New Arnick allegations weren't heard by panel Schaefer aide said to feel pressure not to tell of sexist slurs

February 14, 1993|By Sandy Banisky and John W. Frece | Sandy Banisky and John W. Frece,Staff Writers

An aide to the governor was prepared to testify Friday that former Del. John S. Arnick called her a "blond bimbo" and a "dumb blond" when she discussed legislation with him, someone familiar with the incidents said yesterday.

Nancy J. Nowak, the aide, also was prepared to tell the Senate committee considering Mr. Arnick's appointment to a judgeship that he often massaged her neck and back while standing in office hallways, the person said.

But Ms. Nowak did not appear because she felt that Senate staff members were suggesting strongly she stay away, and her boss, William Donald Schaefer, was reaffirming his support of the nominee.

The Senate Executive Nominations Committee went on to vote 14-4 to recommend confirmation of Mr. Arnick's appointment to a seat on the Baltimore County District Court bench. The full Senate is expected to vote Tuesday.

Today, groups including the Public Justice Center, the Women's Law Center and the ACLU are to hold a press conference in Annapolis at which they have said they will call for a delay in the final vote on Mr. Arnick's appointment.

Yesterday, two Montgomery County legislators -- Sen. Howard A. Denis and Del. Peter Franchot -- said that as late as Thursday Ms. Nowak had been planning to testify and, when questioned, would have detailed a pattern of sexist and demeaning behavior by Mr. Arnick.

Mr. Franchot said Ms. Nowak told him she would testify that as, she lobbied last year on a domestic-violence bill before the House Judiciary Committee then chaired by Mr. Arnick, the then-delegate frequently and in front of other legislators referred to her as a "blond bimbo."

Senator Denis, who personally wrote Ms. Nowak asking her to testify after he learned that the committee itself had not done so, said he was certain she intended to describe other personal incidents involving Mr. Arnick's behavior.

"My impression is that she would have testified truthfully, and other incidents would have been described that would have been helpful to the committee. Perhaps that explains why she may have been so actively discouraged from testifying," Mr. Denis said.

Mr. Arnick, reached at home late yesterday, listened to a brief version of the allegations attributed to Ms. Nowak and said, "I'm not responding to that. You know that," and hung up the telephone.

Ms. Nowak has not made any public statements since allegations were first leveled against Mr. Arnick. The controversy over Mr. Arnick's nomination began Monday, when Judith A. Wolfer, a Takoma Park lawyer and former lobbyist, alleged that Mr. Arnick had angrily called women "lying bitches," "bimbos" and more vulgar names during a dinner meeting she and Ms. Nowak had with him a year ago.

They had been seeking his support for a bill to protect victims of domestic violence.

Ms. Nowak issued a terse statement Tuesday corroborating Ms. Wolfer's testimony and saying she would cooperate with the committee. But later in the week, Senate staff members were telling her that she need not testify in person.

Newly appointed to a job as head of the Division of Parole and Probation, and confirmed just a week before by the same Senate panel, Ms. Nowak reportedly was not eager to testify against a man who had been nominated by her boss, Mr. Schaefer.

Tuesday, she called the governor's press office for advice and was told that Senate aides thought a signed statement, instead of an appearance, would be sufficient, the person familiar with the events said.

Wednesday, Michael I. Volk, staff assistant to the Senate panel, told Ms. Nowak that "the chairman doesn't need you to testify; you can if you want, but we'd really like to get on with it," according to the person. Mr. Volk could not be reached for comment yesterday.

And Thursday, John R. Stierhoff, legislative assistant to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., reportedly called Ms. Nowak and told her she need not testify if she did not feel comfortable doing that.

Ms. Nowak, already concerned about her job, her budget and DTC the bills she would be bringing to the legislature, "got the strong message" that the committee did not want her testimony, the person added.

Yesterday, Mr. Stierhoff denied that he ever tried to signal Ms. Nowak not to testify. He said he told her the decision was hers.

Friday morning, Governor Schaefer was quoted on the front page of The Sun as strongly endorsing Mr. Arnick. That convinced Ms. Nowak she should give up any idea of testifying, several people who talked with Ms. Nowak have said.

She called the governor's press secretary, Page W. Boinest, to tell her of her decision. "No one in the administration told her one way or the other what to do," Ms. Boinest said yesterday. "It was a decision for her to make and everyone from the governor on down recognized that."

"In talking to her, it seemed clear that she had talked to a lot of people, and people were advising her both ways," Ms. Boinest said.

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