Idaho House Ethics Committee Finishes Hearing Against Lewiston Legislator
UPDATED: 2:20 pm PT
The Idaho House Ethics Committee heard testimony Wednesday about an accusation of sexual assault against Lewiston Republican Representative Aaron von Ehlinger.
Committee members will reconvene on Thursday morning to debate their next steps.The complaint was lodged by a 19-year-old legislative intern who said the legislator forced her to perform oral sex on him during a date in March. Boise Police have investigated, but no legal charges have yet been filed.
Committee members say the hearing is not to determine whether von Ehlinger is guilty of a crime, but to determine if he violated House rules in having a sexual relationship with the woman and whether he should be disciplined.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the committee heard from the woman who lodged the complaint, referred to in the hearing as Jane Doe, as she recounted a few of the details from that evening. She said von Ehlinger took her to dinner, then to his apartment. He claimed he had forgotten something. In the apartment, she said he picked her up from the couch, took her to the bed and pinned her down. She said she tried to refuse his requests that she perform oral sex on him and that he masturbated over her.
She said during the incident, that she had said no several times.
The woman's lawyer had objected to her appearing in person, saying being forced to testify publicly could cause her further trauma.
Doe herself said she was also fearful of testifying, saying she was terrified and was physically ill before the hearing.
Von Ehlinger admitted he took Doe to dinner and that he considered the meeting a date. But his attorney advised him not to answer questions about any sexual activity that took place.
The legislator’s attorney, Edward Dindinger, questioned her about her motivation for dating the representative, whether she was in it for monetary gain. But attorneys representing the woman complained about many of his lines of interrogation. Dindinger became visibly frustrated by what he viewed as his inability to cross-examine her and try to reveal inconsistencies in her testimony.
Attorneys for the committee called witnesses who testified that the incident was part of a pattern of behavior by von Ehlinger. They called for testimony a second woman whom von Ehlinger dated earlier this year, a former security guard at the Capitol. She testified that she saw him socially twice, even going up to his apartment to view his firearms. She said they had a sexual encounter during that second date that she described as uncomfortable and awkward.
They also heard from a house staff member who testified von Ehlinger asked her for a date earlier this year. She declined, saying she was married, then went to her boss, the chief clerk of the House, to ask for advice for how to proceed. She sent an email to von Ehlinger expressing her discomfort with his dating request. Dindinger noted that she hadn’t been wearing a wedding ring, which may have confused the representative about her relationship status.
Several times, Dindinger made the point that the Idaho legislature has no formal policy that forbids legislators dating legislative staff. Several House members testified to that. House Speaker Scott Bedke confirmed it, but said there are informal rules about inter-Capitol relationship that are conveyed to lawmakers during training classes at the beginning of each legislative session.
The hearing took a turn when one of the legislators called to the stand, Rep. Priscilla Giddings, testified she was recently accosted by Jane Doe outside the Capitol one day while returning from lunch. Giddings said she didn’t recognize the woman, but her companion, Rep. Heather Scott, did. Giddings says Ms. Doe accused her of ruining her life by publicizing Ms. Doe’s name and falsehoods about her in connection with the complaint against von Ehlinger. Giddings testified that she had posted a link to a news article about the case in her weekly newsletter. The article included the woman’s name, though Giddings testified that hadn’t been sure of that because she hadn’t read the full article. Giddings said she believed the investigation was no longer active and because of that, since Rep. von Ehlinger’s name had been released as part of the investigation that it was fair for the woman’s name to be publicly released as well.
Doe said she feared releasing her identity would put her, and her young child in danger.
After about five hours of testimony, the Ethics Committee members voted to take the evening to process the information and come back Thursday morning to deliberate their next steps.