Harassment Allegations Spell End of Maryland House Speaker's Leadership
By Michael Dresser
Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch stripped Del. Curt Anderson of his legislative leadership posts Friday after an ethics committee ordered the Baltimore Democrat to undergo sexual harassment training following the completion of its investigation into multiple allegations against him.
Busch's action came two days after Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat, appeared before the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics to answer allegations of misbehavior from female lawmakers and staffers.
The panel decided unanimously that Anderson must undergo "one-on-one intensive" sexual harassment awareness and prevention training, Busch said in a statement.
In a brief interview, Anderson, 68, said he believed the actions by the committee and Busch were "fair" but said any further remarks would have to come from the speaker's office.
The veteran lawmaker, who has chaired the Baltimore House delegation since 2007, declined to say whether he will continue to seek re-election in November. He has faced pressure to drop out of the race.
Busch said he decided on his own to relieve Anderson of his positions as a subcommittee chairman on the Judiciary Committee and as deputy majority whip.
"The House of Delegates has zero tolerance for sexual harassment or misconduct," Busch said in a statement. "My goal has been and continues to be to make Maryland the safest legislative workplace in the country."
Busch spokeswoman Alexandra Hughes said the speaker's office had not yet received the committee's full report.
Maryland lawmakers spent seven hours behind closed doors Wednesday as a legislative ethics panel met to consider allegations against Del. Curt Anderson, who has been accused by several women of sexual misbehavior.
Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat, arrived in Annapolis a few minutes after the scheduled...
The panel has the authority to recommend far harsher penalties, including expulsion, censure or reprimand. That it did not make such recommendations could indicate the panel did not have evidence to substantiate certain allegations.
The ethics panel normally has 12 members, half delegates and half senators. For now its ranks are down to 11 because of one Republican vacancy. The committee's deliberations are confidential by law. After Wednesday's hearing, members declined to discuss what happened behind closed doors.
In June five women -- two former staffers and three lawmakers -- told The Baltimore Sun that an investigator hired by the ethics committee had interviewed them about their experiences with Anderson.
The accusations ranged from an alleged sexual assault 14 years ago to an unwanted kiss and inappropriate comments about women's appearance.
While Anderson won the nomination for one of the three delegate seats from the 43rd District in the June primary, some of his fellow Democrats have urged him to drop his candidacy before Tuesday's deadline for the party to replace him on the ballot. He already was expected to relinquish his delegation chairmanship.
In his statement, Busch said he sent a referral to the ethics committee in January regarding accusations of a "pattern of conduct" in Anderson's interactions with female staffers and members. Busch said it was the first time he had used his statutory authority to refer a matter to the panel.
Baltimore Del. Mary L. Washington on Wednesday questioned the pace of the ethics investigation into Del. Curt Anderson's alleged sexual misconduct and challenged legislative leaders to explain why they kept the inquiry quiet for so long.
Washington, who represents North Baltimore's 43rd District...
Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said the committee, as required by law, referred the matter to a law enforcement agency before beginning its investigation. He said that once the agency gave its permission to proceed, the panel hired an independent investigator.
The speaker said the committee and the investigator interviewed 22 witnesses and spent over 430 hours examining the allegations.
In previous cases involving ethical violations, Busch has added to other penalties by removing members from longtime committee assignments. In some ways, it is an even sterner sanction than losing leadership posts because members develop an expertise and comfort in dealing with their committee's subject area -- as Anderson has on Judiciary.
Hughes said Busch has not made decisions on committee assignments for the term that begins next January.
Anderson, a lawyer and former TV broadcaster, served three years in the House between 1983 and 1995. He returned in 2003 and is now in his seventh term.
Busch said in the statement that the legislature is "still working to ensure that every victim feels safe coming forward" to discuss any inappropriate behavior in the workplace. He said the process established by sexual harassment legislation passed this year has worked.
"We try to strike the careful balance of the need for public transparency with the necessity of protecting the victims," he said.
Busch noted that a commission set up to make additional recommendations for handling allegations among the General Assembly staff and workforce is expected to report its findings this fall.
Del. Ariana Kelly, past president of the legislature's women's caucus and lead sponsor of the legislation, took a mixed view of the actions taken on Anderson.
"There's little to no evidence that remedial sexual harassment training works, but what does speak to people is power," Kelly said. "Stripping people of their leadership positions sends a message to the body that sexual harassment won't be tolerated."
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