Author: Neil Vigdor
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News
An Idaho lawmaker who the police say is the focus of a criminal investigation into allegations that he raped a 19-year-old female legislative intern last month resigned on Thursday — the same day that an ethics committee recommended that he be suspended.
In a unanimous vote by the House Ethics and Policy Committee, the lawmaker, State Representative Aaron von Ehlinger, a Republican from Lewiston, Idaho, was found to have engaged in “conduct unbecoming” of a representative.
The committee said as part of a censure recommendation to the full House that Mr. von Ehlinger, who has not been charged with a crime, should be barred from office without pay for the rest of the legislative session. The panel also said it would support a motion to expel him from the Legislature, where he had served for less than a year.
The disciplinary action came one day after Mr. von Ehlinger declined to answer the committee’s questions about the allegations during a lengthy public hearing in which he invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Mr. von Ehlinger, 38, denied the allegations in a resignation letter that he sent on Thursday to Idaho’s House speaker, but said that he would not be able to continue to represent his constituents effectively.
“I maintain my innocence of any wrongdoing of which I have been accused in this matter, let alone any violation of any law, rule, or policy of the state of Idaho or of this body,” he wrote. He also said that it would be difficult for him do his job facing potential expulsion.
“It is my hope that this action spares my good colleagues any more difficulty in this matter,” the letter said.
The student intern, who testified before the committee on Wednesday, told the House assistant sergeant-at-arms on March 11 that Mr. von Ehlinger had sexually assaulted her after they had dinner at a Boise, Idaho, restaurant on March 9, according to one of her lawyers. Instead of taking her back to her car, the lawyer said, Mr. von Ehlinger drove her back to his apartment and raped her.
Mr. von Ehlinger had previously told legislators in a private interview that his sexual contact with the intern had been consensual, according to the committee, whose members repeatedly admonished him on Thursday.
“His behavior has poisoned the reputation of all of us and tarnished and discredited other elected officials who serve,” Representative Wendy Horman, a Republican from Idaho Falls, said during the committee’s meeting.
The committee’s members said that Mr. von Ehlinger, who is single, had engaged in a pattern of inappropriate conduct in the workplace, pursuing relationships with several female House staff members, some of whom were subordinates.
“The representative’s aggressive tactics towards women are unsettling,” Representative John McCrostie, a Democrat from Garden City, said during the meeting.
A spokeswoman for the Boise Police Department said in an email on Thursday that there was an open investigation into the allegations against Mr. von Ehlinger.
Erika Birch, a lawyer for the intern, who was identified in a complaint as Jane Doe, said in an email on Thursday that Mr. von Ehlinger had failed to accept responsibility for his actions.
“It is inexcusable that he waited until his fate was inescapable to resign,” Ms. Birch said. “While we are pleased he is out of the Legislature and unable to prey on any more young women at our Statehouse, his actions are simply unforgivable.”
Ms. Birch said that the intern, a college student who graduated from high school last year and had been working for another House Republican, had been further violated when a letter identifying her was released as part of Mr. von Ehlinger’s defense. Local media outlets reported that a former lawyer for Mr. von Ehlinger had sent the letter.
“Von Ehlinger could have and should have taken responsibility for his actions from the outset,” Ms. Birch said. “Instead, he forced our teenaged client to suffer through weeks of the Ethics Committee investigation and ultimately having to testify in a public hearing. Worse yet, he released his written defense without redacting her identity, which has led to a campaign of harassment and bullying of her.”
Mr. von Ehlinger and his current lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for additional comment on Thursday.
Appointed last June by Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, to fill a vacancy caused by a lawmaker’s death, Mr. von Ehlinger ran unopposed in the November election. In a profile last spring, The Lewiston Tribune reported that Mr. von Ehlinger had worked as a substitute teacher after a military career, in addition to working in private security and real estate.
In a statement issued on Thursday before Mr. von Ehlinger’s resignation, Mr. Little said that elected officials must be held to a higher standard.
“I applaud Jane Doe and the other brave women for their courage in telling their stories and participating in this process to hold Representative Aaron von Ehlinger accountable for his deeply damaging and shameful actions,” Mr. Little said. “Representative von Ehlinger’s inappropriate and alarming actions stand in opposition to the values and behavior state elected officials must uphold.”