Daniel Ritchie, a victim of former Ohio State physician Richard Strauss, took a deep breath and glanced down at his prepared testimony before speaking at the Ohio Statehouse Tuesday.
“It never gets easier to hear these accounts for the first time, and it breaks my heart to listen to each one, to hear the pain and embarrassment that was forced onto them, knowing it never had to happen,” Ritchie said. “I ask you: Why do I still need to be here?”
The Ohio House Civil Justice Committee held its sixth hearing, which closed without a vote, on House Bill 249 Tuesday after a hearing originally scheduled for Feb. 4 was canceled. The proposed bill would allow victims of Strauss to sue the university for its failure to address Strauss’ abuse.
The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Brett Hillyer, R-Uhrichsville, would waive the statute of limitations for Strauss victims to take legal action against the university. The current statute of limitations — the window of time for filing lawsuits — in Ohio for civil sexual assault cases is two years.
“This bill will allow victims who have carried the shame and trauma of abuse for decades to have their day in court,” Hillyer said in a June press conference announcing the bill. “Furthermore, this legislation will provide victims with the opportunity to seek the justice that they were denied as students.”
Strauss was a team doctor for 17 men’s varsity sports and physician at the Student Wellness Center at Ohio State from 1978 to ’98, during which time he abused at least 177 students and student-athletes, according to a report released in May following an investigation conducted by Perkins Coie, LLP. The investigation also found that Ohio State failed to act on Strauss’ abuse at the time. Ohio State’s latest count, according to a university press release, includes nearly 1,500 instances of Strauss-related abuse.
Strauss died by suicide in 2005.
There are currently 17 Strauss-related lawsuits filed against the university, Johnson said in a previous email. Judge Michael H. Watson named Judge Michael R. Barrett as mediator in the cases in March 2019, according to previous Lantern reporting, but there have been no resolutions.
The revival of hearings comes after Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder issued a written statement Feb. 3 criticizing the bill’s slow progress and the university’s response to the civil suits.
“I am disappointed that The Ohio State University has yet to accept responsibility for the obvious harm that was done to students under their watch,” Householder said in the statement. “While these young people were all adults, families still trust that our state institutions are providing a reasonable level of security for their children while they are away at school.”
Adam DiSabato, another Strauss victim who was a wrestler at Ohio State from 1988 to ’93 and captain of the wrestling team, also testified Tuesday and said he went to the university with his teammates’ complaints of abuse as a student.
“I went to them as a captain, begging them to do something,” Adam DiSabato said. “They did not. They told me they went to their superiors. Their superiors told them to be happy where we’re at, to keep our mouths shut.”
Adam DiSabato is the brother of Mike DiSabato, another former Ohio State wrestler and one of the first people to come forward publicly as a Strauss victim, according to previous Lantern reporting.
“I fought for this university,” Adam DiSabato said to the committee. “This university is not fighting for me. It’s your job to fight for me now.”
Ritchie previously testified before the committee about HB 249 and spoke in front of the Board of Trustees at its full Board meeting in November. He said he also was angry about the bill and the university’s response.
“It’s been frustrating,” Ritchie said to The Lantern. “When I talked at the Board of Trustees, one of the things I said was after — and I mentioned it again here today — after about 20-plus years of having to deal with this, and just keeping it tucked away somewhere, and every once in a while it pops up again — could be a trigger, could be something simple or innocent, but it comes up again. And to have it drudged up again now, and have to deal with it upfront and personal for the last two years, it’s frustrating.”
University spokesperson Ben Johnson said in an email that since February 2019, the university has offered to cover the cost of current counseling services for victims and their families and to reimburse for previous counseling services. He said there is no limit to the coverage of counseling.
“We express our deep regret and apologies to all who experienced Strauss’ abuse, we are actively participating in good faith in the mediation process directed by the federal court and remain actively committed to a fair resolution, including a monetary resolution,” Johnson said in the email.
State Rep. Tavia Galonski, D-Akron, a committee member, said she will push for a vote on the bill at the next hearing.
“Justice delayed is justice denied, and there are no reasons — that I’m of aware of — that we cannot have a vote,” she said to The Lantern.
Galonski said the next hearing, which will invite opponents to testify against the bill, will be scheduled “at the will of the Chair [Stephen Hambley].”
Ritchie said to The Lantern that, more than anything, he wants the university to take responsibility.
“Act in good faith,” he said. “And take that serious step forward, and let’s get this done.”