Judge presiding over Ohio State sex abuse scandal lawsuits flagged for wife’s business ties to OSU

The federal judge presiding over the Ohio State University case against hundreds of men sexually abused by Dr. Richard Strauss failed to disclose that his wife had a licensing agreement with the university to sell OSU flags.

Judge Michael H. Watson made the decision Thursday in a meeting with the victim’s attorney and attorneys for OSU after an NBC News reporter asked if the judge had informed all parties of the relationship. business relationship his wife, Lori Leavitt Watson, has with the university. Eric Weitz, a spokesman for the Southern District of Ohio, said.

A tag sewn into a flag with the name of The Flag Lady store in Columbus, Ohio, owned by Lori Leavitt Watson, wife of Judge Michael H. Watson.via NBC News

Lori Leavitt Watson owns the Flag Lady’s Flag Store in Columbus, Ohio, which was started by her mother and sells, among other things, the ubiquitous red and silver OSU flags in Columbus.

“Ethical considerations are of paramount importance to Judge Watson and this Court,” Weitz said in an email to NBC News on Thursday. “Judge Watson has previously disclosed to the parties the fact that he is an adjunct professor at the law school – which neither side has questioned – but your question prompted him to check his transcript first. that involved disclosing his wife’s licensing agreement with the university. Upon review, it seems that he did not disclose this fact in the previous filing, and now he has revealed it. “

Weitz did not provide details about Lori Leavitt Watson’s agreement with OSU. Michael H. Watson said his wife “owns a flag business that sells Ohio State-licensed products” but did not disclose how much money the licensing deal brought in for the company, according to the transcript of the hearing. Thursday’s ceiling was obtained by NBC News on Friday.

Lori Leavitt Watson, wife of Judge Michael H. Watson, owns The Flag Lady store in Columbus, Ohio, which was founded by her mother and sells, among other things, popular red and silver OSU flags in Columbus.via NBC News

“The license agreement only allows her business to manufacture and sell to the public OSU authorized trademark merchandise, and her small business pays 12% of royalties to the university,” the judge said. learn”.

He said neither he nor his wife have a “financial interest in Ohio State University as determined by the US Code of Conduct for Judges or as described in the private ethics comments.” rule interpretation. Therefore, my wife’s business dealings with the university do not compel me to decline university-related cases,” according to the transcript.

However, he said, “the occurrence of impropriety can be related.”

So Michael H. Watson gave attorneys representing victims 10 days to discuss with their clients to decide whether “my fairness has been violated,” according to the transcript. .

“The plaintiffs in this case were certainly abused and taken advantage of by Dr. Strauss,” Michael H. Watson said at the Thursday meeting, according to the transcript. “But I want to make sure that all parties feel heard by the Court.”

OSU spokesman Ben Johnson confirmed that Lori Leavitt Watson’s store is one of 400 businesses across the country licensed to sell products bearing the school’s logo or colors.

“Ohio State doesn’t pay licensees,” Johnson said in an email. “Rather, these 400 licensees pay the university 12% standard royalties for the right to use Ohio State trademarks such as Block O. The Lady’s Flag Store is already a State licensee. Ohio for decades.”

But OSU has also been a customer of the store.

“The State of Ohio purchases products and services from approximately 34,000 suppliers around the world, including the Flag Lady’s Flag Store,” Johnson said. “The university is proud to support many local businesses and spent less than $16,000 in store in fiscal year 2021. All purchases have been approved by University Purchasing in accordance with applicable rules and regulations. .”

NBC News also reached out to Lori Leavitt Watson by phone and email for more information about her agreement with OSU but did not receive a response.

Michael H. Watson, 64, a native of Akron, was nominated to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2004.

Rocky Ratliff, a former OSU wrestler and attorney for 48 victims, said he would be contacting his client privately but he was “in doubt”.[s] My boys will ask him to reuse himself. “

“Honestly, some of these cases have been resolved for more than three years and the victims are extremely frustrated with the process, and now it is revealed that the judge’s wife was involved. financial system with the State of Ohio.”

Ratliff said: “I received a call from one of my clients who entered the OSU settlement program last Friday, and he was extremely upset that he was making decisions based on confidence that this judge will dismiss his case.

NBC News has reached out to OSU by phone and email to comment on the judge’s decision to give attorneys 10 days to speak with their clients. So far there is no response.

Strauss’ victim groups and their attorneys are also planning to meet on Monday to discuss the latest developments, former OSU wrestler and Strauss victim Mike Schyck said.

“This definitely throws a key into everything,” says Schyck. “For three and a half years, we have staked and injected needles while Ohio State has taken the process slowly and did everything possible to delay settlement with us, and now we We are entering our fourth year and we may have to start over with a new judge.”

Richard Strauss in his 1978 job application from Ohio State University personnel records.Ohio State University via AP . file

Strauss worked for Ohio State from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s. He committed suicide in 2005.

OSU found itself fired in 2018 after a former Ohio State wrestler named Mike DiSabato was publicly denounced alleging that Strauss sexually abused him and hundreds of other athletes under the guise of check periodically and the school knows about this but does nothing to prevent it. he.

An independent investigation by law firm Perkins Coie concluded in May 2019 that Strauss sexually abused at least 177 schoolboys and athletes and their coaches and administrators were aware of it. for two decades but didn’t stop him.

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