MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — In an action with no precedent in Vermont, the state Senate voted Wednesday to suspend a lawmaker who faces criminal sex charges that could send him to prison for life.
Sen. Norman McAllister, a Franklin County Republican, was arrested May 7 outside the Statehouse and arraigned the next day on three counts of felony sexual assault and three counts of misdemeanor prohibited acts.
Prosecutors say McAllister sexually assaulted two women who were tenants and employees on his Highgate dairy farm and solicited a third for sex. One of his accusers worked for him at the Statehouse as an assistant. Trial is tentatively set for February but delays are expected.
McAllister, 64, has maintained his innocence and rejected calls for his resignation – including from Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin and Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott – saying he intended to continue with “the job I was elected to do.”
“I have not done anything to warrant this,” he said during Senate debate Wednesday.
After the vote, he expressed disappointment.
“The presumption of innocence doesn’t matter here. It wasn’t followed here,” he said.
The governor said through a spokesman that he supported the Senate action and continues to believe McAllister should resign.
Without a precedent in Vermont, senators said that in making a decision they were relying on legal analysis by Senate Secretary John Bloomer and on the Legislature’s legal staff. They pointed to instances in California in 2014, when two senators were suspended while facing corruption charges and a third was suspended after a conviction for voter fraud.
Senators who backed McAllister’s removal said his presence and subsequent media attention over the criminal case were interfering with Senate business. They also said the Senate has a responsibility to guard against sexual harassment in and around the Statehouse.
Lawmakers are in a position of power and responsibility over legislative staff, lobbyists, interns and pages, including some minors, said Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth of Chittenden, a Democrat.
“If a senator is criminally charged with assaulting just this sort of person, someone in a service capacity in the Statehouse, do we allow that senator to wield that same power over those who are in our care and have been entrusted to us?” Baruth asked.
He said other public officials, including teachers and police officers, usually are suspended from their jobs while criminal or abuse-of-power charges are pending against them.
Others argued it was improper for lawmakers to act as judges and noted a person is innocent until proven guilty.
Even by suspending McAllister, the Senate was “implicitly determining guilt,” said Sen. Richard McCormack, D-Windsor. “Adjudication is not supposed to be democratic,” he said. “Jesus was put to death by the will of the majority. Socrates was put to death by the will of the majority.”
McAllister will continue to get his legislative salary of $694 a week, senators said, but he will not receive the customary housing, food stipend and travel reimbursement that lawmakers receive while in Montpelier.