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MIHALOPOULOS: Suits linked to Rutherford sex charges cost public $515K

Illinois state treasurer Dan Rutherford speaks during a 2014 news conference in Schaumburg. Rutherford denied allegations that he sexually harassed a former high level state employee. | Brian O'Mahoney/For Sun-Times Media

More than three years after Dan Rutherford’s campaign for governor imploded spectacularly, one of two civil lawsuits against the former Republican state treasurer finally will go to trial Monday.

Although Rutherford long ago became a footnote in Illinois history, the cases stemming from his political demise are costing us dearly.

Even before the trial begins in a Daley Center courtroom, the private lawyers for Rutherford in the two cases have charged the state more than $500,000, records show.

OPINION

During the 2014 GOP primary campaign, Rutherford was at the podium for one of the more bizarre news conferences in the annals of Illinois politics.

With a former FBI agent standing at his side, Rutherford alleged that rival Bruce Rauner was behind false allegations against him by an employee. Rutherford said the employee had demanded $300,000 to keep the politically toxic allegations “under wraps.”

Yet, Rutherford would not say at the time what had been alleged.

His attempt to get ahead of the explosive story didn’t work. It quickly emerged that former aide Ed Michalowski accused the then-treasurer of sexual harassment.

Rutherford ended up last in the four-way primary, with just 7.5 percent of the vote.

Michalowski’s lawsuit against Rutherford still is winding its way through federal court here.

Now, three other former Rutherford employees who also fell out with him will get their day in court.

George Daglas, Ashvin Lad and Patrick Carlson sued Rutherford, his chief of staff Kyle Ham and the state treasurer’s office in July 2015. They allege Rutherford fired them because they backed up Michalowski’s story.

The three men say they were unfairly dismissed for what they told Ron Braver & Associates, a firm hired by the treasurer’s office to conduct an internal investigation into the allegations against Rutherford.

“During their interviews, plaintiffs each provided Braver with information that the allegations of sexual harassment against Rutherford were true,” according to the lawsuit.

“Additionally, plaintiffs each provided Braver with information that [treasurer’s office] resources and employees were being illegally used to support Rutherford’s campaign for governor.”

In both lawsuits, Chicago lawyer Daniel T. Fahner has represented Rutherford — whose campaign committee reported having more than $831,000 invested in mutual funds at the end of June.

Three firms where Fahner has worked have billed a total of $515,193.99 to work on the cases, state officials said. That includes nearly $343,000 for work on the federal case against Rutherford and more than $172,000 to defend him in Cook County Circuit Court.

Rutherford did not return calls seeking comment.

Fahner said Rutherford fired the three men based on an investigation by the inspector general for the treasurer’s offfice.

“Mr. Rutherford followed the findings and recommendation of the inspector general, who investigated this matter, found that the three plaintiffs falsified their time records and recommended termination,” Fahner said.

Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan’s office appointed Fahner at Rutherford’s request and allowed him to charge $200 an hour, which Fahner said was “substantially below our usual hourly billing rate.”

The A.G.’s office is representing the treasurer’s office and Rutherford’s former chief of staff in the Cook County case. A spokeswoman for Madigan declined to comment.

The attorney for Daglas, Lad and Carlson says she’s confident they will prevail in the bench trial.

In court filings, lawyer Dana Kurtz of Hinsdale cited text messages in which the director of human resources for the treasurer’s office allegedly tells Rutherford, “I am so full of anger toward Ed and his posse of liars.”

In other text messages, according to court records, a political supporter told Rutherford she had seen Lad and Carlson with an unidentified “bearded man” whom she believed was “a Rauner guy.”

“We feel the evidence is very strong in this case, and it’s been a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Kurtz told me.

Kurtz also says she found evidence the plaintiffs were unfairly accused of misconduct with time sheets.

“Politicians believe they are above the law, and at some point the public needs to hold them accountable,” Kurtz says.

Rather than living in the governor’s mansion in Springfield, Rutherford now runs a company that arranges tours of Cuba.

According to the business’ web site, the packages it offers include a tour of Havana — “four magical days and three sensual nights in the Cuban capital [sic] known as ‘the Paris of the Americas.’”

Rutherford will personally lead a “Local Leaders Cuban Tour” in October, according to the web site.