The inspector general for the Illinois General Assembly says a top state senator did not sexually harass a woman whose legislation he was sponsoring last year.
Inspector General Julie Porter concludes in a report that Sen. Ira Silverstein’s interaction with Denise Rotheimer did not rise to the level of ethical misconduct. But she says it was “conduct unbecoming of a legislator” and recommended the 19-year veteran lawmaker be counseled by the Senate’s ethics officer.
* CBS 2…
Rotheimer helped author a 2011 law to increase penalties for violent sex offenders. She said she was working with Silverstein to pass legislation to help crime victims get free legal representation during ongoing criminal cases, when the senator killed the bill because he thought she had a boyfriend.
“Once I explained to him I don’t have a boyfriend, my bill came back alive,” Rotheimer said at the hearing.
* NBC 5…
Contacted Thursday, Rotheimer said she was “livid” over the ruling and fears it will discourage others from lodging complaints against lawmakers.
“For her (Porter) to victim-blame and to say I was flirting with him, that shows that the whole system is corrupt,” Rotheimer said. “The process is worse than the abuse because now I’m being blamed.” […]
Porter said Silverstein’s conduct could only be defined as sexual harassment if it created “an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.”
She also found evidence that Silverstein continued to push the legislation even after it was clear there was little support for passage. Rotheimer said that’s why, recognizing there was no employer-employee relationship with Silverstein, she filed an “abuse of power” charge with the Legislative Ethics Commission, not a sexual harassment complaint.
Porter noted two instances when Silverstein teased Rotheimer that he would drop sponsorship of the bill. The context of the conversations was lighthearted, but even the appearance that a lawmaker’s opinion of legislation could be based on his relationship with the advocate “has harmed the public’s trust in the General Assembly,” she wrote.
[Inspector General Julie Porter] also noted many of the messages were “flirtatious,” although none were “sexually explicit and there was never any express discussion in the messages about cultivating a romantic relationship.”
And she did not conclude that Silverstein “killed” the bill.
“If anything, it appears that Silverstein — like Rotheimer — was misguided or naive about whether the bill could actually succeed as proposed. He kept going and going because he wanted to help, please and placate Rotheimer,” she wrote.
In explaining why she considered Silverstein’s conduct “unbecoming” of a legislator, Porter writes that “he did not maintain an appropriate professional distance from the proponent of a bill he was sponsoring.”
She writes that Silverstein “should have been much more cautious and conscientious about engaging in these types of teasing and flirtatious communications with someone he knew was depending on him to advance legislation.”
“Legislators are public servants, held to a higher standard,” Porter wrote. “Even the appearance — which Silverstein himself created — that Silverstein felt enamored with a bill proponent and may have used his office to advance or impede legislation as a result is problematic and warrants my finding.”
* From the Illinois Policy Institute’s former news network…
Attorney Les Alderman, who has handled harassment cases in Washington, D.C., said Porter’s report will have consequences.
“Here you have this inspector general airing all of this dirty laundry and declaring it to mean nothing, and to amount to no violation of the law,” Alderman said. “That will have a chilling effect on the victims who will decide that they don’t need to go through the same process and get the same result.”
Alderman said accusers should take their cases to court. Rotheimer said she’s evaluating her options and that the process is rigged in lawmakers’ favor.
Illinois state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, said the legislature’s harassment task force is evaluating how other inspectors general investigate cases in other agencies and other states.
Becky Carroll, a political consultant and one of the women behind the open letter last fall, said she did not think the inspector general’s finding would discourage women from coming forward.
“Women and our allies are united more than ever around this issue, and this movement is too strong a force to be deterred by any single incident of this nature,” Carroll said. “There’s no going back.”
Carroll said she could understand why Rotheimer was dissatisfied with the process, saying state government needs a “clear, consistent and fair process in place so everyone who comes forward has confidence that their complaints will be taken seriously and addressed accordingly.”
Lawmakers have formed two task forces to try to address the larger issues of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination in Springfield.
* WLS Radio…
Silverstein didn’t want to answer any of my questions about the finding, but he did say “I am very grateful that we have an independent inspector general who saw the facts for what they were. My priorities are now my family and my re-election.”
But Silverstein’s two more impediments to his re-election: He’s currently 45 signatures short on his petition to get on the March 20th ballot and even if he does get on the ballot he’s got a primary challenger.