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Published: Monday, 6/9/2014 - Updated: 1 month ago

State officials criticized for ‘‍questionable’ behavior

Drunken hot tub party at heart of investigation

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Attending a party furnished with alcohol, a hot tub, and women thrown by attorneys who do business with your state agency is “questionable” and gives an “appearance of impropriety” for at least four Ohio Industrial Commission hearing officers, according to a report from the state watchdog Monday.

But while Inspector General Randall Meyer recommended that the commission consider administrative action, he found no wrongdoing when investigating claims that nude women were present at the Sept. 8 party at Maumee Bay State Park.

“While nothing prohibits hearing officers and attorneys from getting together in a social setting at an agency-sponsored meeting, the Office of Inspector General finds the nature of the gathering to be questionable,” reads the report.

Hearing officers Gary Bash, Mike Brown, Michael Dobronos, and Milutin Zlojutro, all from the Cleveland area, admitted they attended the party after a commission-sponsored meeting. The commission hears worker and employer appeals of claims decisions made by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

The interviews conducted with those who attended or were aware of the party did not support the allegations that the hearing officers had been in a hot tub with the women.

The cabin was paid for by the Cleveland law firm of Stefanik & Christie LLC.

One hearing officer who was not a subject of the complaint told investigators he left because he “got a weird vibe,” but he could not explain why. He said he received a text message in the middle of the night from one of the attorneys at the party who said “something about the girls being naked.”

Another hearing officer who was not a subject of the complaint said he was briefly at the party and went to the kitchen at the request of one of the women to do “shooters.” He said he had no idea who supplied the alcohol.

“The four hearing officers in question — Gary Bash, Mike Brown, Michael Dobronos, and Milutin Zlohutro — stated food and drinks were provided but they did not eat anything, and at least one of the four brought their own drinks,” Mr. Meyer’s report reads. “All four hearing officers said they did not see any nudity and that both male attorneys who hosted the gathering were in the hot tub with at least one of the three females present.”

In interviews with the inspector general, the attorneys hosting the party insisted nothing had been planned in advance.

“However, this is contradicted by at least three individuals who stated they had been informed of the event prior to the beginning of the ICO agency meeting,” the report reads. “The attorneys admitted one of the females in question worked for their law firm and the attorneys stated they knew the other two females.”

When contacted by The Blade, John Christy, a partner in the law firm, dismissed the suggestion that anything improper occurred.

“There were male and female hearing officers who, I know, were present ...” he said. “I am not aware of any nudity at all, not in the cabin that my [business] partner and I stayed in, and I did not witness any nudity at any cabins.

“This was a nice social opportunity where you would not have to wear a suit and tie,” Mr. Christie said. “This was not an opportunity to influence anyone at our party.”

Ohio Industrial Commission spokesman Adam Gibbs said the commission will review the report before taking action.

Contact: Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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