COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State University’s fired marching band director can no longer afford the high-powered legal team that has been helping him fight to get his job back amid accusations that he ignored a “sexualized culture” in the band.
In court filings Wednesday, members of a team that included a former assistant U.S. attorney and a former Ohio attorney general asked to withdraw as counsel for Jonathan Waters in his federal discrimination case. They told a judge Waters can’t “substantially fulfill his financial obligations.”
Attorney David Axelrod, the former federal lawyer, said he could not provide further information on Waters’ legal bills. The effort had been supported in part by a legal fund set up by the celebrated band’s alumni association, which stood behind Waters after the firing.
“We’re fully dedicated to our client’s well-being and wish Jon, for whom we have the utmost respect, the best of luck,” Axelrod told The Associated Press. “It’s very difficult for us to withdraw from representing him, but the specifics regarding our relationships with our clients have to remain between us and our clients.”
The development could spell the end of Waters’ efforts to fight his July 2014 termination.
Ohio State fired him after it determined that he ignored a “sexualized culture” inside the celebrated band of students marching in their underwear, performing sexually themed stunts and distributing a songbook filled with profane lyrics. Waters has denied that he ignored matters, saying he was working to improve the culture.
His federal suit alleges he was a victim of gender discrimination on grounds the university gave a second chance to a female employee facing similar allegations.
It paints Waters as a scapegoat whose firing was used to show the school was serious about fighting sexual harassment amid a federal investigation. The litigation seeks Waters’ reinstatement and $1 million in damages.
Waters also is pursuing a separate defamation case in the Ohio Court of Claims. It’s unclear whether that will also be affected by his financial situation.
In an email, a university spokesman declined to comment on the attorneys’ request to withdraw.
Waters said he was saddened that money has become a problem.
“I’m still saying what we’ve said since Day One: We are here to clear my name and to clear the names of thousands of alums who have been affected by this situation,” Waters said. “It’s unfortunate that finances have gotten in the way of justice here, but we are evaluating our options.”
In their filings Wednesday, his attorneys asked the judge to release them from the case and allow Waters time to engage new lawyers.
Waters said it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to proceed even if the judge grants the delay.
“Whether it was personal funding or monies that others have given for the promotion of our case, we were just not in a position to pay the attorneys anymore,” he said.