The House Ethics Committee announced Friday a unanimous decision clearing Representative Jean Schmidt of any wrongdoing regarding legal expenses associated with an ongoing court case and related matters involving a former political opponent.
"I welcome the news," Schmidt said. "The report vindicates what I have been saying all along: I have worked cooperatively with the Committee to ensure that I pay these bills in an ethical way. I hope this will be the end of a sideshow created by my political opponents."
Members of the Ethics Committee voted unanimously "to release a public report finding that Representative Schmidt did not knowingly violate any provision of the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation, or other standard of conduct with respect to the receipt of gifts," according to the Friday statement of the chairman, Representative Jo Bonner of Alabama, and ranking member, Linda T. Sanchez of California.
The Ethics Committee also authorized Schmidt, who lives in Miami Township and represents Ohio's 2nd Congressional District, to create and use a legal expense trust to pay bills involving a defamation lawsuit she filed last year in Clermont County Common Pleas Court against her former opponent.
The trust also can be used to pay legal bills that resulted from a complaint Schmidt filed against the former opponent with the Ohio Elections Commission, which reported in 2009 that there was clear and convincing evidence that the opponent had made false statements about her with malice.
If any damages are awarded to Schmidt as a result of the defamation case, the money must first be used for lawyer fees and expenses, and then to repay donors to the Jean Schmidt Legal Expense Trust. Any leftover money must be donated to charity. Schmidt said she will receive no direct or indirect financial benefit from the suit.
It's been nearly two years since Schmidt requested the Ethics Committee's guidance on the legal bills. Her former opponent claimed Schmidt appeared to be accepting free legal services, which he alleged might be an improper gift under House rules.
"As I've stated publicly before, I neither sought nor intended to accept free legal services," Schmidt said. "I have been waiting for the Ethics Committee's advice as to the best way to pay these bills. Now that I have that advice, I look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with the Committee to ensure that these bills are paid appropriately."