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At the risk of being berated by some ...



Published: Sun, July 27, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)


By Bertram de Souza

Let us stipulate that Marc Dann, Leo Jennings III and Anthony Gutierrez are pond scum.

Let us also agree that former Ohio Attorney General Dann, his one-time communications director, Jennings, and his ex-general services director, Gutierrez, got what they deserved because of their behavior during the time they held sway in the second most important office in state government.

Dann resigned in shame in the midst of sexual harassment charges filed against Gutierrez; Gutierrez was fired for creating a hostile work environment; Jennings was fired for interfering with an internal investigation into the charges.

All three Mahoning Valley residents are back home — pus-filled boils on this region’s backside.

That said, what about the behavior of the two women, Cindy Stankoski and Vanessa Stout, responsible for the unraveling of the Dann administration with their complaints against Gutierrez? And, of the behavior of Atty. Jennifer Urban, who last week filed an internal office complaint of sexual harassment against Jennings and Gutierrez?

To even ask such questions is to be accused of being a member of the caveman caucus, or of being a woman hater. But, fairness demands that they and others be asked in light of the fact that the taxpayers of Ohio will be footing the bill for any monetary settlements reached with the women.

Mediation

As was argued in this space on June 22, the current attorney general, Nancy Rogers, wants to avoid a trial and, therefore, has agreed to a mediator working out a settlement with Stankoski and Stout. It is possible each woman could walk away with $400,000, while their lawyer would pocket a sizeable fee.

The column urged Rogers, who was appointed by Gov. Ted Strickland to serve until November when voters will elect a replacement for Dann, to reconsider her decision to settle. The attorney general, who is dean of Ohio State University’s law school, obviously believes that a full-blown trial would be bad for the state. However, there are just too many questions — who did what to whom, when and where? for example — that need to be answered publicly.

Indeed, Atty. Urban’s decision to file a complaint after the attorney general announced the state’s willingness to make a deal shows that the sexual harassment floodgates are open.

That alone should slow down the rush to settle with Stankoski and Stout. But there’s more. During the internal investigation of their complaints against Gutierrez, who was their boss, they and many others, including Urban, were interviewed under oath. A reading of the testimonies fails to provide a clear picture of what took place in and out of the office.

For example, when Urban contended last week in a newspaper story that she didn’t feel she could say “no” to having an affair with Jennings because of his close friendship with Dann, her testimony before investigators paints a different picture. Here’s an excerpt:

Q: ... Now, have you ever been to Leo’s apartment?

A: Yes.

Q: And how many occasions?

A: May I ask how this is relevant to the investigation?

Q: You can ask, but I intend to follow up with more questions.

A: Okay. I’ve been there probably six, maybe seven times.

Stankoski, in her testimony, offered her opinion of the Jennings-Urban relationship:

“... And I picked up that Leo and Jen were a thing, by they were holding hands, they were rubbing each other’s legs, they were kissing.”

Friendship

For her part, Urban admitted to investigators that she and Jennings were friends. She explained that she got to know him while working on the Forum Health matter.

“ ... Leo and I became friends through Forum and would meet after work at Mitchell’s and have drinks ...”

(Her contention that she was pressured into having an affair brings to mind that famous Mae West quip ... the one about the gun.)

Sexual harassment in the work place must not be ignored, but the state has a duty to make sure that complaints filed have merit.

Political expediency must not trump justice.


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