CROWN POINT — The lawyer who filed a sexual harassment suit against Lake County officials questions whether he now is on the receiving end of political harassment.

Roy Dominguez said he has been falsely accused of a conflict of interest that could cost him or Susan Severtson, a county public defender who shares office space with him.

Severtson, a public defender since 2013, is paid $42,000 a year to represent indigent criminal defendants. Dominguez, who served as county sheriff from 2003 to 2010, now works in private law practice.

County officials now agree there is no conflict of interest, but their inquiry was still necessary, they said.

Dominguez said the inquiry was poorly handled, and he remains suspicious of its motives. "Hogwash. This was more than standard operating procedure," Dominguez said Tuesday.

Dominguez is suing the county on behalf of Estela Montalvo, who alleges Lake Recorder Mike Brown forced her into a sexual affair with him because she wanted a full-time job in the recorder's office.

Days after the suit was filed last week, Lake County Attorney John Dull wrote Dominguez and Severtson asking whether they are law partners in a firm that would share the profits of a successful suit.

Dull wrote that if they are partners, they would be in violation of a county ordinance forbidding lawyers receiving a county government paycheck from also profiting from suits against the county. Such a conflict would require the county to fire Severtson if Dominguez didn't drop out of the Montalvo suit.

Dominguez and Severtson both said they are operating independently. They said they only share office space in the Chapel Plaza mall in the 7800 block of Broadway in Merrillville.

Dominguez wrote in response to Dull, "I'm not surprised that 'politicos' would use any means necessary to get me off the Montalvo case."

Dull, who said he is satisfied there is no conflict, added the inquiry wasn't prompted by any elected officials, but by Lake County Public Defender Marc Gonzalez, who supervises Severtson and other public defenders in Lake Criminal Court.

Gonzalez said the inquiry is a standard precaution taken with all county-employed lawyers to ensure there are no conflicts.

Dominguez and Severtson said they could have found this out by consulting the Indiana Supreme Court's Roll of Attorneys, which identifies whether lawyers are operating as a profit-sharing team or not.

Dominguez said Severtson isn't involved in the Montalvo case. "She is an innocent bystander," he said.

Gonzalez said he is satisfied there is no conflict, and Severtson's public defender job isn't in jeopardy.

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Lake County reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.