political alliances could complicate the passage of a stand-alone bill, so we would also appreciate your consideration of incorporating the measure as an amendment to legislation that moves through the legislature during lame duck session.
We have included copies of the relevant news articles for your review.
Nickie J. Antonio
13th House District
Nicholas J. Celebrezze
15th House District