Madigan seeks probe of sexual-harassment retaliation claim

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has called for an investigation into claims that he or his allies retaliated against fellow Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy for speaking out on sexual harassment, but Cassidy said Tuesday night she questions the independence of the investigative process.

Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, publicly released a letter Tuesday to Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter asking her to "investigate recent allegations of possible sexual harassment and retaliation" brought by Cassidy.

Cassidy, who led the call last winter for a third-party probe of Madigan's handling of sexual-harassment complaints against two employees of his political campaigns, claimed that she was forced to resign from her part-time job with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart in retaliation.

Cassidy first raised the retaliation claims Monday in an interview with WMAQ-TV. Madigan responded Tuesday, seeking a review from Porter. But Cassidy, a Democrat from Chicago who has held her seat since 2011, noted that the legislative inspector general must get permission from an ethics commission made up of lawmakers to investigate complaints she receives.

"I'm glad he's doing something," Cassidy said of Madigan's request. "We went from full denial to, 'Let's check this out,' but I have concerns about the independence of the process."

Cassidy gained some influential support a day after airing her complaint. J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic candidate for governor, and the Illinois Senate Women's Caucus both issued statements seeking outside review of the matter involving Madigan, the longest-serving state House speaker in U.S. history.

Cassidy told WMAQ that she was forced to resign from her position as a program manager for the sheriff because of her statements in February. She was prominent among women legislators who objected to Madigan choosing a firm to investigate the way he handled complaints of sexual harassment against two campaign workers who were fired after media reports of the allegations.

Following those statements, Cassidy said a Madigan aide called the sheriff's department to ask whether she still worked there, which Cassidy said she regarded as "a warning." Last week, she said another Democratic representative sponsoring legislation favored by Dart questioned Cassidy's opposition to her boss' plan. Cassidy then resigned from the sheriff's office, she said, to spare Dart from involvement.

In a letter dated Tuesday and addressed, "Dear Kelly," Madigan denied interfering with her job.

"I have no idea why you feel I am somehow retaliating against you as a result of your criticisms, particularly given that I agreed to your requests for an outside counsel and an independent review" last winter.

Cara Smith, Dart's chief policy officer, said Tuesday that Cassidy's resignation was submitted and accepted last Thursday. Her statement didn't say why but noted that Cassidy is opposed to Dart's proposal to increase penalties for jail inmates who expose themselves to jail staff.

The bill had been assigned to a House Judiciary Committee, on which Cassidy serves as vice chairwoman. Cassidy said her opposition was based on House Democrats' well-publicized moratorium on enhanced criminal penalties when there's no evidence they're effective at discouraging crime.

Pritzker's endorsement of an independent investigation was notable for its explicitness. He's derided by his Republican opponent, Gov. Bruce Rauner, for his reluctance to speak out on Madigan's handling harassment allegations.

The Illinois Senate Women's Caucus, a bipartisan group formed last fall to amplify the voices of women lawmakers, echoed the call in the name of "public confidence in the system."

Porter, a Chicago attorney, was drafted temporarily into the inspector general's office last fall after fallout from the #MeToo movement led to criticism that the office had been vacant for years. A victim's rights advocate complained that nothing had happened in the year since she had complained of unwanted attention from Chicago Democratic Sen. Ira Silverstein while they worked together on legislation.

Porter found no evidence of sexual harassment but said Silverstein engaged in "behavior unbecoming of a legislator." Silverstein lost a bid for re-election in the March 20 Democratic primary.

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