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Ohio AG picked donor to whitewash sexual harassment investigation of GOP lawmaker, lawmaker says

Findings conflict with AG anti-sexual harassment training provided to lawmakers, staff
June 26, 2018
Democratic Newsroom

State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) today asked* Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to turn over records related to a sexual harassment investigation of Rep. Bill Seitz conducted by Taft Stettinius & Hollister, the law firm where Seitz worked for 36 years. DeWine retained the law firm, which has made significant campaign contributions to the AG including one on December 1, 2017, to investigate claims made by a female House employee that Seitz’s public statements at a Republican going-away party had worsened an already hostile work environment at the Statehouse.

“The selection of Taft Stettinius & Hollister tainted the inquiry from day one,” Rep. Lepore-Hagan said. “The firm was clearly conflicted on two levels – Seitz had worked there for decades and the firm has contributed thousands of dollars to the AG. I refuse to believe that, in a city with hundreds of law firms, Taft Stettinius & Hollister was the only one qualified to conduct this investigation.”

After interviewing only three people – a man and a woman who were present at the January 23, 2018 event and Seitz himself – Taft Stettinius & Hollister concluded that Seitz had not violated the House’s anti-harassment policy, though the basis for the findings directly conflicts with the AG’s anti-sexual harassment training given to state lawmakers and staff prior to the event.

“It’s interesting to note that Bill Seitz made his disgusting, sexist remarks days after House members and staff attended mandatory training that was intended to prevent the type of behavior he engaged in,” she said. “Not only that, but the basis for the report’s findings is in direct conflict with the AG’s training for lawmakers and staff. This was clearly a work related event according to Attorney General DeWine’s office.”

The firm transmitted a report outlining its investigatory process and conclusions to the AG’s office and House leadership on April 25, 2018. Neither the House nor the AG’s office released the report or commented on it until the Associated Press reported its existence earlier this month.

“I’m certainly not surprised that the AG and House leaders attempted to bury the report because the law firm they paid $12,000 didn’t conduct a real investigation, they whitewashed the whole thing,” Rep. Lepore-Hagan said. “The selection of Taft Stettinius & Hollister, the way in which the ‘investigation’ was conducted, and the decision to bury the report all raise serious questions that the AG’s office has refused to answer. I lodged my public records requests in an attempt to uncover the truth.”

Rep. Lepore-Hagan, who was one of a group of legislators that called for Seitz to resign after his remarks were made public, said she lodged the public records request because she believes sexual harassment, assault, and intimidation must not be tolerated in any workplace.

“Refusing to aggressively pursue all the allegations related to sexual harassment in the House, interviewing only two of the more than 100 people who attended the event where Rep. Seitz degraded women, and then burying the report makes it clear that the leadership of the House and AG DeWine wanted to whitewash this particular incident,” said Lepore-Hagan. “I and many of my colleagues are simply not prepared to allow the ‘boys will be boys’ atmosphere that exists in the General Assembly to continue. We’re going to hold the people who are perpetuating this toxic environment accountable for their actions. That includes AG DeWine who has squandered the opportunity to help solve this very real problem. Hopefully, the records I’ve requested will shine some light on why he chose to do so.”