We need procedures for harassment allegations

There is one good thing, and only one, about the case of New Mexico state senator Michael Padilla. That is, the public disclosure of his alleged sexual harassment misconduct has not disrupted the 2018 election. Padilla has been pressured to give up his run for lieutenant governor. There’s plenty of time before the primary next June for other candidates to fill the void, if one existed. Other than the damage to Padilla himself, minimal harm has been done.

The Alabama special election for U.S. Senate was wildly disrupted because the disclosures about candidate Roy Moore came so late in the election process. If the revelations had been made public earlier, his Republican opponent might have won the primary, or perhaps Moore would never have become a serious candidate.

The Moore case came to national attention when it did because the Washington Post sent reporters to Alabama. Logically, the Post did that because Moore was poised to become a national figure. It was the right thing to do at a very awkward time.

Back in New Mexico, Padilla remains in a hot spot. His fellow Democrats have removed him from the leadership position of majority whip of the state Senate. As of this writing, it appears he will not be pressured by his caucus to resign his Senate seat, but that could change.

Let’s remember, legislators are elected by their constituents. That is the heart of the problem when a lawmaker is alleged to have committed noncriminal bad acts, sexual or other. Padilla’s constituents voted him into office. What should the criteria be that would allow his colleagues to force him out?

I wish to underscore one point: the charges against Padilla look nasty and may be true. But the fact that the city of Albuquerque made a settlement and paid damages to the alleged victims does not prove anything. Employers sometimes settle cases just to get them over with and save the expense of a civil trial, regardless of the facts.

I once witnessed a case in which a state employee was fired for legitimate reasons. The fired employee made a bogus discrimination charge against my boss, and State Risk Management settled rather than letting the case be tried. My boss was furious. His good name had been smeared, and he wanted to correct the record. I knew what had happened, and my boss had made the right decision under difficult circumstances.

Senator Al Franken has been pressured, not forced, to resign. A few Democratic senators have reportedly reconsidered their rush to judgment, too late. An ethics investigation, conducted in public, might have created a model for how such things should be handled for an elected official. It might have helped to sort out the distinctions between conduct that deserves an apology, conduct that deserves removal from office and conduct that merits criminal prosecution – and also to expose false allegations.

Our formal justice system is used to decide facts and guilt in criminal cases, and to determine fault in civil cases. In most of the cases that have come to light in recent months, this system has not been invoked.

Movie moguls, television stars and top executives are being fired on the basis of credible allegations, without formal proof. In some cases, organizations are now admitting what apparently they knew but had been complicit in concealing.

I suspect that while all of this public airing is taking place, millions of dollars are quietly being exchanged to bribe accusers in many industries to continue staying quiet. Some accusers might well be tempted to take the money.

Not long ago, a few people had to step down from nominations to cabinet positions because they had illegally hired an undocumented nanny. What an innocent, naïve time that seems to have been.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2017




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