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Dad says daughter was set up on drug charge



Published: Sun, April 13, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

COLUMBUS DISPATCH

COLUMBUS — The father of a woman who filed a sexual harassment complaint against a manager in Attorney General Marc Dann’s office says she was set up on a marijuana possession charge during a traffic stop.

Vanessa Stout, 26, also was charged with driving with expired license tags and a suspended driver’s license during a traffic stop on Interstate 71 in Morrow County on March 12.

The traffic stop occurred just days after Stout and another employee in Dann’s office filed a harassment complaint against Anthony Gutierrez, 50, Dann’s director of general services who was placed on paid leave last week as the investigation evolved.

Dann spokesman Ted Hart told the Columbus Dispatch that he couldn’t say whether the arrest would affect the ongoing investigation into claims by Stout and Cindy Stankoski, also 26, that they were harassed by Gutierrez, their supervisor.

“We’re not going to comment ... even about office policy generalities,” Hart wrote the newspaper in an e-mail message.

Hart also did not tell the newspaper whether the arrest would violate any state drug-free workplace rules.

Stout’s father, Chris, said his daughter is fighting the charges because the stop likely was a “setup.” He said an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper claimed he smelled marijuana when she was pulled over and immediately found less than a “joint” underneath a visor.

Possession of fewer than 100 grams is a minor misdemeanor in Ohio; having drug paraphernalia is a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

It wasn’t Stout’s first brush with the law: She was 18 and living in Pennsylvania when she was arrested in May 2000 and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of simple assault. Court records The Dispatch found from Mercer County, Pa., showed that Stout spent a short time in jail in May 2001 for violating terms of her probation.

Chris Stout said the charges arose out of domestic violence in which Vanessa was the victim and are not relevant to her case with the attorney general’s office.

In another development, Dann — who campaigned on a pledge to uphold transparency in government — is refusing to turn over e-mail messages between him and his scheduler.

Dann’s office on Friday denied a request from The Dispatch under Ohio’s public records law to review three months’ worth of e-mail messages between him and his then-scheduler, Jessica Utovich.

Dann in the past has said e-mails are public records and also has sought troves of messages from public offices when he was a state senator and the Democratic candidate for Ohio’s top legal office. One of Dann’s first acts as attorney general was to order his staff to retain e-mail messages for 180 days.

“Good government is open government, and we cannot be responsive to citizen requests for information if the information is routinely destroyed, including electronic communication such as e-mails,” Dann said at the time.

The Dispatch requested the messages between Dann and Utovich under Ohio’s public records law on April 2, four days before publishing a story about sexual-harassment allegations against the Dann aide who also is a close friend.

In one of the written complaints, an employee reported seeing Utovich, 28, in Dann’s condo at night wearing pajamas or sweats last September.

Utovich was reassigned in January as the office’s travel director. She earns $44,300 a year, up from the $35,000 she made when hired in early 2007.

Dann’s office said the request for all written correspondence between Dann and Utovich in September, October and November would not be granted because it is “overbroad.”

The request “lacks the specificity and particularity that the law requires to assist both requesters and public offices in carrying out their responsibilities,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Lisa G. Whittaker.

Before taking statewide office, Dann often filed sweeping records requests. As a state senator in June 2005 looking into allegations of impropriety at the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, Dann made a public records request for “any communication to and from the attorney general’s office and Thomas W. Noe or his lawyers or other representatives.” Noe was a Republican fundraiser who benefited from questionable bureau investments.

It’s unclear how then-Attorney General Jim Petro’s office responded to Dann’s request.

Dann’s office also denied The Dispatch request on the basis that e-mail is not a public record.

Earlier, Dann repeatedly said that e-mail messages are public records when they deal with the functions of the office. He has prodded legislators to retain e-mail messages and even treat messages on private e-mail accounts as public if they deal with public business.

A 2008 guide to Ohio Sunshine Laws prepared by Dann’s office and Auditor Mary Taylor states that e-mail messages are usually public record.

“Our effort to end the culture of corruption in Ohio will start by insisting on transparency and accountability in all government institutions, including the attorney general’s office,” Dann said upon taking office in 2007.

His office didn’t attempt to reconcile that position with Whittaker’s response to the public-records request.

Dann’s office has released some records on Utovich requested by The Dispatch during the past six months, including her personnel file, time cards and expense reimbursements.

Dann has acknowledged that Utovich made after-hours visits to the condominium he shared with Gutierrez, and spokesman Leo Jennings III. But the attorney general said Utovich was there for work purposes exclusively and was never dressed in pajamas.

Utovich has declined to comment.


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