Md. bill seeks statute of limitations on filing charges of sexual harassment

February 19, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

Two women legislators want to make it harder to lodge sexual harassment allegations against former state lawmakers who want to be judges.

They introduced a bill yesterday requiring women to file a written complaint against a legislator who sexually harassed them within six months of the incident.

If the accusers failed to do so, the General Assembly would have to disregard their complaints later, when deciding whether to confirm the lawmaker to a judgeship or other appointed office.

"It puts a statute of limitations on these charges," said Del. Ethel A. Murray, a Cecil County Democrat who co-sponsored the bill.

The bill was introduced a day after former Del. John S. Arnick abandoned his bid for a judgeship amid charges that he made vulgar remarks to two women during a dinner meeting last year.

Many lawmakers gave it little chance of passing. "Astonishing, appalling, preposterous," said Sen. Howard A. Denis, a Montgomery County Republican who opposed Mr. Arnick's judgeship.

Del. Mary A. Conroy, a Prince George's Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, said the new requirement would ensure fairness for appointees by giving them advance notice of possible stumbling blocks to their career.

Many lawmakers of both genders feel deep sympathy for Mr. Arnick because he gave up his law practice and seat in Annapolis before his nomination to a judgeship hit the skids.

Delegate Conroy said the bill should not discourage women from making accusations. "If they feel so strongly that they would come out a year later [against the man], they shouldn't feel intimidated by writing it down and sending it to the Ethics Commission" or the legislature.

One of the women who complained about Mr. Arnick did not make her story public until a year after the incident, when the Senate was weighing his confirmation as a District Court judge for Baltimore County.

However, the women did tell another delegate about Mr. Arnick's lewd language to them within days of the dinner meeting. That delegate said he immediately informed Mr. Arnick. Both women also said they told Mr. Arnick of their concerns about the incident soon afterward.

Delegates Conroy and Murray said they believe Mr. Arnick is a gentleman who was poorly treated during the past two weeks -- an opinion that many women lawmakers share.

Still, supporters and detractors of Mr. Arnick alike were skeptical of the bill's chances. "I'm not sure I even want to think about this whole thing now," said Sen. Patricia R. Sher, D-Montgomery, an Arnick supporter.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. said aspects of the bill could be incorporated in a new legislative policy on sexual harassment that delegates plan to develop soon.

Two senators criticized the bill for holding lawmakers to a lower standard than anyone else who wants to appointed to a judgeship or a government commission. The bill does not put a statute of limitations on complaints against appointees who were never legislators.

"It really trivializes what this whole issue is about," said Sen. Mary H. Boergers, a Montgomery Democrat. "Can you imagine having one standard for members of the General Assembly and another for the public at large?"

Delegate Conroy said the bill could be amended to include nonlegislators and to allow lawmakers to consider the charges of women who failed to file written statements.

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