A sexual-harassment allegation by a female former intern in Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office was investigated and dismissed as unsubstantiated by Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien.
In the process, however, DeWine got personally involved in the investigation, insisting on getting the name of and speaking to an informant who had been promised confidentially in the case.
That opened the door for Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern’s charges that the Republican attorney general improperly intervened in the investigation of a complaint by Amy Garrison, who interned in DeWine’s office two summers when she was a student. The matter also was submitted to O'Brien, a Republican.
Redfern said in a news conference yesterday that DeWine “interrupted and then disrupted a sexual-harassment claim in his office,” using his “political muscle” to have the case dropped to protect a longtime friend. The friend was not identified by Redfern or in documents obtained by The Dispatch from DeWine’s office.
DeWine is being challenged in his re-election bid by David Pepper, a former Hamilton County commissioner and Cincinnati City Council member.
Garrison, a 2013 graduate of the Case Western University School of Law, made the sexual-harassment allegations in April 2013 when she declined an offer by DeWine’s office to become a staff attorney, pending her passing the bar exam.
State records show that Garrison’s allegation at the time — which she later recanted in an interview under oath with O’Brien — was that she could not accept the staff job because she had been a “possible ‘victim’ of sexual harassment by a ‘high up’ attorney general’s office employee,” described as an older male attorney who was “close to the attorney general.”
Garrison never identified the alleged harasser, but she did say he was a family friend.
Her complaint was referred to Kristine A. Cadek, DeWine’s equal-employment-compliance officer. Cadek subsequently interviewed 25 people, including Garrison and DeWine. In his interview, DeWine insisted that Cadek identify a confidential informant who provided information about the male employee. Cadek said she was concerned about giving DeWine the name because the information was “ vague” and she feared the possible “retaliation factor.” However, she eventually gave DeWine the name.
DeWine spokeswoman Lisa Hackley said the attorney general later spoke with the informant but had no further involvement in the investigation.
Hackley said DeWine’s request to Cadek was not inappropriate. “Absolutely not. He’s the boss. If someone here is harassing another employee, he has every right to know who that person may be who might know something about it.”
But Robert A. Klingler, a Cincinnati lawyer whose firm specializes in sexual-harassment issues, said involvement by a top official or company president in a sexual-harassment case creates an appearance of impropriety. Klingler, who is not involved in the attorney general matter, said DeWine’s involvement, however well intended, might be seen as trying to “shape” the testimony of a potential witness.
It also could have a “chilling effect on future informants who would think twice about coming forward on a confidential basis.”
Cadek submitted her report on Aug. 8, 2013, finding “no evidence to substantiate Garrison’s claim, and without her cooperation, and absent evidence or any identification of the alleged harasser, this case is closed.”
O’Brien interviewed Garrison, accompanied by her attorney, Ritchey Hollenbaugh, on May 24, 2013, according to a memorandum submitted by O’Brien. In the interview, Garrison toned down her previous allegations of sexual harassment. She said that in the summer of 2012 a lawyer in the office began acting “creepy” by sitting inappropriately close to her in the office, putting his hand on her knee and shoulder. She said that he did not touch any body part “in a sexual way.”
Hollenbaugh declined to comment.
Garrison said her original complaint got out of control and that she “provided misinformation in an effort to camouflage the person and end the inquiries,” O’Brien’s memo said.
The prosecutor concluded that, at most, the allegations could be considered disorderly conduct and were not prosecutable. However, he said DeWine should “monitor male employees ... for signs of sexual harassment described by Garrison.”
By Alan Johnson - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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