Thursday, September 2, 2004

Attorney general to investigate claims



By Dan Horn, Sharon Coolidge and Cindi Andrews
Enquirer staff writers

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Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro will investigate accusations that Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen sexually harassed a female employee and threatened to ruin her career if she did not resume an affair with him.

Petro announced the investigation Wednesday and vowed to share his findings with law-enforcement authorities if he turns up evidence of crimes.

"We will conduct a full, thorough and independent investigation," said Kim Norris, Petro's spokeswoman. "We expect it will take some time."

Petro's decision came a day after officials in Allen's office sent him a letter seeking help with an investigation. The letter promised that all employees of the prosecutor's office would cooperate with investigators.

County commissioners, who also have called for an investigation, said the attorney general has agreed to report his findings to them as well.

"The important thing is that we have a complete airing of the facts," County Commissioner Phil Heimlich said. "I think the public's entitled to that."

The investigation will focus on sexual harassment claims that assistant prosecutor Rebecca Collins made against Allen last month in an internal complaint and, two weeks later, in a federal lawsuit. Norris said investigators will also examine how Collins' superiors handled her complaint.

Collins accuses Allen of coercing her into sex, sometimes during work hours in Allen's office, and says he harassed her after she broke off the relationship.

Allen, who did not return calls Wednesday, has admitted to a consensual 31/2-year affair with Collins but denies the harassment charges. In an interview Wednesday with WCPO-TV (Channel 9), Allen once again vowed the sex scandal will not force him to resign.

"What I did was wrong," Allen said. "It was a private failing, but it doesn't affect my ability to do my job."

He described his workday Wednesday as "just a normal day at the office." He added "there's been no glitches in the office,'' since he publicly admitted the affair Aug. 25.

Allen apologized during the interview and asked to be judged on the work he has done over his career. "I'm very sorry to the community for my conduct," Allen said. "It was something that was inexcusable."

More details about Collins' allegations emerged Wednesday, when a judge ordered the release of a letter that her lawyers gave Allen on Aug. 12. The letter notified Allen that he and other county officials could become the target of a lawsuit if they failed to settle Collins' claims.

The letter states that Collins would settle the claim out of court if Allen paid her $3 million. Allen's lawyer said last week that Collins had sought more than $2 million, an amount he described as "outrageous."

One of Collins' lawyers, Michael Moses, said in the letter that the settlement proposal was reasonable, given the nature of Allen's harassment of his client.

"We would seek much more in damages from a jury," Moses, a Columbus-based lawyer, wrote. "We believe that informal resolution of these allegations would thus benefit all parties."

The letter repeats many of the allegations outlined in Collins' lawsuit but provides more information about the relationship and the working conditions she claims she endured after breaking off the affair with Allen in 2003.

According to an early version of the lawsuit, which was attached to the letter, Allen promised Collins that he would divorce his wife, Municipal Court Judge Lisa Allen, and marry Collins.

It also claims Allen denied Collins a promotion to the municipal division of the prosecutor's office because he feared that his wife would see it as favoritism.

Collins previously has claimed that after the affair ended, Allen repeatedly called her at home, tried to kiss her in an office stairway, left a red rose on her desk and once mouthed the words "I love you" as he passed her in the hall.

"Ms. Collins has been forced to submit to sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature as a term and condition of her employment," Moses wrote in the Aug. 12 letter.

He said Allen interfered with her work, created a hostile work environment and stymied her career advancement.

"You have the reputation of being an extremely intimidating person with vindictive tendencies," Moses wrote.

Collins, 33, worked at The Cincinnati Enquirer for seven years, as copy editor for the editorial page and prior to that as a news aide, before going to law school and joining the prosecutor's office as an intern in 1999. She became an assistant prosecutor after finishing law school in 2001.

Her letter to Allen gave him until Aug. 26 to accept or reject the settlement offer. A day before the deadline, Allen held a news conference to admit having a consensual affair with Collins, which he said lasted from December 1999 to August 2003.

At the news conference, Allen said he was acknowledging the affair because he had learned "through media inquiries" that a lawsuit might be filed. He did not mention the letter or the $3 million settlement proposal.

County commissioners said they were angry that it took an order from Common Pleas Judge Mark Schweikert to force Allen's office to release the Aug. 12 letter. The Enquirer sued Allen's office for the letter last week.

Commissioners, who are also named as defendants in Collins' lawsuit, said they might have been able to protect the county from a potentially expensive lawsuit if Allen had notified them of the threat when he received the letter.

Because he didn't, they said, they did not have the opportunity to negotiate a possible settlement.

"It could have (made a difference). But, unfortunately, we'll never know that now," Commissioner Todd Portune said. "That's part of the harm that's been done here."

Portune and Heimlich said the prosecutor is supposed to be the commissioners' legal representative and that he had an obligation to tell his clients they were at risk of being sued for millions of dollars.

"The integrity of this government has been compromised by the prosecutor," Heimlich said. "It should have immediately been brought to our attention. The attempts (by Allen) to settle this quietly were unethical, if not illegal."

Allen's lawyer, Michael Hawkins, said the letter was not shared with commissioners because Collins' lawyers told him that it was "a confidential communication between she and Mike to try to resolve the matter."

Lawyer Randy Freking, who is working with Moses to represent Collins, said the $3 million figure was a starting point and could have led to further settlement talks.

"In no sense of the word was it a bottom line," Freking said.

He said the $3 million figure reflects the damage done to Collins, especially if she is forced to resign. She still works at the prosecutor's office - and was at work Wednesday - but has complained that her supervisors have taken her case files and are not allowing her to do her job.

"If she resigns, she will likely have to move to another legal community to continue her career because of the political nature of the situation," Freking said. "She is worried any future clients would wonder about how a judge or jury would react to the fact Rebecca is the client's lawyer. She recognizes there may be some cloud."

E-mail dhorn@enquirer.com, scoolidge@enquirer.com and candrews@enquirer.com



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