COLUMBUS, Ohio – Risking impeachment, Ohio's attorney general on Monday refused demands from the governor and other fellow Democrats that he resign over a sexual harassment scandal in his office and an affair with a subordinate.
Gov. Ted Strickland told reporters that Democrats will begin drafting an impeachment resolution against Attorney General Marc Dann right away. Republican House Speaker Jon Husted said Monday that his chamber — which takes the first step in any impeachment — was already reviewing the process.
Virtually every state-level Democratic officeholder urged Dann to resign in a letter late Sunday after Strickland tried twice during the day to persuade him to leave office.
A sexual harassment investigation uncovered an atmosphere in Dann's office rife with inappropriate staff-subordinate relationships, heavy drinking and harassing and threatening behavior by a supervisor. On Friday, Dann admitted to an extramarital affair with a subordinate after the investigation threatened to reveal the relationship.
"I would hope the Attorney General will understand that his effectiveness as an attorney general has been so diminished that in my judgment he can no longer effectively serve in that office," Strickland said Monday. The governor and Dann were among many Ohio Democrats swept into office in 2006 in the wake of a Republican scandal over state investments.
"I think it's important for Democrats to send a very clear message that we will clean our own house," Strickland said.
For impeachment proceedings to go forward, Dann must have committed a wrong act, according to the state constitution. Strickland declined to say what act or acts Democrats planned to name against Dann in the proceedings.
"The work of the Office of the Attorney General matters more, and is far more important, than any one person," Democrats said in their letter to Dann. "In many, many cases it is all that stands between the people and the powerful. Sadly, we no longer have even the most remote hope that you can continue to effectively serve as Attorney General and that is why we are asking for your resignation."
Dann had previously conceded that his own behavior contributed to an atmosphere in the office that permitted two junior staffers to be harassed and threatened by Anthony Gutierrez, a friend he hired as an aide.
However, Dann insisted he is still capable of working as the state's lawyer and top law enforcement officer.
"I am in the office, have rolled up my sleeves and am working on behalf of the people of State of Ohio," Dann said Monday in a written statement to his staff. In the statement, he apologized to them for putting them in a tough position but added, "our work is too important to do anything but our jobs today."
A message seeking further comment was left Monday with Dann spokesman Ted Hart.
Strickland said that in his failed attempts to persuade Dann to resign, "he told me that he does not believe that he has done anything that would justify his leaving office, that he feels that he was elected by the people and he will continue to do his best to remain in office," Strickland said.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said the party plans to vote Saturday on whether to rescind its endorsement of Dann and pull all party resources from him, which would make him "essentially an independent." He said Dann will find it difficult to be effective.
"We will distance ourselves both figuratively and literally from the Attorney General until he makes the decision that is best for the people of the state of Ohio, and that is to step down," Redfern said.
Gutierrez was fired Friday after an internal investigation found his treatment of two 26-year-old employees violated sexual harassment policy. Communications Director Leo Jennings, who was accused of asking a co-worker to lie under oath, also was fired. Ed Simpson, Dann's policy chief, resigned; investigators said he failed to address inappropriate behavior in the office.
Dann, who is married, apologized to his wife and supporters Friday for having an affair with an employee he refused to name.
Dann's scheduler, Jessica Utovich, 28, resigned last week without explanation. In his testimony during the investigation, Dann said Utovich sometimes spent the night at his apartment but declined to talk about his relationship with her specifically.
Dann had lived with Gutierrez and Jennings at an apartment during much of his first year in office and some of the alleged harassment by Gutierrez occurred there.
Strickland said, as a congressman, he opposed former President Bill Clinton's impeachment. But he said the two situations are "dramatically different." His request for Dann to resign is not based substantially on his extramarital affair, Strickland said.
"It goes well beyond that. It involves many, many factors that are much more complicated than that," he said.