How is it that only one woman has come forward to name an Illinois politician as a sexual harasser even though 300+ signed a letter? Is the General Assembly following in the ranks of Congress and making victims jump through hoops to end up frustrated with the process and retract their complaints? Are the legislators on both sides looking for this to quiet down so they can all save their seats? Denise Rotheimer, victim rights advocate and accuser of State Sen. Ira Silverstein of sexual harassment, joins Dan and Amy to discuss if the Inspector General will ever investigate her complaint.
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Proft: Dan and Amy, and that story that Mike Scott was reporting about, that Veterans' Home in Quincy...good reporting, WBEZ Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold on that. Since July of 2015, 13 residents of that home in Quincy have died from Legionnaires Disease. Jacobson: Oh my gosh... Proft: 11 families now suing the state for negligence. This...I mean...Legionnaires...this is a matter of...of like, cleanliness in that facility. Jacobson: Cleanliness, yeah. They don't have a fountain in that facility, either. Proft: So, we've spent a lot of time and rightly so talking about VA hospitals and their failure to provide the service and medical care that our veterans are guaranteed and have earned, and we seem to have the same thing going on in the state. Rauner...Governor Rauner...where is he? Jeanne Ives saying that if Rauner can't manage a 200 acre facility with 250 clients, then he really isn't in charge, as he has previously said. This is big, it's a big issue. The state fai...at the state level, failing our military men and women. There's also another seeming failure going on, and have you noticed since the allegations started, allegations of sexual misconduct against high-profile individuals in media and entertainment and politics, since they started...we were expecting that the floodgates would open in Illinois too. Jacobson: Yeah! Because there were so many rumblings of people who wanted to tell their stories, but we've really only had one person publicly come forward. Proft: Well right, we had...you had 300 women sign a letter, and we've had one woman so far in testimony for a hearing for a specific piece of legislation, make an accusation about a specific politician, state senator Ira Silverstein. Denise Rotheimer accusing Silverstein of pursuing her while she was just trying to pursue legislation on behalf of her daughter, who is the victim of a sexual crime. And the result of that was a couple of things. One, without admitting any guilt, Silverstein was removed from Senate Democrat leadership, and from his committee chairmanship. He's still in the Senate. And then two, we find out that Denise Rotheimer's complaint that she filed to the Legislative Inspector General's office last November hadn't been acted upon, because there is no... Jacobson: Because there is NO Legislative Inspector General! Proft: There wasn't until two weeks ago! So, and then we find out from another legislator that there's more than two dozen complaints of one nature or another, some ostensensibly including allegations of sexual misconduct by members of the General Assembly, that have also just lain there, collecting dust. And so, what's happened since these revelations? No one else has come forward, they hurry through legislation, mandatory sexual harassment training for all the legislators, but we don't have any action on the release of those complaints, even with the accusers' names redacted, and we don't have any action on...are we waiving any time restrictions, because of the General Assembly's failure to have a Legislative Inspector General? Which was...and was that purposeful? So they could have this kind of non-partisan combine, hat tip John Kass, non-aggression pact? "If you allow us to protect our bad actors, we'll allow you to protect your bad actors."? Is that what's going on? What's going on? There's a task force, a House task force, that has had hearings...so where are we? For more on this topic, we're going to talk to the one woman who HAS come forward, who made those accusations against state senator Ira Silverstein. She is Denise Rotheimer, Denise thanks for joining us again, appreciate it. Rotheimer: Thank you. Thanks for having me again. Proft: So, there's been a couple of sexual harassment task force hearings, have you participated in those hearings? Rotheimer: I believe those are closed to the public. I've watched them online...I listen to the hearings. Proft: Well, why didn't you go before the task force to tell your story? Rotheimer: They won't allow me, because I'm an active case. And so being an active case, I can't even speak with the members of the Ethics Commission, which I understand. So as an alternative, to be heard, I've been trying to reach out to Leader Durkin, and express the concerns I have while going through this process, because what I've learned since testifying at that hearing for prohibiting sexual harassment is that I have no right. And it's very scary to be put in a situation I was once in back in 2003 when my daughter was raped, and I don't want to go through that kind of trauma, being railroaded again. So I'm just not... Proft: Well okay, well...so, on the legislative Ethics Commission, so let me know, the Legislative Ethics Commission...are they charged with making recommendations to the Legislative Inspector General for pursuing investigations? Rotheimer: How the process works is THEY get the complaint, then they give the authority to the Legislative Inspector General to investigate. So the Legislative Inspector General has to get approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission to investigate, which NO other agency has to do. Legislative Inspector Generals of the other state agencies like Treasurer's Office, Comptroller, Governor, they can just investigate a complaint they receive. My complaint was actually referred by the Executive General's Office of the Governor to Senate President Cullerton. It didn't even get to the Legislature, it was first handed to him. And then he said, after my testimony and all that, that they referred it to the Legislative Inspector General, knowing that there was no one