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

Watchdog group looks into Ohio Industrial Commission members' party at Maumee Bay State Park

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- Allegations that four Cleveland area hearing officers with the Ohio Industrial Commission had attended a party in a Maumee State Park cabin paid for by attorneys who do business with the commission led today to recommendations from the state's watchdog that the commission consider administrative discipline.

But Inspector General Randy Meyer's office did not find wrongdoing in investigating the claims that nude women had been presented at the party.

An anonymous complaint received by the inspector general had claimed the women were "female escorts."

RELATED: Read the Inspector General‘‍s report in full

The report states that interviews with the four officers as well as others who were present at the party at some point in the night of Sept. 8, 2013 did not support the allegations. But still it found an "appearance of impropriety."

"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 Dobronas, and Milutin Zlojutro admitted that they attended the party while attending the commission-sponsored meeting. The commission hears worker and employer appeals of claims decisions by the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. The hearing officers preside over the appeals.

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, one of whom, some said, was an employee of the hosting attorneys' firm.

One hearing officer who was not a subject of the complaint, however, said he left the party because he "got a weird vibe," but he could not say 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."

One other hearing officer who was not a subject to the complaint said he was briefly at the party and said he went to the kitchen at the request of one of the women to do "shooters." He said he had no idea who the alcohol belonged to.

"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."

The attorneys who hosted 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."

In addition to recommending possible administrative action by the commission against the hearing officers, the report said the commission should define what conduct is expected of its employees at conferences and meetings.


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