State lawmakers appoint inspector general amid harassment scandal

Julie Porter | Facebook photo

A former federal prosecutor has been appointed as the special legislative inspector general of the Illinois General Assembly, as scandal swirls around how sexual harassment allegations are handled in Springfield.

The position had been vacant for over two years before the Legislative Ethics Commission voted unanimously to appoint Julie B. Porter during a closed-door meeting on Saturday.

“Ms. Porter has committed her career to seeking justice and becoming a voice for those who might not otherwise be heard,” the commission said in a statement.

Porter worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago for 12 years before going into private practice.

She will be tasked with shoring up an institution that doesn’t even list sexual harassment as a violation of the state ethics act. She’ll also have to deal with a backlog of at least 27 complaints against members of the General Assembly, though it’s unclear if those accusations name legislators or their staffers — or what the nature of each allegation is.

Porter’s appointment, which took effect immediately and is slated to expire on June 30, 2018, comes in the wake of explosive allegations by a victim rights advocate against state Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago. The accusations of unwanted advances led to Silverstein’s ouster from his leadership post as Majority Caucus Chair.

As a prosecutor, Porter won convictions in the corporate fraud case against media baron and former Chicago Sun-Times owner Conrad Black, as well as the public corruption cases against state power broker Bill Cellini and Robert Sorich, the ex-patronage chief to former Mayor Richard M. Daley. She also presented the child exploitation case leading to the conviction of prominent Jesuit priest Donald McGuire.

The legislative inspector general is responsible for “investigating complaints of violations of any law, rule or regulation or abuse of authority or other forms of misconduct by members of the General Assembly and state employees under the jurisdiction of the legislature,” according to the commission.

“Julie Porter is a skilled attorney who has experience trying public corruption and fraud cases,” said state Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills, the chairman of the commission. “I look forward to working with Ms. Porter to quickly get the Ethics Commission back on track, address the complaints that exist and move forward.”

In the wake of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the ensuing wave of accusations against men in positions of power across the country, officials in the State Capitol have scrambled to address the issue in Springfield.

The Legislative Ethics Commission has caught flak for its lack of action on sexual harassment allegations.

“I’ve been on the commission since late 2014,” state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, said last week. “I literally have never seen a single case come forward… These complaints get parked in a file and sit there, and we don’t know about it. It is absolutely outrageous.”

Activist Denise Rotheimer leveled the accusations against Silverstein on Tuesday, saying he used “power” and “mind games” while making comments about her appearance as she tried to advance legislation to help crime victims pay for legal care. Silverstein apologized for making Rotheimer “uncomfortable” but categorically denied doing anything that would rise to the level of sexual harassment.

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