Arizona ethics investigator questions Illinois legislative ethics rules

Illinois Capitol
An Arizona lawyer says Illinois needs to view sexual harassment claims as a non-partisan issue. (WJBC File Photo)

By Illinois Radio Network

SPRINGFIELD – The investigator responsible for a high-powered Arizona lawmaker’s ouster says Illinois’ legislative ethics process is fraught with partisan protections that likely keep victims silent.

Phoenix lawyer Craig Morgan investigated complaints made against Republican state Rep. Don Shooter of Yuma last November. The report contributed to Shooters’ expulsion from the Arizona House earlier this month.

In looking at the current allegations of harassment against political operatives and anonymous accusations against unnamed lawmakers in Springfield, Morgan said the Illinois General Assembly has a real problem.

“These people are coming out now and identifying people in power,” he said.

House Speaker Michael Madigan’s political operation has been rocked by allegations of harassment and inappropriate behavior from high-ranking staffers. So far, the speaker, who is also the head of the state’s Democratic Party, has fired two operatives.

In the General Assembly, stronger ethics laws were passed last fall. But, only one person has come forward to publicly name their alleged harasser. Denise Rotheimer made available hundreds of pages of Facebook correspondence from Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, last fall. After an investigation by Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter, no action against Silverstein was taken. He was stripped of his leadership position before the investigation concluded.

This comes after dozens of women and men signed on to a letter detailing inappropriate behavior by unnamed lawmakers.

Morgan said Illinois’ requirement that the General Assembly’s ethics watchdog get permission from a panel of lawmakers to pursue cases is a major flaw.

“Who could have faith in a process like that?” he said. “Politics can control the remedy to the problem. That’s not democracy.”

It echoes what former Illinois Legislative Inspector General Tom Homer has said.

“There should be no need for the inspector general to defer to the commission on getting approval to investigate what the law requires the person to investigate,” Homer said earlier this month in Chicago. No other state ethics officer has that requirement.

While Morgan criticized the protections baked into Illinois law for members of the General Assembly, he was quick to point out the need for an objective defense against the accusations.

“You can’t rush to judgment.” he said. “You can’t sacrifice closure for the need to jump on the movement du jour.”

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