It has been five months since the Boston Globe broke a deeply troubling and credible story of sexual abuse by the husband of then Senate President Stanley Rosenberg. The victims were members of senate staff and others with business in the state house.
Senator Rosenberg stepped down, initially on a temporary basis, and the Senate tasked its Ethics Committee to investigate. Our first step on the Ethics Committee was to retain an independent professional to conduct an investigation that fully protected the identities of the victims so they would not be exposed to retaliation.
That process took longer than any of us wanted, but resulted in a lengthy report that surfaced new allegations of misconduct by Hefner and also found that Senator Rosenberg knew of some of the misconduct and failed to take adequate steps in response to it. We made that report public in its entirety. The key findings were:
- The “firewall” Senator Rosenberg had promised his colleagues between his private life with Hefner and the business of the Senate was ineffective in restricting his husband’s access to information from Senator Rosenberg’s office;
- Senator Rosenberg had violated the Senate’s IT policy by sharing his confidential computer password with Hefner, giving him unfettered access to Senator Rosenberg’s Senate email account;
- Senator Rosenberg had undermined the goal of the Senate’s anti-harassment policy to promote a workplace free from sexual and other forms of discriminatory harassment because he knew or should have known that Hefner racially and sexually harassed Senate employees and failed to address the issue adequately;
- Senator Rosenberg had acted unreasonably in allowing Hefner largely unfettered access to Senate information both through direct access to his email account and through their personal communications about Senate business; and
- Senator Rosenberg had not violated the Senate Rules, including Senate Rule 10.
We on the Ethics Committee felt that absent evidence of a violation of law or rule by Senator Rosenberg we should leave his tenure up to the voters, but we did recommend what was, perhaps, the harshest sanction we could impose short of expulsion. We recommended that “Senator Rosenberg not serve as Senate President, as a member of Senate leadership or as chair of any committee for the remainder of the 2017-2018 legislative session and for the entire 2019-2020 legislative session.”
Every member of the Senate chairs one or more committee with compensation commensurate with responsibility. With no committee chairmanship, Senator Rosenberg would be the lowest paid, weakest member of the Senate.
He resigned the next day stating that:
In light . . . of the disciplinary measures recommended by the Ethics Committee, it would not be fair to my constituents to have a representative in the Senate who lacked the authority to represent their interests fully.
All of us in the Senate feel a mixture of anger, relief and sorrow at Senator Rosenberg’s departure. As angry as we are that he was unable to protect people from his husband, and as relieved as we are that the controversy is over and that victims can move forward without fear, we also remember his personal generosity and his many good and important accomplishments over his long tenure. Most recently, he was a prime mover in our criminal justice reform effort.
Conflicting emotions aside, we are resolved to prevent future abuse. The Senate adopted the following statement:
We accept and endorse the findings of the special investigator and thank the victims and witnesses who came forward, to push us to become a better institution. We will continue to work to earn and honor your trust. We thank the Special Investigators and the Ethics Committee for the care they took both to protect witness’ anonymity and to make the report, in its entirety, public.
We accept Senator Rosenberg’s resignation because we agree with the decision that it is no longer appropriate for him to serve in the Senate.
As members of this body, we want to say to victims, staff, and all whose lives were affected: We are sorry for what you have been through. You deserved better. We must do better.
We pledge to you to work diligently and swiftly to fortify the Senate’s systems for preventing and intervening in harassment in all its forms. Staff and all those who walk through the State House doors must be able to work in confidence that these policies are lived values, and not mere pieces of paper.
We adopted this statement by a unanimous roll call vote and are committed to following through.