- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2014

A U.S. Patent and Trademark Office commissioner has announced plans to resign just months after a watchdog agency revealed that she had pressured staffers to hire the live-in boyfriend of an immediate family member over other qualified applicants.

Deborah Cohn will stay on through the end of the year to help find a successor, an agency spokesman confirmed in an email Monday, declining to say whether the decision was tied to the nepotism probe.

But the investigation brought unwanted attention both for Ms. Cohn and the agency from Congress. Lawmakers were concerned about revelations that Ms. Cohn had sought to block the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General from releasing an unredacted copy of its findings.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, The Washington Times obtained a copy of the report in July and identified Ms. Cohn as the target of the misconduct investigation. Her resignation was first reported on Monday by Law360.

Before her role in the nepotism probe became public, an attorney for Ms. Cohn had warned the inspector general that she did not consent to public release of the report “in order to avoid any costly and unnecessary litigation,” according to documents.

The investigation had focused on the hiring of a lawyer living with a relative of Ms. Cohn. The applicant was among more than 700 people applying for the job, but he failed to qualify as one of the 250 candidates to advance to the first round of screening. Because of his connections, the report said, he advanced the next round of screening anyway, finishing 75th out of 76.

“After the applicant was rejected, the [Patent Office] executive intervened and created an additional position specifically for the applicant,” Inspector General Todd Zinser said in a statement on the report before Ms. Cohn was publicly identified as the executive.

Days later, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa sent a letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker calling for “immediate” disciplinary action against Ms. Cohn.

The California Republican wrote that Ms. Cohn displayed “appalling” behavior when she used her influence to find a job for a less qualified candidate, and then threatened to sue to block public release of the report.

But Ms. Cohn has her supporters, too. A former general counsel at the Patent Office Bernie Knight said he worked with Ms. Cohn for eight years and never witnessed her act unethically.

“I didn’t investigate what happened here, I don’t know if the stuff in the [inspector general’s] report is accurate or not accurate,” he said. “But I can tell you this woman is of the highest ethical standards based on my working relationship with her. She’s always followed the law.”

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