Former Rep. Dave Sawyer fined $1,000 over ethics violation

Former Rep. Dave Sawyer fined $1,000 over ethics violation

State Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma. Washington State Legislature Courtesy Photo

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Legislative Ethics Board has fined former Rep. David Sawyer $1,000 after finding he improperly required his staff to discuss personal issues related to allegations of harassment against him.

The 10-page report released Tuesday said that Sawyer violated laws against using state resources for personal use. The board dismissed charges of using his position to secure "special privileges" related to an alleged pattern of harassment against two legislative assistants, saying that under the current law, it's unclear whether harassment of staff is a violation of the particular statute in the state's Ethics in Public Service Act. But the board wrote that it "does not condone, and is extremely concerned with" Sawyer's actions with one of the women and said the Legislature should clarify the statute.

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Sawyer, a Democrat from Tacoma, lost his primary election last August following an investigation that found he violated the House's policies on harassment, decorum and ethics.

Last June, House leaders released an executive summary of a report that said Sawyer sent a House employee multiple "inappropriate and offensive" text messages over a period of three months, made comments and jokes about another House employee's sexual orientation, and used employees' time inappropriately to discuss his personal issues.

In a Jan. 11 letter to the board, Sawyer wrote that he was signing the report's finding in protest.

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"Disputing the inaccurate findings would prove to be a waste of state resources given most findings are related to the dismissed portion of the complaint," he wrote, detailing several separate areas of the report he took issue with, and said he did not believe he ever asked one of the women out on a date. He also wrote that the finding of misuse of public funds "will further politicize the complaint process."

"The idea that work was disrupted in any significant way is unfounded," he wrote.

While the House only released an executive summary of its outside investigation last year, the ethics board report is more expansive, detailing an increasing pattern of unsolicited messages Sawyer allegedly sent to one legislative assistant starting in December 2016.

According to the report, the messages continued through the following year until the woman — identified by a pseudonym in the report — "finally shut down the conversations with Respondent because she was offended by his barrage of inappropriate text messages and his requests for dates."

The woman later spoke to a House attorney about the behavior, leading Democratic leaders to confront Sawyer. Another legislative assistant alleged she "put up with Respondent calling her, texting her and spending time with him both during the workday and after hours listening to his personal issues because she did not want to lose her job."

A third woman who worked in communications for Sawyer complained to her supervisors and Majority Leader Pat Sullivan about Sawyer seeking her help on handling the news stories about sexual harassment allegations, as well as a comment he made about his legislative assistant, who is gay. After additional complaints by the women, Sawyer was told in February 2018 that he could no longer contact staff for assistance. According to Tuesday's report, the following month, House Speaker Frank Chopp sent a letter to Sawyer telling him specific areas in the chamber he was blocked from unless he had an appointment.

Sawyer is among four lawmakers who either lost re-election or resigned over the past six months following sexual misconduct allegations. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the House and Senate moved forward last year with work groups focused on addressing sexual harassment at the Capitol. Those groups have made a variety of recommendations, including the hiring of an independent human resources office where complaints can be lodged. The House group also recommended House leadership encouraging lobbyists to sign a code of conduct.

Earlier this month, Sawyer registered as a lobbyist. House leaders say that staff restrictions that were placed on Sawyer when he was still in office are still in place.