Did the nominee tell the truth? 3 contradict his testimony THE NOMINATION OF JOHN ARNICK

February 16, 1993|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

A growing question in Annapolis yesterday was: Did John S. Arnick tell the truth in his testimony before a Senate committee Friday?

Three people flatly contradict a key part of what Mr. Arnick, embattled nominee to a Baltimore County District Court judgeship, told the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. And over the weekend Sen. Howard A. Denis of Montgomery County said that he did not believe Mr. Arnick had testified truthfully.

Mr. Arnick told the senators that until last Monday he had been completely unaware of complaints that he had angrily used lewd and sexist language in a dinner meeting with two women lobbyists last February.

"I wish with all my heart I would have known of the apparent problem the day after, the week after, months after, . . ." he told the committee.

But Del. Kenneth Montague of Baltimore says that he called Mr. Arnick in the days after the dinner to tell him his behavior had upset the lobbyists. And Judith A. Wolfer and Nancy J. Nowak, the lobbyists, placed another call to Mr. Arnick that same day to tell him they were offended by his behavior and believed that reporters from The Sun had heard of the incident and might be writing about it, according to Ms. Wolfer and someone familiar with the events.

"He was put on notice twice -- by Ken Montague and by us," Ms. Wolfer said.

In neither call, they said, did Mr. Arnick seem surprised that anyone had taken offense, complain that he had been misunderstood or offer an apology.

Mr. Arnick's confirmation to the bench had seemed certain until last Monday night, when Ms. Wolfer told the Senate committee that the then-delegate had called women "lying bitches," "bimbos" and more vulgar names when they tried to discuss a bill concerning domestic violence over dinner last year.

Soon after that dinner, Ms. Wolfer and Ms. Nowak went to Mr. Montague for advice.

"I remember our anxiety level was right up to the sky," Ms. Wolfer recalled yesterday. With reporters from The Sun asking questions about sexual harassment in the State House, the lobbyists feared that Mr. Arnick would think they had complained to the press and that he would retaliate by killing the domestic-violence bill, Ms. Wolfer said.

An article that ran in The Sun March 22, 1992, headlined "It's a man's world at the State House," referred obliquely to a dinner meeting that "turned sour." The story mentioned an unidentified lawmaker making "inappropriate compliments" and unleashing "a vulgar anti-female tirade" to two female lobbyists.

When Ms. Wolfer and Ms. Nowak went to Mr. Montague, they were worried that the soon to be published article "might mention the name of John Arnick," Mr. Montague said. "They worried that might have some implications for the legislation.

"I said, 'Probably what we ought to do is at least call the chairman and let him know.' "

The delegate said he went into another office to call Mr. Arnick, whom he reached at home.

"I told him I had Judy Wolfer and Nancy Nowak in my office and they had just recounted for me this dinner meeting they had with him and were upset about what had transpired," Mr. Montague said.

"I told him that he basically ought to know that there was going to be this story in the paper and he should at least be aware of it.

"I don't know whether he remembers my conversation with him or not, but I know I called him. I referred to the dinner. I didn't recount the details, but I thought he knew what I was talking about."

Later that day, the lobbyists decided they should place their own call to Mr. Arnick, according to Ms. Wolfer and another individual familiar with events. "We were worried he would be so reactionary as to take it out on the bill" if the newspaper story should anger him.

Ms. Wolfer said Ms. Nowak made the call. She warned him that reporters were asking questions, told him they had not alerted the press to the story and then told him that his behavior at dinner had been "very bad."

"She said, 'I'm sorry, John. I don't know if you remember much of that night. Your voice was very loud and you were angry and your language was very derogatory,' " Ms. Wolfer recalled. "He didn't say much. She did most of the talking. He thanked her for the heads-up and got off the phone."

Another individual familiar with the calls described Mr. Arnick's response this way: "He said, 'Yeah? Well? OK. Fine. Thank you for calling.' "

Friday, under questioning from Mr. Denis, Mr. Arnick said those calls had not occurred:

SENATOR DENIS: One last question. Did Nancy Nowak ever call you on the telephone subsequent to this event and recall this incident to you and did you say that it was no big deal or words to that effect?

THE WITNESS: No, sir.

SENATOR DENIS: You don't recall that?

THE WITNESS: No, sir.

SENATOR DENIS: You don't recall that ever happening?

THE WITNESS: I recall that never happening.

In his opening statement to the committee, Mr. Arnick said in part:

"I remember the dinner, but I cannot remember verbatim what was discussed. . . I know they misunderstood some of what I probably said. I wish I could remember all of the details. I honestly cannot. I do know that I had much more contact with each of the lobbyists after that dinner, meeting one or the other, day after day, often several times during the day during the remaining weeks of the legislative session. During these many meetings not one word was ever expressed communicating that my conduct was offensive. If something had been said then, I would have responded immediately and apologized."

Efforts to reach Mr. Arnick yesterday were unsuccessful.

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