COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Hundreds of sexual assault victims of former Ohio State University Dr. Richard Strauss said their decades-long wait for justice could be getting longer.
Attorneys for more than 300 plaintiffs have asked District Court Judge Michael Watson to recuse himself from the case.
The judge disclosed at the outset that he is employed as a part-time law professor by Ohio State.
“It’s never felt like OSU hasn’t been in some kind of control of everything every step of the way,” said Strauss victim Steven Snyder Hill.
Watson failed to disclose that his wife, who owns the Flag Lady Store, has a licensing agreement with the university, and there are new claims that that is a conflict of interest.
During a hearing last week, the judge said his wife pays a royalty to the university.
“Neither my wife nor I have a financial interest in the Ohio State University as defined by the code of conduct for United States judges,” Watson said.
He did concede that there may be an appearance of impropriety.
Watson also said, “The plaintiffs, in this case, have unquestionably been abused and taken advantage of by Dr. Strauss.”
All of this information surfaced days after it was revealed just a few dozen of the hundreds of active plaintiffs accepted Ohio State University’s latest settlement offer.
“All they’ve done from the start is try to silence us,” Hill said. “In this agreement, they tried to silence us, and I would like any judge to look at that and say, ‘No, we are not going to let you do that to survivors. They were already abused and traumatized all these years ago. We are not going to let you abuse and traumatize them today.’”
“You look at some of the other cases out there that you have that are precedent — the USC case, the Michigan State case — it looked like they had some fair people that were working for them,” said victim Mike Schyck. “I just want someone to hear us.”
Hill and Schyck are just two of hundreds of men, mostly OSU athletes, sexually abused by team Dr. Richard Strauss over a 20-year period. It was abuse that was documented in a study commissioned by the university and publicly acknowledged by then-president Drake at a board meeting nearly four years ago.
The legal case has been mired in mediation which the plaintiffs claim is one-sided, that OSU was allowed to lay out a take-it-or-leave-it offer that silences the victims and protects OSU from ever admitting fault.
“Where is the accountability when you put a program out there that says, ‘We’re going to deny any wrongdoing,’” Schyck said. “Why would I ever sign that? I mean, I didn’t get into this because of anything other than I wanted people to validate what happened first and foremost, but then I want people to take accountability, and along the way, we wanted our own coaches to stand up and they wouldn’t. We wanted people to stand up and validate this and no one is doing it.”
Now, if presiding judge Watson steps down, the case will take another step back. The victims said they fear the university would welcome the chance to drag out the legal fight, hoping plaintiffs will drop out from exhaustion.
“Lady Justice has a blindfold on and we have to take solace in that,” Hill said. “We just hope the blindfold doesn’t have an OSU insignia on it.”
Late Tuesday, the university said in a statement that the Flag Lady Store is one of 400 businesses licensed to sell OSU merchandise, and as a licensee, the store pays a 12 percent royalty to the university.
Separately, Ohio State purchased about $16,000 worth of merchandise from the store in fiscal year 2021.