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True or false, sex harassment claims have wounded Rutherford: Brown

Updated: March 12, 2014 6:33AM



State treasurer Dan Rutherford stepped to the microphones in a Schaumburg hotel late Monday afternoon with more than his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor on the line.

Rutherford’s entire political future rests on him being able to successfully rebut the allegations of a now former employee who contends the treasurer sexually harassed him and forced him to do political work on state time.

While Rutherford was forceful and assured in his strenuous denials, much more so than in his unusual pre-emptive strike 10 days earlier, I’m afraid he will continue to find that such accusations are more easily made than laid to rest.

There are certainly plenty of reasons to be skeptical about Edmund P. Michalowski’s lawsuit, the first being that it was filed just five weeks before the March 18 primary election — and several hours after his lawyer went on the radio to level her charges.

That also makes it nearly three full years since the most sensational of the allegations being leveled against Rutherford — that he lured Michalowski to his Downstate home in April 2011 under the false pretenses of an office retreat and then entered his bedroom after dinner and “grabbed at [his] genital area.”

Other than saying he complained to Rutherford’s chief of staff, who denies it, Michalowski makes no claim to ever having reported the incident through official channels until now.

Also consider that Michalowski is in the middle of a personal bankruptcy, a home foreclosure and a divorce, which means he has a lot of pressure on him, as Rutherford observed.

Michalowski states in his own lawsuit that he’s been hospitalized numerous times in recent years for severe headaches and was “diagnosed with leakage of cerebral spinal fluid in the brain”— which he blames on the stress of dealing with Rutherford.

On top of that, before joining Rutherford, Michalowski was a longtime Democratic political operative and state employee with Secretary of State Jesse White.

And on Monday, Michalowski started a new job with Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough, another Democrat.

Then there’s the whole strange business of the lawyer he picked to handle his case.

Christine Svenson performs election law work for Republican candidates, handles divorces as well as employment law (where her website says she specializes in defense work), and even told a magazine a few years back that she sometimes sets up her clients on dates.

And somehow she managed to be the lawyer that the Bruce Rauner campaign paid $3,500 last year, which they explain was for the purpose of reviewing an office lease.

If there’s any proof of Michalowski’s allegations, Svenson did not provide any Monday, although she hints in her complaint that there could be witnesses to some of the alleged incidents and has claimed in her public statements that she was originally approached by other treasurer’s employees with concerns about being forced to do political work.

At the same time, I want to be mindful that it can be easy to attack the victim in a sexual harassment case, and that none of these side issues get to the crux of what happened. Coming forward can be difficult for someone in fear of losing a job.

The timing of this is absolutely political, as Rutherford charges. That doesn’t mean the allegations aren’t true.

Rutherford would like us to “connect the dots” back to Rauner, but there are simply too many dots missing for that.

Rutherford’s denials were complete and unequivocal.

He looked reporters straight in the eye as he said: “I stand right here and look you in the eye and tell you it’s wrong. It’s false.”

Yet his efforts to undercut Michalowski’s claims with documentation fell short.

Rutherford presented a travel voucher in which Michalowski claims to have driven the treasurer to Pontiac and returned home by 4 p.m. on the day of the alleged crotch-grabbing.

But that evidence was hardly definitive of anything.

Rutherford said Michalowski had been to his home in Chenoa only once “about 10 to 12 years ago.”

“We’ve got mutual friends,” was his only explanation.

Before his campaign was sidetracked by Michalowski’s allegations, Rutherford was telling reporters he was in the best position to challenge Rauner’s frontrunner status, an argument he repeated Monday.

Fair or not, it doesn’t look that way from here.



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