BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - As sexual harassment allegations against Secretary of State Tom Schedler barrel towards a courtroom conclusion, the attorney for the woman behind the claims says they are gearing up for a fight as Schedler's team mounts a defense.
Attorney Jill Craft says she wishes the situation could have been handled without going to court, but she believes that's inevitably where it will end up. "I really wish we had not ever gotten here, but we're here, we're committed, and we'll go all the way," said Craft.
Craft says it remains unclear exactly when the case may go to court, but there's some relief for her client now that Schedler has chosen to step aside. Every day since the allegations first surfaced, she says, has been a nightmare.
"Imagine knowing every day you go to work, the guy who signs your paychecks and approves your leave, is there after this," said Craft. "Hopefully she gets some relief in that avenue."
Until Tuesday, May 8, Schedler will remain his accuser's boss. After that point, his first assistant, Kyle Ardoin, will take over temporarily. He too was in the agency when the alleged activity took place.
"The department is a great department with wonderful employees," said Ardoin.
According to her client, Craft says Ardoin knew a lot about what has been alleged. She claims in some ways, he even carried out some of Schedler's retaliation against her when she denied the secretary's sexual advances. "He was present when Schedler screamed at my client and sent her away to hide basically at an office with nothing to do at headquarters," Craft explained. "According to her, Ardoin told her specifically 'you need to stay out of sight because he doesn't even want to see you.'"
Ardoin says he was out of the office when the incident occurred. Schedler told Ardoin what happened and asked him to talk with Ross.
He told the Advocate Newspaper, "I said, 'Look, I understand you had a disagreement. Don't go into the secretary's suite. I said, 'Steer clear of the secretary until all this blows over.'"
According to Meg Casper, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's Office, staff within the office say they did not know anything about the alleged allegations regarding the sexual harassment between Schedler and his accuser, Dawn Ross.
"Kyle and I found out about this at the same time once the lawsuit was filed and we had no prior knowledge to the situation prior to that," said Casper.
Craft says she does not totally blame Ardoin, but instead believes he too may have been a victim of the negative work environment Schedler is accused of creating.
"There's so many people under him that were also powerless," said Craft.
"It was a fine team, mistakes were made, but we're moving forward and I think that's the important thing," said Ardoin.
Reporters asked Ardoin about the claims hours after Schedler announced his resignation Tuesday. While he hinted at mistakes being made, he would not go into specifics. "I'm not going to comment on legal matters facing the department," Ardoin added.
Ardoin will take the reins of the department temporarily until the midterm election in November, but says he has no plans to make it permanent. "My focus is to run the office, but not run for the office," said Ardoin.
With a high profile position up for grabs though, political analyst, Jim Engster, says a lot could change between now and that election.
"There's always the chance that the political bug will bite and Kyle Ardoin does have a history of running for political office," said Engster.
If he does run, Engster predicts whatever comes out in court could come back to cause trouble. "That's where this could become an issue is if Ardoin decides to run, then he will be accused I'm sure of being culpable in the Schedler matter," Engster added.
Engster believes the matter will likely end in a settlement rather that going to court.