– Clinton County, Ohio, Woman Alleges Sexual Harassment Investigation Violates Conflict Rules
– Columbus Dispatch Editorial Says Probe of House Majority Leader Seitz “Falls Short”
A new ethics complaint has been filed against Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP (“Taft Law”), and editorials by the Columbus Dispatch and Toledo Blade call for a re-do of the investigation into Ohio House Majority Leader Bill Seitz’s inappropriate conduct.
The investigation — first reported by Checks and Balances Project (C&BP) — was initiated after a complaint filed by a staffer, who alleged that the powerful legislator’s comments at a good-bye event for a departing House staffer were sexual harassment meant to intimidate victims. The complaint also gave indications of a broader culture of harassment throughout the House.
Elaine Silverstrim, a resident of Wilmington, Ohio, filed the new ethics complaint against Taft Law and Senior Partner Stuart Dornette on June 28, 2018, with the Ohio Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel. C&BP filed the first ethics complaint on June 21.
DeWine Assigns Taft to Investigate Seitz
Taft was assigned by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to act as special counsel to the Ohio House of Representatives to investigate the sexual harassment complaint. Ms. Silverstrim maintains that multiple conflicts of interest “undermine the public’s confidence in the investigation and the integrity of public office holders.”
These conflicts include:
- Seitz was employed by Taft Law for 36 years
- Seitz has received about $41,000 in campaign donations from Taft and its lawyers since 2000
- Dornette has been a financial contributor to Seitz
- Taft’s political action committee gave $1,000 to Seitz while they were under contract to investigate him.
In clearing Seitz, lawyers from Taft Law concluded the investigation after interviewing only two people besides Seitz, then charged taxpayers $12,000. Investigation records show no evidence the Taft lawyers made an effort to speak to any female staff members.
Silverstrim also asks the Disciplinary Counsel to determine if there was an improper “pay to play” scheme associated with the appointment of Taft.
Columbus Dispatch: Probe of Seitz Comments “Misses the Mark”
Meanwhile, the Columbus Dispatch said in an editorial on July 3:
“[T]he House leadership’s mode of investigating the complaint leads one to suspect that the institution isn’t very serious about holding powerful men accountable….
“Seitz’ association with the firm is well known; apparently no one thought it important to avoid. That suggests leaders didn’t take the probe very seriously, and coming at a time when the #MeToo movement was dominating national discussion, that’s tone-deaf and offensive.
“Rather like Seitz’ remarks.”
We note that C&BP has asked House leadership for months what steps they were taken to ensure Seitz’s conduct wasn’t part of a broader pattern. The so-called “investigation” of Seitz falls far short of providing any answers and needs to undertaken again by investigators without conflicts who seek the truth.
Scott Peterson is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from sustainable economy philanthropies and donors.