By Marc Kovac
A state lawmaker who was a former judge is researching the matter.
COLUMBUS — Ohio lawmakers slowed the juggernaut to impeach Marc Dann, vowing to take the necessary time to formulate what would be a precedent-setting action against a statewide officeholder.
Republican and Democratic leaders of the Ohio House continued to call for the beleaguered attorney general to step down, but none offered resolutions from the floor during Tuesday’s voting session to launch a formal impeachment process.
“The attorney general should resign from office,” Speaker Jon Husted, a Republican from Kettering, told reporters afterward. “That would save the state and the taxpayers a lot of pain and anguish and expense, rather than going through a formal process.”
He added, “I think there is a big difference between asking someone to resign and moving forward with an impeachment process. What we do will set the standard for how anyone will be impeached in this state going forward, and that is a serious constitutional concern, an important precedent, and we need to take it with that seriousness and that responsibility.”
Tuesday’s floor sessions in the House and the Ohio Senate marked the first formal gatherings of lawmakers since the attorney general’s office fired two employees and forced another to resign Friday.
The Friday release of a scathing report of the office capped a weeks-long investigation into sexual harassment charges made by two female employees against their manager, Anthony Gutierrez.
Gutierrez, Dann’s general services director, and Leo Jennings III, communications director, were discharged from their state positions, and Edgar Simpson, chief of policy and administration, resigned rather than face the same fate.
Dann admitted cronyism in his office’s hiring practices, said he was not adequately prepared for his elected position, apologized for carrying on an affair with Jessica Utovich, his former chief scheduler, and vowed to clean up the tarnished image of his administration.
On Monday, Gov. Ted Strickland and all the state’s major Democratic officeholders called on the attorney general, also a Democrat, to step down or, according to a letter they sent Sunday to Dann, “the Ohio House of Representatives will immediately introduce a resolution seeking your impeachment.”
State Rep. Kevin DeWine, who also is state Republican Party chairman, added, “Gov. Strickland and the Democratic leadership did the right thing in calling for the attorney general’s resignation. There is now bipartisan agreement that Marc Dann no longer has the respect and credibility to be Ohio’s attorney general, and he must resign immediately.”
Dann, so far, has refused to resign, however, vowing to employees in his office that they would continue to work together for the good of the state.
In light of the potential impeachment action in the House, Husted appointed state Rep. Bill Batchelder, a Republican from Medina and former judge, to review the required process, determine whether the facts merit the action and, if so, develop the necessary articles.
Husted said he expects to hear a report on the findings of that process by the end of the week.
“I know that there are a lot of people who want to have the issue resolved immediately,” Husted said. “But we need to make sure we have all of the facts, that we have grounds. I don’t want to presume anything at this point in time. That’s the reason we have a thoughtful process that we’re trying to undertake and make sure that whatever we do is done responsibly and done in a way that will endure the test of time.”
Valley lawmakers also were supportive of the cautious approach being taken by House leadership.
“I think it’s important for history that we do it right,” said Rep. Ronald Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, who recently was named chairman of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus. Gerberry is among the Democrats who are urging Dann to resign, as is state Rep. Bob Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th.
“I think that Marc Dann should be given some time to think about the gravity of the situation, at least a week or two,” Hagan said. “I’ve asked that he resign, and I think that it’s important that he understands the importance of the impact that it has on the state, his office and the state officeholders as well.” He added, “I think Marc really did an incredible amount of work going after the insurance industry and going after the banking industry and the pharmaceutical industry. I certainly don’t want that to be lost.”
Senate President Bill Harris, a Republican from Ashland, said his chamber is reviewing the state’s Constitution to prepare for any action the House decides.
“That process has not been used very often, so we want to make sure we know exactly what our responsibilities are,” he said. “We’ll be ready in the event that happens to fulfill our obligations under the Constitution.”
House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty of Columbus, D-27th, announced Tuesday that she’s selected three state representatives, who are all attorneys, to lead the Democratic caucus’ efforts to “explore articles of impeachment against” Dann.
Among the three are state Rep. Mark Okey of Carrollton, D-61st, whose district includes a portion of southern Mahoning County. The two others are state Reps. Jennifer Garrison of Marietta, D-93rd, and Dan Dodd of Hebron, D-91st.