Investigation into Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger began in March
An Idaho lawmaker accused of rape with a 19-year-old legislative intern has resigned following an ethics committee found he must be officially censured.
The investigation to Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger began in March following a young staffer reported that he raped her in his flat after the two had dinner at a Boise restaurant. He resigned Thursday after an ethics committee unanimously agreed he participated in"behavior unbecoming" and recommended that he be suspended without pay for the remaining legislative session.
The Boise Police Department is investigating the rape allegations, and von Ehlinger has not been charged.
The Republican from Lewiston composed in his resignation letter that he hoped stepping down would spare his coworkers from having to deal with the ethics committee's recommendation, he disagreed with.
"After careful deliberation and prayer I have determined that I won't have the ability to efficiently represent my constituents and... have opted to resign my chair effective immediately," von Ehlinger wrote. "I keep my innocence of any wrongdoing of which I have been accused in this issue."
The lawmaker invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself on the help of his attorney, but Idaho law states that testimony given in a legislative ethics panel can't be utilized in criminal court cases. This means the Fifth Amendment does not apply, '' the committee said.
The investigation to von Ehlinger began in March after a young staffer reported he chased her in his apartment after both had dinner at a Boise restaurant. The Boise Police Department is investigating, also von Ehlinger has not been charged.
The five-member integrity panel also agreed they would throw unanimous support behind a motion to reestablish von Ehlinger if any home lawmaker decides to make one.
The decision came the day after the panel heard hours of testimony, for example from the adolescent who brought the allegations. She had been shielded from public view by a black screen and used the name Jane Doe during the event, but some far-right blogs and at least one lawmaker, Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, has shown that the teen's identity in a social media post and at a link embedded within a publication to her constituents. At least one of the sites was edited days after to remove the adolescent's name and photo.
The Associated Press generally does not identify individuals who state they have been sexually assaulted.
Rep. John McCrostie, a Democrat from Garden City, lauded the intern for her bravery in coming forward.
"Sexual assault survivors are rarely subjected to having their testimony publicly broadcast. But she understood her truth enabled others to not suffer as she has," McCrostie said.
"We owe it to Jane Doe and also to future Jane Does" to ensure that the work of the House of Representatives is conducted with integrity, he said.
Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Wendy Horman said von Ehlinger was inconsistent with his testimony and wrongly refused to answer pertinent questions, and the evidence showed he maintained that a pattern of hitting on subordinates at the Statehouse despite repeated warnings.
She rejected his argument that because there was no written rule against relationship staffers, there was nothing wrong with the behavior.
"There's no House rule against poisoning another person, yet his behaviour has poisoned all of us," Horman said. "Conduct unbecoming is an undefined expression for a reason per our principles."
Rep. Brent Crane, a Republican from Nampa, said the public's understanding of the entire legislative body will be measured by the episode and that the panel required to make sure that constituents are served by those with the greatest moral standards. He explained von Ehlinger participated in a"predatory pattern" of behaviour.
"The Idaho House of Representatives existed long before we arrived, and it'll be here long after we leave, however, history will judge us by our actions today," Crane said. "I want our activities to present a clear directive."
The lawyers who are representing the intern, Erika Birch and Annie Hightower, published a statement thanking the committee for recommending which von Ehlinger be censured and"taking the initial actions to hold him accountable for raping a teen intern."
The lawyers also noted it has been incredibly hard for their customer, especially when she was accosted from the onlookers after testifying. A television news reporter followed the teen, the attorneys said, filming her distress. The news station later ruined the footage and did not broadcast it.
"The unrelenting harm that has happened as a part of this process, and as a consequence of the being doxxed in blogs and from Rep. Priscilla Giddings, is exactly why two-thirds of Idaho survivors of sexual attack never choose to report the crimes against them," the attorneys said. "Every time that the system fails to protect survivors it strengthens why survivors of sexual violence opt not to report and to endure in silence"
Von Ehlinger along with his attorney Edward Dindinger did not respond to requests for comment.