Politics & Government

Former state lawmaker resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations, Democrats say

Former Washington State Rep. Jim Jacks
Former Washington State Rep. Jim Jacks Courtesy of Washington Legislature

A former Democratic state lawmaker from Vancouver who resigned abruptly in 2011 did so following allegations of sexual misconduct, according to a top legislator.

In March 2011, former state Rep. Jim Jacks was accused of acting “inappropriately” toward a female legislative staffer at a bar, said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, a Covington Democrat, in a statement Wednesday.

Roughly a week after allegations arose from the night at the bar, “leadership determined that Jacks’ conduct was serious enough to warrant his resignation,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan spoke out this week in response to The Associated Press’ requests for records related to Jacks’ departure. In an interview with The News Tribune and The Olympian on Thursday, Sullivan specified that the allegations were of sexual misconduct.

Sullivan did not describe the alleged behavior, but in his statement he said the House decided to disclose the accusations “so that everyone in the legislative arena — members, staff and lobbyists — know that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.”

Jacks could not be reached by phone Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. Sullivan said the former legislator denied misconduct at the time.

The statement about Jacks is the second set of misconduct allegations to emerge against a former Democratic state lawmaker this week. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that four women — including Olympia City Councilwoman Jessica Bateman — are now accusing former Olympia state Rep. Brendan Williams of sexual harassment and assault.

From 2005-2010, Williams served as a representative for the 22nd Legislative District, which includes Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, Boston Harbor and more.

Sullivan’s statement sheds new light on the story Democrats had been telling about Jacks’ resignation.

In 2011, leadership said only that Jacks stepped away from politics for personal and family reasons. Sullivan was quoted as saying, “There were no issues that forced Representative Jacks to resign. There were issues that he was dealing with that led to his decision.”

Later, Jacks told The Columbian newspaper he left the Legislature because he was an alcoholic, but he maintained that no misconduct was involved. He was first elected in 2008.

Sullivan on Thursday said the House did not release more details in 2011 to protect the staffer who accused Jacks of behaving inappropriately toward her.

Sullivan said he heard of the allegations second-hand from another lawmaker because the woman who made the accusations did not want to come forward.

No formal complaint was made in 2011, and there was no record of a formal investigation, he said. House leadership and the House’s chief clerk at the time, Barbara Baker, instead addressed the issue with Jacks, he said.

Sullivan said he “went back and forth” about whether to say more about the misconduct allegations in 2011. In the end, seeing Jacks leave office without the public knowing more about his resignation “was hard.”

“But again, I think my primary duty was responsibility to that staff member,” he said. His second priority was removing Jacks “from a position of power.”

“Those two things had to be dealt with,” Sullivan said.

In Williams’ case, Bateman told AP that Williams made an unwanted sexual advance by trying to kiss her after a dinner meeting in 2015. She was running for city council at the time.

Emma Shepard told this AP that she ran into Williams outside of an Olympia nightclub in 2009, when she was a 22-year-old House intern. She said he asked for a ride to his car, and after they parked next to his car, Williams leaned over her, thrust his tongue into her mouth, grabbed her hand and put it on his crotch.

Williams has not specifically addressed the allegations. He told AP he did not engage in workplace harassment, but said “it appears I upset people outside work. Heartbroken over that.”

The accusations against Williams surfaced first in Facebook posts following a Tuesday story by The News Tribune, The Olympian and Northwest News Network about the workplace climate for women at the state Capitol.

Williams became president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association in 2016.

The state House is in the process of reviewing its harassment policies and procedures with help from an outside consultant.

Sullivan said the results will be shared with a work group made up of staff members and lawmakers, who will decide how to press forward with any necessary changes.

“We have to have a culture where people feel they can report and have it taken seriously,” Sullivan said.

Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826, @walkerorenstein

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