A Washington state lawmaker who abruptly resigned his seat in March 2011 had been accused by a female staff member of inappropriate behavior.
That’s according to a statement released late Wednesday by House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan in response to renewed questions from the media about the resignation of Democrat Jim Jacks of Vancouver.
At the time, Sullivan told the public radio Northwest News Network that Jacks, a married father of two, had resigned for “personal and family” reasons and that there were “no issues that forced Representative Jacks to resign.”
Jacks later told the editor of his hometown newspaper, The Columbian, that he resigned “because I’m an alcoholic.”
In a statement released by the Associated Press and the Northwest News Network Wednesday, Sullivan revealed for the first time that Jacks’ resignation was directly related to his conduct at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration at a bar a week earlier.
“Representative Jim Jacks’ behavior at that gathering prompted patrons at the bar to complain to another member present,” Sullivan wrote in his statement. “A female staffer also alleged that Jacks had acted inappropriately towards her.”
According to Sullivan, the staffer didn’t file a formal complaint and wanted her identity protected. Nonetheless, House leadership confronted Jacks, who initially denied any wrongdoing. Later, Sullivan said, Jacks acknowledged having a drinking problem, “but continued to minimize the extent and effect of any inappropriate behavior.”
After considering a range of sanctions including stripping Jacks of his committee assignments and restricting his access to staff, House leadership decided instead to ask for his resignation.
The release of new information about Jacks comes the same week the Northwest News Network, The Olympian and The News Tribune of Tacoma reported on several women who said they were subjected to unwanted attention, touching and even groping while working in the Capitol over the past decade.
Reached by phone at home in Vancouver on Wednesday night, Jacks hung up on a reporter without answering any questions. He did not respond to a subsequent message left on voicemail.
Sullivan said the reason he decided to release more information about Jacks now, more than six years after his resignation, was to send a message to lawmakers, lobbyists and staff that “sexual harassment will not be tolerated.”
Sullivan defended his decision in 2011 not to release more information, citing the wishes of the alleged victim.
“Here was a case where I wanted to protect the staff member from any kind of further investigation, that was my goal,” Sullivan said in a phone interview Wednesday evening.
Sullivan said he felt more comfortable discussing the case now because the staff member no longer works for the legislature.
The Washington House is currently reviewing its harassment policies and procedures with the help of an outside expert. A final report is due in the coming weeks. In an email to House Democratic staff and members, which accompanied the statement about Jacks, Sullivan invited lawmakers and staff to join a workgroup to implement the recommendations.
“We need to ensure we have a safe environment,” Sullivan wrote in the email. “We need to ensure that we have a safe space for people to speak out. We need to ensure that problems are dealt with swiftly and appropriately.”