there. Proft: This is like the game that Congress is playing! Jacobson: Yeah, but this seems worse, it seems a little more unorganized. So, how many times have you had to testify, or tell your story to people? Rotheimer: Well back in November of 2016, I went directly to Cullerton's office, and when I was being ignored on the status of my complaint, I went to my state senator. She then stopped returning my call or giving me any follow-up. So really, I was just silenced way back then, until I testified for Senate Bill 402 on Halloween in support of that bill, and I briefly touched on my experience to support that bill, and then after that they got the inspector general. I met with her for two and a half hours, I wasn't comfortable in the situation because I'm already not trusting anyone, for obvious reasons. So she just kind of confirmed for me that I need to have my own voice. So I'm just trying to figure out how I can be heard by the Legislative Ethics Commission, who actually determines the outcome of the case. Proft: Well, how they do that without hearing from the accuser? Rotheimer: Well, that's the thing! I've read the operation rules, it's about 13 pages long, not one word is mentioned in there about the complainant, or the accuser. So, there was never an intent to give a voice to the person actually making the complaint. Proft: Well, that's remarkable...it's...it's ABSURD, because not only should you hear from the accuser, and be able to query the accuser, but also in your case, it's not like you're asking for any special treatment! "I don't want my name disclosed, I don't want anybody in the room, I want this to be closed to the public", "I'm Denise Rotheimer, I've got this complaint. I've been trying to pursue this complaint FOR A YEAR, through all these avenues. I've been given the run-around. I just want to testify to what I...what happened to me, before this commission, and I'm there to answer questions", and they're uninterested! I mean...what is that? Rotheimer: Well, they don't even want to hear it, is the point, just like they didn't want to do anything about the complaint I filed last year. All Spring Session, even up to Senate Bill 402 was authored and filed by Senate President Cullerton, there was no intention of ever filling the vacancy, KNOWING there was a live, active complaint! They didn't even want to go there! It was only because I spoke out that they had no choice. So, I'm not under the impression that they care or take my complaint seriously, at all. Because if they did, they would have filled the vacancy before they filed Senate Bill 402. Jacobson: Well, what do you think should happen to state senator Ira Silverstein? Or what do you think he should do? Rotheimer: I think we should BOTH have the right to due process. He is afforded already the right to due process, he has rights, he gets representation, he even has relief. So if there's an appeal, he's fined for any reason, he can appeal that. I get absolutely NOTHING. So what I would like to see happen is a fair playing field. Let me have an opportunity to be heard. It's very important that I'm heard, and it's also important to be cross-examined, you know, to have them ask any questions, because you're not going to know the hostile environment that I was in until you hear from me. Proft: I'll tell ya, this is just...it's...here's what I think is happening. Jacobson: It's a hot mess. Proft: Here's what I think is happening. I think this is fairly straightforward because these people down there are not all that smart. "Sexual harassment training, we'll mandate that, we'll rush through some legislation, then we'll get...since we've been called out on not having a Legislative Inspector General, we'll put somebody in that post. Keep the complaints that have been sitting there untended to for a year, just keep those behind closed doors, push those off. Let's keep those until at least March...", and then they'll say "at least get past November." This is just about protecting everybody's hindquarters for elections..."and you don't go after names that have been rumored about, and we won't go after names on your side that have been rumored about. And we'll just kind of protect everybody, close ranks. If Denise calls, don't answer her." Her Democratic state senator won't answer, the House Republican leader won't answer...this is the bi-partisan combine, self-survival so the floodgates DO NOT open, and that all of the bad actors down there...and it's NOT just Ira Silverstein I can GUARANTEE you that! So all of them are protected and they find a way maybe at some point to quietly move on without being held to account. That's what I think is happening. Rotheimer: If they really wanted people to speak out and come forward and go through this process, they would afford them with some basic rights: a right to notification, a right to information, a right to some level of participation, even a right to representation. We have absolutely, as complaints, ZERO. So you're...my first conversation with a reporter, I asked her, "What rights do I have?" She said "None that I can think of." I called Lida Jerkins (?) office, I said "Can you explain to me why I'm going through a process that does not afford me any rights?" And he said "I understand what you're saying, I don't have an answer to your question." He referred me to the operational rules. Proft: Yeah, this is...this is like what's happening in Congress. You have to go through all these hoops, because they want to frustrate you, they want to tire you out. The only thing we don't have, or we don't know we have yet maybe, are these secret, clandestine, taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlements. We'll see if those are ultimately a part of this story like they are in Illinois like they are nationally as well. Denise, thanks so much again for joining us, and for your continued willingness to speak, to publicly speak out and try to break this thing loose. Because there's another two dozen complaints that we should see. Absolutely. Denise, Denise Rotheimer, Victim Rights Advocate, we appreciate your time and we'll continue on this story. Thanks for joining us. Rotheimer: Thank you, thank you and have a good day. Jacobson: And she joined us on our Turnkey Dot Pro Answer Line.