I’m pretty certain of one thing. Next time the Ohio Industrial Commission holds a meeting, I want to be invited. At least to the after party.

The Ohio Inspector General’s Office says no laws were violated, but four hearing officers created “an appearance of impropriety” by attending a party hosted by two lawyers who represent clients before them.

Of course, allegations that there was a hot tub, liquor and women in bikinis, and that at least one of those women ended up naked, didn’t help the whole “appearance” scenario. The party was held in conjunction with a Commission meeting near Toledo. The Inspector General's report indicated there was “no evidence” that the four IC hearing officers were present when the woman disrobed.

I wonder if they checked their cell phones. If it actually happened, I am pretty sure the evidence would be there.

The purported hosts of this little soirée were identified as attorneys Tom Stefanik and John Christie of the Cleveland law firm of Stefanik & Christie. The hearing officers, all from Cleveland, were identified as Gary Bash, Mike Brown, Michael Dobronos and Milutin Zlojutro. The four did acknowledge that at least one bikini clad woman was present at the gathering, but they did not see anyone naked.

This entire incident apparently came to light when the inspector general's office received an anonymous tip that sexual favors were provided. The office found no evidence to substantiate the allegation.

The four hearing officers apparently told investigators that “at least one woman was in a hot tub with both of the lawyers” (oh sure, blame the lawyers) and that they did not consume any of the provided food or alcohol.

I’ll say one thing for those Ohio hearing dudes; they sure know how to party. They didn’t eat, drink or socialize. Apparently they just stood there. Perhaps they just listened. After all, isn’t that what “hearing officers” are trained to do?

The inspector general report says that one of the lawyers confirmed no state employees were present at the time of the nudity, which “was something that just happened.”  I’ll tell you; those State guys miss out on all the fun. Apparently by the time someone let loose in the tub they had stopped listening and gone home.

Good thing they weren't “seeing officers”.

I've written a bit lately about the challenges of working for a state operation. In this situation it does appear that a bit of common sense should have been applied. These men may have done nothing wrong by the letter of the law, but their very presence at such an event puts their credibility and neutrality on the line – especially if I am a defense counsel or employer left with lingering questions.

Several years ago, after sessions at an ABA conference, I found myself having dinner with a Florida Workers' Compensation Judge and her husband. I offered to pick up the check, and she politely but very firmly declined, citing ethics rules that prohibit gifts of that nature. I don't practice law, and likely would never end up before her for any reason, but she maintained adherence to both appearance and propriety.

And no one imbibed too much, there was no hot tub, and everyone's clothing remained firmly in place.  

By comparison these guys probably made what legal professionals would call a colossal boo-boo. They've learned a lesson that no matter how hard you try, a booze infused hot tub is not the place to scrub your reputation clean.

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