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Records: 3 Alaska lawmakers had sex harassment complaints

April 11, 2018

FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2017 file photo, Alaska state Sen. David Wilson, a Republican from Wasilla, addresses reporters in Anchorage, Alaska. A records request by The Associated Press shows that over the last 10 years, three Alaska legislators have faced allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct that have been formally investigated. Jessica Geary, the agency's executive director, said details of two of the cases had been made public and confirmed that they involved Wilson and Democratic former state Rep. Dean Westlake. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Three Alaska legislators have faced allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct that have been formally investigated over the last decade.

Jessica Geary, the Legislative Affairs Agency’s executive director, said two of the cases have been made public and confirmed they involved Republican Sen. David Wilson, who was cleared of violating the Legislature’s policy on harassment but disciplined for retaliation related to the investigation, and former Democratic state Rep. Dean Westlake, who resigned.

The agency declined to provide details on the third case, citing confidentiality rules.

The Associated Press requested the number of complaints, and the number and names of legislators who resigned or were disciplined or expelled following complaints of sexual harassment or misconduct since 2008. There have been no expulsions during that time.

Presiding officers of the House and Senate decide what is made public regarding discipline, Geary said.

The AP sent identical records requests to state Legislatures across the country in December to examine if legislative chambers have or are willing to release records related to harassment claims, results of investigations and any payments made to accusers.

The AP also sought the number of cases of sexual harassment or misconduct involving legislators that resulted in payments to accusers since 2008. The Legislative Affairs Agency said there were none. The agency defined sexual harassment or misconduct complaints against the three legislators as those formally investigated by the Legislature’s human resources manager.

The agency does not keep track of informal complaints, Geary said.

Alaska complied with the AP’s request before Westlake resigned and before the Senate announced disciplinary action against Wilson. Geary said the one lawmaker cited in the request as having resigned or been disciplined or expelled following misconduct or harassment complaints was someone other than Wilson or Westlake.

Westlake announced plans to resign in December, during an investigation into his conduct, after female aides accused him of unwanted touching and inappropriate comments. He apologized if he made anyone uncomfortable.

The investigation conducted by legislative human resource manager Skiff Lobaugh concluded Westlake created a hostile work environment. The report was released in January, as House leaders faced questions about their handling of claims made against Westlake in March 2017. Westlake had been privately reprimanded in that incident; the matter became public after the woman who made the claim came forward. Other women then shared their claims anonymously.

Wilson was cleared of violating the Legislature’s policy on harassment after a blog in October posted an allegation that he had placed a cellphone between a female aide’s legs. Wilson himself called for that report’s release.

Surveillance footage reviewed by Lobaugh indicated Wilson lowered what appeared to be a phone to the height of the woman’s skirt but kept it a foot or two away from her. The Legislature has not released the video.

Lobaugh separately found that Wilson had engaged in retaliation, citing comments that Wilson made during a news conference he held to defend himself.

Senate President Pete Kelly said disciplinary actions against Wilson included travel restrictions and training.

The Legislature’s harassment policy is being updated after criticism that it was vague. The group rewriting the policy solicited input from lawmakers and staff and from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Rep. Matt Claman, an Anchorage Democrat, said any decisions on publicizing investigative results should be made on a case-by-case basis. The priority must be protecting employees, he said.

The legislative ethics committee has its own process for handling complaints that includes publicly releasing probable cause findings and recommended discipline if it believes a violation has occurred.

Craig Morgan, a Phoenix attorney who investigated a case where an Arizona lawmaker was expelled, said many states exempt certain personnel matters from public disclosure. But he said findings of an investigation into wrongdoing by an elected official generally should be released.

“Otherwise, people aren’t going to have any faith into whatever investigative process exists,” he said.

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