Massachusetts House of Representatives Speaker Robert DeLeo is forming a special committee to investigate #MeToo allegations levied against a fellow member of the Democratic leadership, Representative Paul McMurtry.
UPDATE March 13th 2019: Paul McMurtry was cleared of allegations of groping by the ad hoc investigative commitee – see below.
Paul McMurtry identified as grabber
At the “Made in Massachusetts” cocktail reception on December 13th, during a three-day orientation session for incoming state legislators, a female lawmaker alleges that Paul McMurtry touched her inappropriately.
According to an investigative report by the Boston Globe published Wednesday, the incident took place during a group photo. The unnamed legislator told at least two fellow lawmakers what she claims happened.
“She told us immediately upon joining the group gathering to take the photo,” one House member told the Globe. “She told us a person had just grabbed her [backside].”
A third representative said they witnessed the event.
“He walked up behind her and grabbed it. She was upset.”
All three accounts identified McMurtry, a member of the Democratic House leadership, as the perpetrator.
McMurtry has denied all allegations. Speaking to WBZ-TV, he said, “Relative to my personal conduct, I can assure you the allegations are absolutely, positively, unequivocally not true. I will participate in any review that leads to the truth of these matters.”
Ongoing problems at Beacon Hill
The incident has raised concerns that the longtime culture of sexual harassment on Beacon Hill, a prominent issue during the 2018 session, has not been fully dealt with.
In March 2018 legislators enacted new procedures to try and tackle the problem, and to make it easier for sexual misconduct victims to come forward.
During the same month, Representative Diana DiZoglio demonstrated how pervasive the problem is. During a speech on the House floor in March 15th, 2018 she revealed how Speaker DeLeo had used an NDA to silence her accusations of mistreatment when she worked as a staffer in 2011.
The new rules call for a Equal Employment Opportunity officer to make an initial investigation. Investigator Cynthia Farquhar determined the allegations against McMurtry were “plausible.”
Speaker DeLeo must now appoint a “Special Committee on Professional Conduct” to rule on the allegations. The names of the committee members (and the existence of the committee itself) are meant to remain confidential unless and until it decides to take action against Paul McMurtry.
Massachusetts politicians react
Although some lawmakers have characterized the allegations as a “rumor,” many prominent voices in the Massachusetts political establishment are taking the allegations very seriously.
A spokesperson for Republican Governor Charlie Baker said, “Governor Baker believes there be should zero tolerance for sexual harassment and the administration supports a full and thorough investigation of the matter.”
The Massachusetts Democratic Party issued a statement on January 17th saying, “These allegations are serious and demonstrate the continued need for proactive efforts to make Beacon Hill a safe and welcoming environment for everyone. We are encouraged that the House has taken swift action to address these allegations, and we defer to the House Committee now responsible for this matter.”
Two first-term legislators, Representative Lindsay Sabadosa and Senator Becca Rausch, introduced a bill on Thursday to create a more independent process for investigating allegations.
“We think you cannot have leadership investigating leadership,” Sabadosa told Mass Live. “There needs to be someone independent.”
“I don’t understand how a committee formed by leadership can investigate one of their own,” she continued. “You can’t have the superiors and the friends of the people who are both the victim and the accused party making these decisions. You need someone who has no bias, no prior relationships.”
Explaining further her motivation for proposing the new legislation, Sabadosa said, “I need to feel safe, and my aide needs to feel safe.”
UPDATE March 13th 2019: Paul McMurtry cleared
The ad hoc investigative committee formally cleared McMurtry of all allegations in a report issued on Wednesday.
After reviewing the video evidence the committee concluded:
“There is no visible contact,” the committee concludes after reviewing the video. The Alleged Recipient makes slight movements that the EEO officer found to be consistent with an accidental touch, and further found that the movement was not unusual or an indication of distress.”
The General Court members who had previously made the allegations public declined to cooperate with investigators.
Reacting to the finding, Speaker Robert DeLeo called McMurtry an “honorable, decent public servant with whom I’m proud to serve.”