Ohio state lawmaker accused of hostile behavior will be investigated by outside law firm
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) —
The office of Ohio’s Republican attorney general said Monday it has appointed an outside law firm to investigate a Democratic state representative amid claims the lawmaker engaged in a pattern of erratic and abusive behavior toward other legislators, staff and constituents for months.
The investigation into Rep. Elliot Forhan, a Cleveland-area lawyer who was elected to the Ohio House last fall, comes at the request of Republican House Speaker Jason Stephens. It follows months of alleged hostile behavior, according to a memo from House Minority Leader Allison Russo last week.
Russo said her fellow Democrat was reprimanded and given anti-bias training in May after an encounter with a female constituent over a bill he sponsored. However, despite efforts by party leaders to get him to change his behavior, Forhan had additional episodes of “screaming, vulgarity and threats if challenged or coached on any given issue,” Russo’s letter said.
Some of the episodes allegedly involved aggressive rhetoric about the latest Israel-Hamas war, as well as a heated instance in which he allegedly yelled at one of the two Muslim lawmakers in the House, Democratic Rep. Munira Abdullahi, about the war. She declined to comment on the situation.
House Democratic leadership has kicked Forhan off his committee assignments and banned him from contacting legislative staff. His badge access was also revoked for both the Ohio Statehouse and Riffe Center, where state representatives’ offices are located, according to a Nov. 17 letter from the House speaker to Forhan making him aware of the investigation.
Forhan called his treatment by Russo “a political hatchet job,” saying in a letter to Stephens on Monday that he was being handled differently than another lawmaker in recent months — Republican Rep. Bob Young — who Forhan said did not have his access restricted and was not banned from contact with staff.
Young was found guilty of domestic violence in October.
Forhan declined to comment further, saying in a brief phone interview Monday that his letter speaks for itself.
When asked to comment on Forhan’s letter, Republican spokesperson Pat Melton said the speaker’s office does not comment on pending investigations.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s letter Monday to the firm Perez and Morris said they will be paid $225 per hour and a total of no more than $30,000 to investigate Forhan. A message seeking comment was left with the law firm.
Public officials, including mayors and city council members, are among those in Forhan’s district who asked him to resign Monday. In a joint letter to Forhan, they said he has “lost the ability to effectively function” as a lawmaker and can no longer meet the district’s needs.
The letter said if he did not step down they will ask House leadership to expel him.
Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.