There are laws against it now. The pain from bullying so many of us experienced growing up was something you survived, or you didn’t, depending. Jessica Logan didn’t. The bright young Ohioan who committed suicide after torment at school over texts is memorialized in a law against cyberbullying—House Bill 116, the Jessica Logan Act. For most of us, we survive, we grow up, we move on. Once in a while, some of us speak, like Representative Teresa Fedor who had the nerve and the grace to speak out about her rape and subsequent abortion. It’s like a balm for the wounds the rest of us still carry in our deep memories. Otherwise we go about our business, strong and confident. But once in a while, that bully can return and shatter our adult security like glass.
A woman recounted a story recently about having an exchange in an online community news forum over the construction of an apartment building made of glass, reflecting on a nearby park. Her view was the construction encroached too much on the park. A normal everyday adult discussion about the intersection of public and private property rights turned into a jarring, disturbing violation. The anonymous person she was speaking with suddenly changed. He exposed documents about her online for unknown members of the public to see. Though public, the documents revealed intimate information—her home address, information about her mother, images of her home, images of her signature.
Elizabeth Lessner is not a shy, shrinking person. She is an entrepreneur. Risk is part of her everyday life, and her civic engagement is never a secret. But her aggressive doxer (a bully who dumps documents online in order to intimidate their victim) did have a secret. Many, in fact. His strange emphasis on Liz Lessner’s mother was all the more odd because his own mother is a prominent woman herself.
State Representative Cheryl Grossman, the former mayor of Grove City, doesn’t shy away from introducing controversial legislation, although sometimes she’s had to pull it off the house floor, like HB 383, in November 2014. HB 383 would have given municipal authorities the power to issue investigative subpoenas, strong law enforcement tools that allow searches of email, cell phone and other personal records on suspicion of a misdemeanor. Rep Grossman tried to bolster her case for this bill by submitting testimony about severe cyberbullying cases similar to Jessica Logan’s. But if there was a law like HB 383 on the books, perhaps it would have stretched so far as to allow Liz Lessner to discover the identity of her bully sooner. How ironic, because his identity was revealed to be none other than Cheryl Grossman’s own son, Josh.
Josh Grossman isn’t just a child of a state representative. He has followed his mother’s career so closely, he has actually preceded it, occasionally. According to his LinkedIn account, while she was mayor of Grove City, he was a legislative aide to her predescessor, Larry Wolpert. While she was a state representative, he worked in government relations for Scotts Miracle-Gro, an important local employer. While she was rising in leadership, he was directing the PAC at Scotts. While she was introducing her signature piece of legislation, HB 5, municipal income tax reform, he was at Zaino Hall & Farrin, the firm that was the lead lobbying firm on HB 5.
Josh Grossman represents himself as having been there for nearly the entire life of the bill. But questions directed to the firm yielded some different answers. He wasn’t hired to work on his mom’s legislation, he had only a 6 month contract, and his last working day was July 15, 2013. The documents at the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission reflect that he was a registered lobbyist only from March 1, 2013, shortly after his mother’s signature bill was introduced, until July 15, 2013, and that he no longer is a registered lobbyist even though he opened a firm called Ohio Lobbying Solutions, for the purpose of lobbying in October 2014. Who was he representing that January night in 2014 when he bullied and frightened a woman at the other end of a message board, a glass building?
Online, he called himself Mercurius, for the Roman god of messages, merchants and trickery. Mercury was also known as the keeper of boundaries. But where do those boundaries lay in his case? Illegal nepotism in Ohio is fairly narrowly defined—the use of influence to obtain a thing of value. Other states would not allow the close intertwining of work relationships between a legislator and her son. There are laws against it. What boundaries does bullying and doxing someone push? What would the documents on Joshua Grossman show about his court cases and his tax records? In her push for HB 383, Cheryl Grossman wanted city prosecutors to have access to your emails and your cell phone for something as small as a traffic ticket, because it could theoretically prevent cyberbullying like Jessica Logan and other mourned young women experienced. But confronted with an adult woman who simply asked what she had to say about the bullying she experienced from the hands of the Representative’s own son, Cheryl Grossman had no answer.