Editorial | Can't just take person's word

Editorial | Can't just take person's word

State Rep. Lou Lang's accuser refused to beinterviewed by the legislative inspector general.

It was just four months ago when screaming headlines revealed that another member of the General Assembly was the target of sexual-harassment accusations.

This time it was state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, a member of House Speaker Michael Madigan's leadership team. After the accusations, Lang stepped down from his leadership post and two key committees involving ethics and rule-making.

But he professed innocence and predicted he would be cleared of what he called "absurd" misconduct charges. Lang characterized his accuser as a disgruntled medical-marijuana lobbyist who was angry because she was unable to win a license for a medical-marijuana dispensary in Plainfield.

Last week, Julie Porter, the acting legislative inspector general, issued a report that concluded the allegations against Lang were unfounded.

The initial charges made against him by lobbyist Maryann Loncar seemed like a stretch. But whether they are true or not, the report's conclusion was almost a virtual certainty after Loncar refused to submit to an interview with the inspector general.

Loncar defended her decision not to participate in the investigation because she suspected it was not on the up and up, just a public-relations display on the road to clearing Lang of her charges.

She's entitled to her opinion, but refusing to back up the comments she made at a widely publicized press conference by submitting to an interview is the surest way there is to guarantee an accused person will be cleared.

This is the second time that Porter has issued an inspector general's report investigating sexual-harassment allegations against a legislator.

The first concerned soon-to-be-former Chicago state Sen. Ira Silverstein. A suburban woman charged that Silverstein became romantically interested in her after he volunteered to help her pass a piece of legislation she was promoting.

Again, Porter found no evidence of sexual harassment. But she concluded that Silverstein was guilty of conduct unbecoming of a member of the Legislature, a conclusion that did Silverstein no good. All the adverse publicity pretty much guaranteed that he would be crushed in the March Democratic primary, as he was. His legislative career appears to be over.

The Lang and Silverstein accusations were just a part of a sexual-harassment contagion that also cost Madigan his chief of staff and a valued campaign worker. Other fallout included a requirement that all legislators undergo training on how to conduct themselves properly when dealing with lobbyists, constituents or fellow legislators of the opposite sex.

There's no denying that these kinds of he said, she said accusations are difficult to resolve. It's one thing if there's solid evidence, and quite another if there's not.

The accusers in the Silverstein and Lang cases both seemed to think that they should be automatically believed based on their willingness to stand up and speak out.

But it's one thing to make an appeal that resonates with the voters, as was the case with Silverstein, and quite another when it comes to an unbiased inquiry conducted by an experienced investigator.

In the latter case, the accuser must show up or forfeit credibility.

At the same time, legislators need to make sure their conduct is above board in all instances. To do otherwise in the current climate is to take a risk that has the potential to exact a high cost.

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