Former Republican state Treasurer Dan Rutherford‘s ill-fated 2014 gubernatorial bid has long faded from public memory, but a civil trial this week at the Daley Center has placed a spotlight on the explosive allegations that damaged his campaign.
And taxpayers are footing the bill, with attorneys defending Rutherford in two civil cases already charging over $500,000 in legal fees before the first day of the first trial began this week, according to the legal team for the plaintiffs, citing state records.
Rutherford is being sued in Cook County Circuit Court by three workers in the treasurer’s office who say they were fired in retaliation for participating in a probe looking into allegations of sexual harassment and political pressure made against their then-boss, Rutherford. Attorneys for the ex-state treasurer have denied the allegations in the lawsuit, saying the trio was let go after an inspector general’s report recommended they be fired over allegations of falsifying timekeeping records.
As the trial got underway Monday, Rutherford took the stand and fielded questions about missing text messages — something attorneys for the three plaintiffs were seeking to determine whether the conversations might bolster their clients’ claims. But Rutherford testified that he couldn’t turn over texts after March 2014 — around the time of the gubernatorial primary and several months before the three were terminated — because his cellphone fell in a toilet, leaving the electronic messages irretrievable, according to attorneys involved in the case.
Rutherford also was questioned about whether state workers had to pitch in at his gubernatorial campaign events while still on the taxpayers’ dime. Rutherford testified that there were days when state employees took him to campaign events, but those employees were off the state clock while he was politicking, attorneys on both sides of the case told the Tribune.
The ex-staffers allege they were let go after they were identified as witnesses who corroborated another employee’s claims that he faced sexual harassment and political pressure at the hands of Rutherford.
But Rutherford’s attorney Daniel Fahner said his client fired the three — logistics manager Patrick Carlson, community affairs and marketing director George Daglas and investment director Ashvin Lad — only after a treasurer’s inspector general’s report recommended they be fired over allegations they had falsified timekeeping records.
“This is not a complicated case,” he said.
David L. Wells, then the office’s inspector general but now retired, found that the three shared their computer logon information in order to sign in and out of the office timekeeping system for each other.
According to court records and Wells’ report, the “scheme surfaced” on May 21, 2014, when Lad sent a Snapchat message to co-workers of himself at Wrigley Field at 2 p.m. with the caption “I’m playing Hooky…. SHHHHH.” The report said records show Lad clocked in to work at 7:21 a.m. and clocked out at 3:03 p.m., though staff members told Wells they did not recall seeing Lad that day.
But their attorney Dana Kurtz said the three were fired not long after being identified as witnesses in a claim brought by former aide Ed Michalowski, whose own lawsuit alleging Rutherford made unwanted advances and then unfairly overlooked him for promotion is pending in federal court.
The offenses for which her clients were fired were unproved, Kurtz said, and other employees had incorrectly filled out timecards without being fired.
During his campaign for governor, Rutherford held an unorthodox news conference, saying he wanted to directly address misconduct allegations that were trickling out at the time, but details hadn’t publicly surfaced. He said he wanted to detail why the allegations were false, but declined to do so, saying the matter was under investigation. Eventually, Michalowski’s allegations emerged.
The allegations didn’t help his political prospects. He finished last in the four-way GOP gubernatorial primary race.
In an interview with the Tribune last year, Rutherford declined to address the allegations against him or even talk about his political future. He did say he was having great fun leading trips to Cuba through his travel business, Global Relations Travel Club.
“On one trip I said ‘I can’t have another lobster!'” Rutherford, of Chenoa, said at the time. “I’ve had enough!”
The trial, which is being heard by Cook County Circuit Judge James Snyder, is expected to go through week.