Judge Michael H. Watson made the admission Thursday in a meeting with victim attorneys and OSU attorneys after an NBC News reporter asked if the judge informed all parties of the commercial ties that his wife, Lori Leavitt Watson, had with college. said Eric Weitz, spokesperson for the Southern Ohio District.
The federal judge presiding over the lawsuits against Ohio State University brought by hundreds of men who were sexually abused by school doctor Richard Strauss failed to disclose that his wife has a licensing agreement with the university to sell OSU flags.
A label 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 red and silver OSU flags that are ubiquitous in Columbus.
“Ethical considerations are of the utmost importance to Judge Watson and this Court,” Weitz said in an email to NBC News Thursday. “Judge Watson previously disclosed to the parties that he is an assistant professor at the law school – which neither party has disputed – but your question prompted him to check previous transcripts regarding the disclosure. of his wife’s licensing agreement with the undergraduate university. Upon examination, it appears that he did not disclose this fact in the record before, and he has now disclosed it. “
Weitz did not provide details of Lori Leavitt Watson’s deal with OSU. Michael H. Watson said his wife “owns a flag business that sells products licensed from the state of Ohio,” but did not disclose how much money the license agreement makes for the company. , according to a transcript of Thursday’s hearing 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 started by her mother and sells, among other things, the red and silver OSU flags that are ubiquitous in Columbus.via NBC News
“The licensing agreement simply allows his company to make and sell to the public branded products authorized by OSU and his small business pays a 12% royalty to the university” with each sale, the judge said. .
He said neither he nor his wife had “a financial interest in Ohio State University as defined by the United States Code of Conduct for Judges or as described in the Ethics Advisory Opinions. interpreting the code. Therefore, my wife’s business relationship with the university does not ethically compel my recusal in matters involving the university, ”according to the transcript.
Still, he said, “the appearance of impropriety may be involved.”
Michael H. Watson therefore gave the lawyers representing the victims 10 days to speak with their clients to decide if “my impartiality has been compromised”, according to the transcript. “The plaintiffs in this case have unquestionably been abused and exploited by Dr Strauss,” Michael H. Watson said at the meeting Thursday, according to the transcript. “But I want to make sure that all parties feel heard by the court.”
OSU School spokesman Ben Johnson confirmed that Lori Leavitt Watson’s store is one of 400 companies across the country licensed to sell products bearing the university’s logo or colors. “Ohio State doesn’t pay licensees,” Johnson said in an email. Rather, those 400 licensees pay the university a standard 12% royalty for the right to use Ohio state marks like Block O. The Flag Lady’s Flag Store holds licensed from the State of Ohio for decades. “
But OSU was also a customer of the store. “The State of Ohio purchases products and services from approximately 34,000 vendors 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 at the store in fiscal year 2021. All purchases were approved by University Purchasing in accordance with applicable rules and regulations.
NBC News has also reached out to Lori Leavitt Watson by phone and email for more information on her deal with OSU, but has not received a response. Michael H. Watson, a 64-year-old Akron native, was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2004.
Rocky Ratliff, a former OSU wrestler and lawyer for 48 victims, said he would contact his client individually, but that he “suspects my guys are going to ask him to recuse himself. “ “Honestly, some of these cases have been pending for over three years and victims are extremely frustrated with the process, and it is now revealed that the judge’s wife has a financial connection to the state of Ohio.”
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