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Published: Saturday, 5/17/2008

Dann staffer calls her exit retaliatory

BY ALAN JOHNSON
AND JAMES NASH
COLUMBUS DISPATCH

COLUMBUS - When she learned that Attorney General Marc Dann was going to tell the world the next day that he had an affair with a female staff member, Jessica Utovich hurriedly decided to quit her job with the office.

She submitted her resignation late in the afternoon of May 1.

But that evening, Ms. Utovich said she talked to Mr. Dann, to whom she had been romantically linked for several months last year. She said he convinced her to rescind her resignation. She agreed.

Ms. Utovich said she was stunned the next day, when she said she learned, while watching back-to-back televised news conferences by Mr. Dann and Thomas Winters, his top assistant, that she no longer had a job. Later that day, while speaking to the Columbus Dispatch editorial board, Mr. Dann professed ignorance of the situation: "I don't know why she resigned."

In a new batch of e-mails and other personnel records released yesterday, Ms. Utovich accuses the attorney general's office of retaliation against her.

"I am appalled by the treatment shown to me, as over the past five months I have been nothing but loyal and a hard worker," she wrote in May 7 e-mail to Paula Luna Paoletti, interim chief of policy and administration. "I'm not proud of my actions in my personal life, but do not deserve to be retaliated for them by the office."

Mr. Dann hired Ms. Utovich shortly after the Democrat took office in January, 2007. She got high marks in her only evaluation, scoring 69 on a scale of 1 to 70. Her annual salary was increased from $35,000 to $44,300 in September, 2007.

On one of her exit documents, she crossed out the box that had been marked "voluntary termination." She wrote in, "Termination was not voluntary. I had rescinded my resignation 5/1/08 which AG Dann agreed to."

Her job as chief of travel services for Mr. Dann officially ended May 8, although Ms. Utovich used personal leave time and did not work last week.

Mr. Dann, 46, resigned under pressure Wednesday as investigations escalated into sexual harassment, cronyism, and mismanagement in the office he held for just 17 months.

By the time he left, two of Mr. Dann's friends and employees, Anthony Gutierrez and Leo Jennings III, had been fired; a third, Edgar C. Simpson, resigned, and two others were disciplined.

Ms. Utovich wonders whether Mr. Dann broke his word to tell Thomas Winters, now acting attorney general, that he agreed to allow her to withdraw her resignation, or if Mr. Winters simply disregarded it.

Mr. Winters' office declined to comment yesterday.



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