Ohio judge in courthouse sex scandal
Civil suits charge he gave paramour 'leeway and entitlements'
By Ted Latiak
Sexual escapades in the courthouse, sexual harassment, intimidation and favoritism.
These are just some of the accusations leveled against an Ohio judge who prosecutors say is the first in the state to be charged with sex crimes in his own courtroom.
Judge Dallas Powers of Warren County, Ohio originally faced 13 felony and three misdemeanor charges stemming from his sexual relationship with a much-younger probation officer, and the effect the relationship had on the rest of the courthouse staff.
The charges ended his 27-year career as a judge.
In a deal with prosecutors, Powers agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanors ? lesser crimes of intimidation and showing preference to a public employee ? and no contest to three counts of public indecency and two additional counts of intimidation. He will serve three years' probation and cannot hold public office for seven years.
"We're very pleased Dallas Powers will no longer be a judge in Ohio," said Bob Beasley of the state attorney general's office. "And the employees are pleased he will not be able to set foot in the Warren County Courthouse again."
Not all the employees are satisfied, however. Ten, ranging from a bailiff to the chief deputy clerk, are seeking damages from Powers for sexual harassment, verbal abuse and giving special treatment to his girlfriend, probation officer Libbie Sexton.
In three civil suits against Powers and the Warren County Board of Commissioners, the employees complain he gave Sexton "leeway and entitlements unavailable to other employees."
The suits also claim Powers created a "hostile, offensive, intimidating work environment" by making repeated and unwelcome requests of employees to engage in sexual acts, and being verbally abusive concerning women, women's bodies and women's attire.
One plaintiff, Mary Velde, 33, alleges Powers touched her sexually in the courthouse on at least two occasions after she refused Powers' advances. In an affidavit, she said he "placed his fingers in my vagina and his mouth on my breast."
Powers' defense attorney John Smith said the former judge's troubles began on August 30, 2004, when a court employee walked into Powers' office and discovered Powers, then 71, and Sexton, then 34, in what appeared to be the beginning or end of a sexual act. The employee reported the incident to another part-time judge.
Smith described the affair between Powers and Sexton as an "open secret" and not the true reason behind the charges.
"Everybody knew about it," Smith said. "The complaints didn't come because of the affair. It was because of the preferential treatment. The other employees didn't like that when there was overtime Sexton got it or that she wore what she wanted to at work."
Once the investigation started, more allegations, such as sexual harassment and discrimination arose against the married judge; one civil suit alleges Powers focused courtroom cameras on female attorneys, defendants and employees "to observe their physiques."
Several court employees claim to have witnessed sexual activity between Powers and Sexton at the courthouse.
Smith said he instructed Powers to stay away from the courthouse until the situation was resolved. But after stewing in Florida over the Christmas holiday, Powers returned to the courthouse and fired three members of the probation department, whom he deemed insubordinate.
That action led to several more charges, including intimidation and one count of inducing a panic.
"[Some courthouse employees] said he was going wild and they thought he might be armed," Smith said. "But there are security cameras there. I've watched the video. It was nothing like that."
Sexton, who is not married, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted theft and no contest to two misdemeanors, according to her attorney Chris Cornyn.
"Essentially, she admitted to doing homework for some college courses she was taking on a computer at work," Cornyn said.
Sexton also received three years probation. Cornyn said his client holds no hard feelings towards Powers.
"She still considers him a friend today," Cornyn said.
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