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Pennsylvania Legislature roiled by sex misconduct claims

| Wednesday, April 11, 2018, 4:18 p.m.
The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pa.
Associated Press
The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pa.

HARRISBURG — Sexual misconduct allegations have roiled the Pennsylvania Legislature this past year, including the revelation that two cases resulted in sizeable payouts.

A sitting state senator gave up plans to run for Congress in late February, following accusations of inappropriate behavior.

And an investigation is underway into claims a House member was abusive toward two women, including a fellow state representative.

Over the past 15 months, dozens of state lawmakers around the country have been accused of sexual misconduct in a mounting backlash against misbehavior by those in power.

The Associated Press filed records requests with every state legislative chamber to document complaints brought over the past decade.

In Pennsylvania, the state House said it was not required to disclose the number of complaints, but did provide details about two settlements totaling $280,000.

The Senate said it had no records of any complaints.

Here's how the issue has played out in the Capitol, based on disclosures by the two chambers, media accounts and the AP's own reporting:

Violent allegations

Rep. Nick Miccarelli, a Republican from the Philadelphia suburbs, announced last month he will not run for another term after it became public that a fellow Republican, Rep. Tarah Toohil, filed a complaint telling House GOP leaders he kicked her and pulled a gun on her. Another woman claimed that after she ended their relationship in 2014, Miccarelli forced her to have sex.

He has vigorously denied both sets of allegations. The district attorney in Dauphin County, where the Capitol is located, said Friday that his office is investigating and had no comment. Miccarelli, who represents a Delaware County district, has not been charged with any crime.

Miccarelli issued a statement late last week that again asserted his innocence and said he planned to “continue doing the work he was elected to do.”

He has attended House floor sessions this week and has been voting on legislation. His statement said he “wants nothing to do with Rep. Toohil, as has been the case for nearly six years.”

Toohil, with a House security officer standing next to her, watched a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday in which House Republicans outlined plans to pursue setting up a task force to examine workplace harassment and sexual misconduct.

Large payouts

House Democrats disclosed they paid about $250,000 in 2015 to settle a sexual harassment claim by a legislative assistant against longtime state Rep. Tom Caltagirone of Berks County. Caltagirone, who is 75, is running in the primary for another term and insists he did nothing wrong. He said the matter was settled over his objections.

“I didn't have my day in court, there's no due process,” he told the AP last week. “Can people be falsely accused? Yes. Does that happen? Yes. And how do you defend yourself unless you get into court?”

House Democrats also paid $30,000 to a legislative assistant to settle claims regarding then-Rep. Jewell Williams, a Democrat who is now Philadelphia's sheriff. She said he subjected her to repeated acts of verbal and physical sexual harassment, including steering her into a corner of his office and attempting to kiss her, according to a filing she made with the state human relations commission. Williams declined comment, citing a nondisclosure agreement.

Other misconduct claims

State Fire Commissioner Tim Solobay of Canonsburg quit under protest Dec. 31 after said the news organization tried to contact him for a story about a 2011 complaint that he slapped a female Senate aide on her rear-end while he was a Democratic senator from a Southwestern Pennsylvania district.

Solobay confirmed to the AP on Friday that those were the allegations and he denies them categorically. “That was what she said and that did not happen,” Solobay said, adding he has retained lawyers in the matter.

“The truth, hopefully, should come out through the legal process.”

He said there was no settlement.

Solobay is helping run a drug-testing company he co-owns as well as working as a business consultant.

Ruling out Congress

Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach announced in February he would not run for Congress — as had been widely expected — after allegations surfaced that he behaved inappropriately toward female employees and campaign aides. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that he had made sexual jokes and comments, as well as touching that some had considered inappropriate.

Leach has said he will cooperate with state Senate leaders to address the allegations and called it “heartbreaking” to think he made people feel uncomfortable or disrespected. He did not return a message seeking comment.

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