Dillon Bates should not resign his House seat without due process
I view the world through the lens of a civil rights lawyer who has litigated sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination cases in state and federal courts for more than 20 years. Justice and due process demand a system that is rigorous and legal claims that are tested through cross-examination and the rules of evidence in search for the truth.
And that’s how I approached the news that The Bollard, an alternative monthly magazine in Portland, has once again outed a powerful man, House Rep. Dillon Bates, D-Westbrook, who is alleged to have had inappropriate relationships with young women whom he met when he was a teacher and coach.
Some of Bates’ colleagues in the Legislature, and the editorial board of this newspaper, have called on Bates to resign his seat in the Maine House based on the public allegations alone.
But without diminishing the importance of victims’ accounts in any way, that’s not what he should do. He should stay in the Legislature and demand the due process any of us would want and let the search for truth continue.
I am not defending Bates – if he has committed a crime or abused or harassed students, he should absolutely be held accountable under the law. If he is a predator, he should be prosecuted and forever be banned from working with children. I applaud the courage of all victims to report offenses committed against them and understand the desire and sometimes need to remain anonymous. This commentary is on due process and accountability of public officials.
Everyone agrees that if he is found guilty of preying on teenage girls and abusing his position of authority, Bates should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Everyone agrees victims of harassment should not be retaliated against or shamed. Everyone wants due process and consequences for bad acts.
Where reasonable people disagree often is what constitutes fair process in the court of public opinion. The editorial board of this paper wrote Friday:
“Bates should resign now. Bates has not been charged with any crimes, but, if he were, he would be entitled to the presumption of innocence. But while he has a right to be considered innocent until proven guilty in court, he does not have a right to serve as a legislator. That is a position of honor, and it’s important that anyone who holds it abide by the highest ethical standards.”
I see things a little differently. I think Bates has a right to serve until two-thirds of his fellow members vote to expel or otherwise punish him pursuant to the Article IV, Part 3, section 4 of the Maine Constitution. If, as the Press Herald reported, Bates’ lawyer said publicly the allegations against him are “baseless” and “without a shred of evidence,” I disagree that Bates should resign his House seat. If he’s done nothing wrong, he should appear at the next special session of the Legislature and vote to approve an investigation by the House Ethics Committee of the allegations against him, as Republican lawmaker Rep. Paula Sutton of Warren has requested.
The issue for the Maine House is bigger than the personal culpability of Dillon Bates – it’s the tolerance of and reaction to public allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior by the institution that will make a meaningful difference.
There’s too much sexual harassment and how we address it is critical.
Outing bad men in the press and trying them on social media is not enough, according to a major study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The strongest predictor of unlawful harassment is “organizational climate,” or the culture of an organization.
Setting Bates’ legal issues aside until an actual criminal or civil proceeding is commenced – in his public life, Bates can’t have it both ways. He can’t refuse to resign and refuse to participate in a hearing held by a bipartisan ethics committee.
If he does, he should be removed or publicly censured by vote of his colleagues. If he chooses to serve out his term, the Maine House should immediately call a special session and vote to fully and fairly investigate the serious allegations of misconduct publicly brought against one of its members and seek subpoena power and collect evidence in order to make an informed and fair decision.
Setting a precedent of intolerance of harassment – and fair process – will best serve the posterity of the institution and the people it serves.
As published in the Portland Press Herald