schedler.031508_HS_110

Secretary of State Tom Schelder, currently facing sexual harassment allegations, speaks during a press conference, Wednesday, March 14, 2018, at his office in Baton Rouge, La.

Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler used his state email account for years to send sexually suggestive messages to a subordinate, including one exchange in which he told the woman he was attempting to "undress" her with his mind, records show.  

The state emails offer the first glimpse of Schedler's on-the-clock exchanges with Dawn Ross, a longtime employee who recently sued him for sexual harassment, claiming the secretary of state sent her love letters and then retaliated when she rebuffed his repeated advances. The emails were obtained by The Advocate through a public records request.

A number of the emails released by Schedler were partially blacked out, concealing parts of his communications with Ross. The redactions were done to hide communications that "were purely of a personal nature," according to Schedler's office.

But The Advocate was able to obtain complete versions of some of those emails, and those suggest the Secretary of State's Office blacked out sections that contained suggestive or otherwise embarrassing remarks by Schedler.

Schedler, 68, has claimed he had a "consensual sexual relationship" with Ross — an assertion the woman denies. He has refused to step down in the wake of the allegations but said last month he will not seek re-election to a third term in 2019.  

Can't see the video below? Click here.

Not all of the secretary of state's overtures arrived in the woman's work inbox. Schedler, who is married, also sent Ross stacks of Christmas cards, birthday greetings and other notes obtained by The Advocate, expressing a "no strings attached" love and inviting her on cross-country trips. "I will be making a trip to Napa soon," he wrote in one note. "If you're interested you need to (let) me know. If I don't hear I will assume no. So don't be bashful!"

But many of Schedler's rambling communications to the woman occurred during business hours and through state email. In December 2011, for instance, he told Ross, via email, that she was "nuts" after she complained that Schedler had been mistreating her at work. 

Days earlier, Schedler told Ross she had yet to fully grasp the duties of an executive secretary, writing that she "couldn't keep my schedule if your life depended on it." He complained that she "should have invited me over for supper and plenty of refreshments to get to know me better."

"Who knows you may have re dug the s*** out of me all over again and who knows what the hell would have happen (sic)," he wrote. 

In the same exchange, Schedler berated Ross for reneging on her promise to cook him a "last supper." She had written, "Never promised a last supper. First time I heard of it since Jesus sat down." 

Ross' attorney, Jill Craft, said the emails "prove my client's point," and she called on Schedler to release all of his communications with Ross — who agreed to be named publicly — without redactions. Craft has denied that her client ever had sex with Schedler or said anything to lead him on. 

"She would send him something innocuous like 'the office furniture has arrived,' 'I had to get my phone fixed,' etc.," Craft said, "and his response would be to ask her out again or tell her he is in love with her or that he knows she doesn't love him."

Schedler declined to comment Thursday, citing advice from his attorneys.  

The records do not offer a complete picture of the exchanges between Schedler and his longtime employee. The Advocate last month requested three years of text messages between Schedler and Ross that have not yet been released by the Secretary of State's Office.  

But the thousands of emails provided show that Schedler, without provocation, made sexually suggestive remarks to the woman over a span of several years. Schedler once wrote a message to the woman saying he loved her and was always hoping "you would love me back!" 

In one August 2015 exchange, Schedler responded to a routine note from Ross, then his executive office manager, after she requested five minutes of his time. "No I demand much more including lunch and dinner," he wrote. 

A few months later, in February 2016, Schedler referred to Ross as a "hot gal" in response to a note she sent him about office parking. That remark was among the exchanges the Secretary of State's Office blacked out in the thousands of pages of emails it provided to The Advocate this month, saying it was "purely of a personal nature" and had "no relation to the function of the Department of State."

That email was one of a number of instances where the newspaper was able to obtain unredacted copies of the state emails that included flirtatious and at times derogatory language on Schedler's part. But other communications remain unclear because Schedler's office redacted his responses, sometimes in mid-sentence.

In a March 2017 email, for instance, Ross forwarded Schedler a WAFB-TV article with the headline "Midday naps boost workers' productivity." Much of Schedler's response was redacted in the state records provided to The Advocate. "We work for government these types of ideas are tried in private industry," Schedler wrote.

The rest of the sentence was blacked out — as was Ross' response. 

Scott Sternberg, an attorney who has represented The Advocate and the Louisiana Press Association, took exception to the state's redactions, saying Schedler had been performing his taxpayer-funded duties as secretary of state when he sent the messages. 

"He's never off the clock," Sternberg said. "The public-records law should be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, when there's any question as to whether the communications are of a personal or business nature." 

Also redacted were the names of several supporters who wrote to Schedler following his announcement that he would fight the allegations and remain in office. Schedler told reporters last month that the "truth about all this can be found somewhere in the middle," adding "the facts will be revealed in the proper place, in the proper time."

The prominent St. Tammany Parish Republican received a number of notes of encouragement, with one friend insisting the allegations were part of a "political vendetta." 

"There is NO need for you to resign," one wrote. "Hang tough and I am pulling for you. This too will pass." 

The secretary of state told another supporter that the allegations amounted to the "(toughest) thing aside from dealing with my family that I have ever done." He thanked another writer for "the Hayride article," a reference to a conservative political website that has been supportive of Schedler throughout the scandal.

Schedler also thanked the New Mexico secretary of state, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, for "stepping up to the plate due to my current situation," an allusion to the low public profile Schedler has attempted to keep over the past two months. Schedler and Oliver serve as co-chairs on the elections committee of the National Association of Secretaries of State, which last month voiced concern about a piece of federal legislation the association said raised the "possibility that armed federal agents will be patrolling neighborhood precincts and vote centers." 

Schedler has made few public appearances since the allegations were made public. But lawmakers this week questioned his aides about the Secretary of State's sexual harassment policies during a committee hearing. The agency is looking to enhance its policies, even as lawmakers weigh a law that would apply across state government.  

"There should be a consistent harassment policy across all agencies," Schedler told the committee Wednesday. "It should start right here, and it should be something consistent."

The state emails revealed that, in addition to the lawsuit, Schedler's office is facing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission discrimination claim lodged by Ross. The commission's New Orleans field office notified Schedler of the claim Feb. 22, giving his office 30 days to provide a "position statement setting forth all facts which pertain to the allegations in the charge of discrimination under investigation." 

The emails also open a window into the damage-control efforts within the Secretary of State's Office, including the scheduling of emergency meetings and warnings to staffers not to delete any emails or text messages due to pending litigation. Employees have kept a close watch on the news in recent weeks, sending Schedler articles and opinion columns about Ross' lawsuit. 

"Please be advised that at least one television station is doing live shots outside the Commercial Division entrance this afternoon," Kyle Ardoin, Schedler's first assistant, wrote in an "urgent" email to staffers. "While we do not anticipate the reporter questioning any employee, if you are approached, you can politely say, 'Have you talked to Meg Casper Sunstrom?'" 

Sunstrom is Schedler's press secretary. 

Ross' lawsuit against Schedler also refers to various undated cards she received from the secretary of state over the years. The cards, copies of which were obtained by The Advocate, were flattering musings in which Schedler described his feelings and the chemistry he believed he shared with Ross. 

In one greeting, Schedler wrote that he realized, "after an email volley earlier today," that he was "as complicated you, and I have my nerve, guess that is part of the whatever between us is!"

Craft said the secretary of state gave her client a sex toy with one of the cards. 

"Hope you keep my cards and items I give you long, long time," Schedler wrote.  

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.