JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Leaders of the Republican-led Alaska Senate have disciplined one of their members after a review found he engaged in retaliation as he defended himself against sexual harassment allegations.
Senate President Pete Kelly said the disciplinary actions against Wasilla Republican Sen. David Wilson include travel restrictions, a probationary period in which Wilson must demonstrate he understands human resources policy and legislative decorum and an individual training course on retaliation. He said Wilson is complying.
Wilson told The Associated Press he will respect his leadership’s wishes. But he said he’d like to see cases like this handled by an independent or external investigator in the future, citing a concern with what he sees as a lack of due process.
Wilson said he was not interviewed as part of the review looking at retaliation by the Legislature’s human resources manager, Skiff Lobaugh.
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The retaliation finding by Lobaugh focused on a news conference Wilson held in December in which Wilson called for the release of a report and video that he said cleared him of allegations of sexual harassment.
During the news conference, Wilson said he never placed a cellphone between the legs of a female House aide, an allegation that surfaced on a blog in October. He also called for House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and House Rules Chair Gabrielle LeDoux to step down from their leadership roles for comments they allegedly made surrounding the investigation and their handling of the matter.
Days later, on Dec. 12, the Senate Rules Committee released a report by Lobaugh that concluded Wilson did not violate the Legislature’s policy regarding sexual or other harassment but that Wilson put the aide in a “stressful no-win predicament.”
The incident occurred in June in front of the speaker’s office, where a closed-door meeting was being held. Lobaugh, who conducted interviews with Wilson and the aide and reviewed surveillance footage, determined that Wilson took out what appeared to be his phone and lowered it to the height of the woman’s skirt. But he kept it a foot or two away from the aide and did not touch her or the skirt with his hand or phone, Lobaugh concluded.
Lobaugh’s findings of retaliation were dated Dec. 8, the day after the news conference. He said he had received an email from Kelly, who asked if comments made by Wilson would constitute retaliation.
But Lobaugh also said he was contacted by the House aide, who expressed concern that Wilson’s statements could affect her and her job. If Edgmon lost his leadership post, it would affect how many staff Edgmon has and could mean a loss of pay or work for the House aide, Lobaugh wrote. “Statements that infer, or that may be perceived to infer, that a witness should be punished for participating in a law investigation may be deemed retaliatory,” he wrote.
Lobaugh also said people might be discouraged from coming forward with complaints if they believe the incidents they’re complaining about could be publicly dismissed.
His findings were not released until Wednesday, after Kelly had previously told reporters that while Wilson was cleared of sexual harassment, “there was a retaliation.”
Senate Majority press secretary Daniel McDonald said the report was not released at the Dec. 12 Senate Rules Committee meeting because there hadn’t been enough time to review the findings and discuss potential options.
He said the disciplinary action took place in December. The discipline included requiring that Wilson send what Kelly called a “letter of responsibility” to the House aide.
Also Wednesday, the House removed Republican Rep. David Eastman from the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics, nearly two weeks after a subcommittee of the ethics panel said it found probable cause that Eastman violated ethics law by disclosing the existence of a complaint that was considered confidential.
Eastman had said he wanted a formal hearing, and on the House floor Wednesday said it was premature for the House to impose any penalty.
The Alaska Journal of Commerce has reported that Eastman told one of its reporters in late April that an ethics complaint had been filed against another legislator and suggested the reporter check with the ethics office. The publication said ultimately the reporter and an editor met with the ethics administrator, at the administrator’s request, and provided testimony on the interaction with Eastman.
Eastman has said that as a member of the committee, he didn’t have access to confidential information until August.