To the Editor:
In a campaign ad this year, Attorney General Richard Cordray claims he will “always work to protect . . . the people of Ohio .” But shortly after winning a special election in 2008 to serve the remainder of the term that Marc Dann had been elected to, Cordray violated the public trust when he awarded Vanessa Stout $247,500 to settle her sexual-harassment complaint against Dann’s former general services director, Anthony Gutierrez.
Based on a seven-month investigation that ended a few weeks before Cordray became attorney general, the Ohio inspector general’s findings did not support such a settlement. His report said Stout and Gutierrez “had an overly familiar relationship that began long before Stout accused Gutierrez of sexual harassment, raising serious questions about the merits of Stout’s EEO complaint.”
Stout’s credibility was also undermined by what the report called “her extensive criminal history.” Before being hired at the attorney general’s office, Stout had been convicted of retail theft three times, assault, harassment and driving under the influence. And a warrant had been issued because of her failure to appear to face a DUI charge. After being hired, Stout was convicted of disorderly conduct while intoxicated, pulled over for driving with expired tags and arrested for drug possession.
Additionally, Stout made false statements on her employment application and during her interview for employment at the attorney general’s office. On the application, she intentionally omitted her three theft convictions and falsely asserted she had graduated from high school when in fact she had only completed the eleventh grade and had a GED. During the interview, she said she was proficient at using computer programs such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel when she actually was not.
Stout never filed a complaint about Gutierrez until she got angry at him for transferring her out of his section. According to the office’s human resources director who first interviewed her about the complaint, Stout wanted to go back to her old job in Gutierrez’s section even with him still there, and said, “I liked it there. . . . I enjoyed my job. . . . I liked the people over there.” True victims of sexual harassment do not describe their work environment that way.
One of Stout’s female coworkers told investigators the complaint was “bogus.” And about three months after filing the complaint against Gutierrez, Stout made an unfounded allegation of sexual impropriety against another female coworker who had also not been supportive of the complaint. Stout admitted to investigators that she made the allegation in front of other coworkers for the purpose of upsetting the woman despite having no firsthand knowledge of it being true.
In view of Stout’s extensive criminal background, her lies told to obtain the state job, her acts that were inconsistent with being a victim of sexual harassment, her coworker’s testimony that the complaint was bogus, her unfounded sexual allegation against a female coworker, and the inspector general’s serious questions about the complaint’s validity, an honest attorney general could not in good conscience hand Stout a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayers’ money.
As the state’s chief attorney, Cordray had an ethical duty to vigorously defend against the claim, which surely would have fallen apart in court. But Cordray not only agreed to give Stout the money, he complimented her in doing so.
Then he paid the amount before the settlement could be reviewed by the State Controlling Board. In quickly causing the transaction to be a done deal, Cordray tried to render the payment moot and thereby prevent the board from carefully analyzing whether it should occur.
By wasting taxpayers’ money and causing outrageous injustice in a high-profile case, and then trying to prevent his acts from being reviewed by an outside board, Cordray showed he cannot be trusted to act properly in the numerous cases his office handles that do not receive publicity. The voters should remove him from office in November.
Joseph C. Sommer
Attorney at Law