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Published: Thursday, 5/15/2008

Dann steps down as Ohio attorney general

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS After nearly two weeks of resisting calls to resign in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal, a red-eyed Attorney General Marc Dann walked away from his state office in disgrace yesterday.

With Gov. Ted Strickland by his side, Mr. Dann said he d come to the conclusion that most Republicans and Democrats had reached days ago: He had to go.

[Attorney general employees] deserve to be both recognized and to continue their work without the distractions that the political situation that I find myself in has caused, he told reporters. It is now clear to me that the only way to protect these priorities for the office of attorney general and for the people of Ohio is to remove myself from this situation. It is now my highest priority to focus on my family.

He did not take questions and his resignation, tendered at about 4 p.m., took effect immediately. His daughter, Mia, was the only member of his family to attend the press conference.

Mr. Dann s resignation was submitted hours after a dozen or so investigators from Ohio Inspector General Tom Charles office descended on his office and confiscated and removed computer equipment. Highway patrol officers closely watched everything going in and out of the offices.

On Tuesday, House Democrats upped the pressure on Mr. Dann by filing nine articles of impeachment against him.

Marc Dann submitted his resignation hours after investigators from Ohio Inspector General Tom Charles' office descended on his office and confiscated computer equipment. Marc Dann submitted his resignation hours after investigators from Ohio Inspector General Tom Charles' office descended on his office and confiscated computer equipment.
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On May 2, Mr. Dann, a husband and father of three, admitted to an extramarital affair with a subordinate in his office. He said he feared his misbehavior may have contributed to an atmosphere that led to sexual harassment allegations by two other employees against one of his top aides.

He fired that aide, Anthony Gutierrez; dismissed communications director and long-time friend Leo Jennings for allegedly trying to convince another employee to mislead internal investigators, and accepted the forced resignation of chief-of-staff Edgar Simpson for failing to act swiftly on the harassment complaints.

But Mr. Dann vowed at the time that he would stay at work and try to regain the trust of Ohioans.

I apologize and accept responsibility for failing to give an administrative backbone worthy of the great legal work being done, Mr. Dann wrote in the letter of resignation handed personally to Mr. Strickland. I apologize and accept responsibility for not conducting my personal life in a way that is consistent with the important mission of the office.

Mr. Dann s first assistant, Thomas Winters, will head the attorney general s office until Mr. Strickland decides whether he will exercise his authority to appoint a replacement going into a special election on Nov. 4.

Ironically, Mr. Winters, a former lobbyist, once counted former Toledo-area coin dealer and GOP fund-raiser Tom Noe as a client. Noe hired Mr. Winters, a Democrat, in the late 1980s to convince the legislature to exempt investment coins and bullion purchases from the state s sales tax.

Years later, Noe was convicted of stealing from two rare-coin investments he operated for the state Bureau of Workers Compensation during Republican Gov. Bob Taft s administration. Perhaps more than any other successful Democrat in 2006, Mr. Dann rode that scandal into office, beating former Republican Betty Montgomery, a former attorney general and Wood County prosecutor.

Because Ohio needs an attorney general and an attorney general s office which is focused on its mission and the needs of Ohio, and because these employees as well as the citizens of Ohio deserve better, I believe Marc Dann has done the right thing by resigning, she said. I know this is a very difficult time for him. I wish him and his family the best.

She ruled out another run this fall to replace him.

Replacing Dann

When asked what characteristics he most wants in the next attorney general, Mr. Strickland quickly and emphatically said, Maturity! The governor insisted he had not decided whether he will name a permanent or temporary replacement, let alone who that person might be.

Conjecture has included such names as Treasurer Richard Cordray and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, a former attorney general. Republicans are likely to aggressively seek to reclaim the seat with former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine s name most often mentioned.

The Democrats would love to divorce themselves from this scandal, but Marc Dann is only the latest in a growing list of Democrat officeholders caught in their own culture of corruption, said Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett. Last week it was Matt Barrett. This week it is Marc Dann. I wonder who will be next.

Mr. Barrett, an Amherst attorney and another 2006 Democratic success story, recently was forced to resign as state representative after admitting he d misled fellow Democrats about how nude photographs of women ended up in a computer presentation he accidentally showed to a Norwalk High School government class.

He initially blamed his son, but eventually he admitted he personally knew the women in the pictures.

The right thing

Mr. Strickland called Mr. Dann s resignation the right thing for Ohio and for the attorney general s office, and said he believed that aggressive pressure from fellow Democrats contributed to that decision.

On Tuesday, Mr. Dann s private lawyer had explored a deal that would have led to the attorney general s immediate resignation in exchange for a delay in the investigation by Mr. Charles.

There was absolutely no deal between me or my administration and Attorney General Dann, Mr. Strickland said. He said Mr. Dann never personally asked him to kill or delay the investigation, but said Mr. Fisher had delivered a message to that effect on Mr. Dann s behalf to Senate President Bill Harris (R., Ashland) and House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering).

But he conveyed to both that he was simply conveying a message from the attorney general, and that he, nor I, nor my administration was in support of it., Mr. Strickland said.

Now that he has [resigned], it is my role as governor to keep a hands-off stance toward that investigation, let it proceed, and let the chips fall where they may, he said.

He noted that Mr. Dann expressed concern over the work of the attorney general s office and its employees during their conversation as well as concern for what would happen to him and his family. Before becoming attorney general less than 17 months ago, Mr. Dann was a Youngstown-area attorney and a state senator.

His former colleague, state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), called Mr. Dann s resignation a relief.

What makes this so ironic is that there was a different standard once he was in office, she said.

In a memo to the 1,400 employees in the attorney general s office, the interim attorney general, Mr. Winters, called yesterday a sad day.

Collectively, you span the terms of the seven attorneys general, he wrote. You enjoy a national reputation as aggressive and professional advocates of the people of Ohio. I know in my heart that your dedication will continue as I assume my new assignment.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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