Timing of lawsuit suspicious?

Published 02/12 2014 12:26PM

Updated 02/12 2014 12:37PM

ILLINOIS -- State Treasurer Dan Rutherford will have a long six weeks ahead of him as he tries to battle accusations of sexual harassment just weeks before a Republican primary. Legal experts say it will be months before anything's decided in court. WCIA-3's Steve Staeger finds out how it could impact the political process.

Political and legal experts say the allegations, though serious, are tough to prove, but also tough to defend. Bottom line? Even if the allegations are false, Rutherford has a lot of work ahead of him.

"Treasurer Rutherford, are there any more allegations of sexual harassment coming at you from anyone else?"

An audible gasp at a Republican debate Monday night after contender Kirk Dillard asks a question likely on a lot of minds.

"Senator Dillard, I believe that was inappropriate. Those allegations are absolutely false. They are from years ago."

Hours before, Rutherford was on the defensive, swiping at a federal lawsuit filed by a former employee, Ed Michalowski. He claims Rutherford forced him to do political work on state time and that the Treasurer sexually harassed him over a period of two years, including an incident in 2011 when he claims Rutherford inappropriately touched him.

It's something Rutherford says he can prove never happened.

"He's going to have to convince Illinois voters, in six weeks, that he's telling the truth here and hope that no other allegations are going to come out anywhere else."

Political expert Michael Miller says Rutherford has a long road ahead of him, but he doesn't believe it's "game over."

"Some of what is being claimed here, I think, most people are looking at it and thinking, it sounds a little fishy and so, he's just going to have to appeal to reason. Obviously, it's suspicious, the timing of it. That's the first thing that comes to everyone's mind. Why just a couple of weeks before the election does this come out? Not any time in 2011, when this happened?"

Irv Miller is a trial lawyer in Chicago. He says the allegations are devastating if true, but he says it will take a while for the wheel of justice to start rolling in this case.

"Right now, we are in the court of public opinion and that's why you're doing this interview. We're talking about whether or not the public should put faith in that this happened or the public should just say this is another political game. Those issues will be resolved at the ballot box instead of the jury room."

Rutherford's numbers are starting to slide. A recent Chicago Tribune poll put him in third place. He used to be much closer to the number two spot. Bruce Rauner still holds the lead in that poll.

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