What to expect in the Giddings ethics hearing

by Logan Finney, Idaho Reports

Ethics and House Policy Committee (L to R): Chairman Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay; Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls; Brent Crane, R-Nampa; Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum; John Gannon, D-Boise. The committee roster includes two alternates from each party. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, sat in place of Davis.

The House is at recess and the Senate is adjourned sine die, but that doesn’t mean lawmakers get a summer break. 

The Ethics and House Policy Committee will meet Monday, August 2, to review two complaints accusing Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, of conduct unbecoming a Representative and detrimental to the House as a body.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Monday and will be streamed live. The chairman will open the proceedings, then committee counsel and Giddings or her counsel will deliver their opening statements. 

The first complaint was filed in April by Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, and the second was filed in May by a bipartisan group of representatives. 

Chaney will present his individual complaint and Boise attorney Jeff Hepworth will present the group complaint. Committee counsel will then present their evidence and witnesses, followed by Giddings’ evidence and witnesses. 

The hearing may last multiple days if necessary. Legislative ethics hearings are not court proceedings, so formal rules of evidence do not apply. 

If the Ethics Committee finds clear and convincing evidence that a representative violated ethical standards under House Rule 45, it can recommend by a four-fifths vote that the representative be reprimanded, censured or expelled. 

That recommendation goes before the full House, where reprimand or censure requires a simple majority vote and expulsion requires a two-thirds majority vote. House rules stipulate that a recommendation for expulsion can only be made for misconduct that involves committing a felony or using one’s public office for monetary gain. 

“The House of Representatives shall vote on the recommendation of the committee, as set forth in the report, during the regular session of the Legislature in which the committee reports,” House Rule 45 states.

With the House in an indefinite recess at the call of House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, it appears unclear when any potential sanctions against Giddings would be handled.

House Clerk Carrie Maulin confirmed that any potential vote would have to be addressed in the current session. Bedke could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.

Both Giddings and Bedke are running for Lieutenant Governor in 2022. In a fundraising Facebook post earlier this month, Giddings accused Bedke of playing “dirty politics” and weaponizing the ethics hearing against her. Bedke responded by calling her comments inaccurate. 

In another Facebook post Thursday, Giddings again accused Bedke of weaponizing the hearing against her, and claimed he is targeting her with a subpoena to appear before the committee.

The subpoena appears to have been issued by Ethics Committee chairman Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay. All committee chairmen have standing authority to issue subpoenas under Section 67-407, Idaho Code.

The two complaints against Giddings stem from her actions during a previous ethics hearing concerning allegations that former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger sexually assaulted a legislative staff member, referred to as Jane Doe. 

Von Ehlinger resigned hours after the committee unanimously recommended his suspension due to a pattern of asking female subordinates on dates and making them uncomfortable. 

After the complaint against von Ehlinger became public, Giddings shared a blog post in her legislative newsletter and on her Facebook page that included the 19-year-old woman’s name and photograph. 

Legislative leadership received over 2,000 citizen complaints about Giddings’ actions, most of them a form letter created by the Idaho 97 Project. 

A hearing before the Ethics Committee must begin with a complaint from a House member, not a constituent complaint. The committee conducts a preliminary hearing privately to investigate the matter, then the complaint becomes public if they determine there is probable cause to investigate further. 

In his individual complaint, Chaney accused Giddings of creating a hostile work environment by retaliating against Doe. He also wrote that by sharing the article, Giddings promoted claims “disparaging Rep. Von Ehlinger’s accuser, House leadership, and misstating the process by which a public [ethics] hearing could be authorized.” 

The second complaint was signed by a group of 24 representatives including Chaney, Bedke, Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, Assistant Minority Leader Lauren Necochea, and Minority Caucus Chair Sally Toone. 

“It is inappropriate to share the identity of a person who has reported sexual assault because it endangers that person and prevents others survivors from coming forward,” the complaint reads. 

The group complaint says that Giddings’ actions raise additional concerns due to the sensitive nature of the von Ehlinger investigation. 

“To maintain a safe workplace at the Idaho House of Representatives, we must be able to receive and respond to reports without interference. Additionally, people working at the Statehouse must be able to report abuse without the threat of bullying, threats, or invasion of privacy,” the lawmakers wrote.

The bipartisan complaint also alleges that Giddings misrepresented her actions to the Ethics Committee while under oath in the Von Ehlinger hearing, calling for her to be held in contempt. 

Legal counsel for the committee will include representation by the Office of the Attorney General and the private law firm Holland & Hart LLP. According to the Idaho Press, the Legislature has paid Holland & Hart over $1.4 million for various legal matters since Jan. 1, 2020. 

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Melissa Davlin contributed reporting to this article.

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