Second Colorado lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct

He's accused of groping another man in 2012.

DENVER - For the second time in less than a week, a state representative in Colorado has been accused of sexual misconduct.

State Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, has been named in a formal complaint that was sent to Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran on Wednesday by a man named Thomas Cavaness.

Cavaness alleges that at a political event, either in 2011 or 2012, Rosenthal touched him on the small of his back, his butt and his inner thigh. Cavaness says these were unwanted advances. According to Cavaness, Rosenthal also tried to kiss him at the end of the night, but Cavaness turned away.

In his complaint, he originally said the incident happened at a LGBT fundraising event at Hamburger Mary's. In a follow up email to Duran, he said it also may have been at the Mercury Cafe at a 2012 campaign kickoff for Congresswoman Diana Degette.

"At this time, because of the nearly six-years (sic) that have passed, I am uncertain which of the two events it was at," wrote Cavaness.

Rosenthal was running for office, but was not a state lawmaker at the time of either event.

Cavaness describes the alleged behavior as “not only not normal, but inappropriate.” He added that he also received Facebook messages from Rosenthal that made him uncomfortable at around the same time that these fundraising events happened. 

Based on protocol, Colorado House leadership notified Rosenthal of the complaint and sent him a copy.

Through his attorney, Rosenthal denied the accusations.

"Rep. Rosenthal emphasizes that this claim is categorically false and slanderous and that the conduct did not happen," his attorney, Harvey Steinberg wrote in a statement.

Steinberg also wrote that both men corresponded regularly through Facebook, and that at no time during those conversations did Cavaness express discomfort or anger.

“These conversations ere lighthearted, friendly, and focused on political news of the day,” Steinberg wrote. “In fact, a recent in-person meeting at the beginning of November was similarly warm and cordial.”

Rosenthal’s lawyer added that his client has nothing to hide and he would submit to a polygraph test, if need be.

9NEWS spoke to Rosenthal's accuser, who said he met the representative sometime in late 2011-early 2012.

"We were standing in the back of the event," Cavaness said of the misconduct. "He started to massage my shoulders, then his hand felt the small of my back - then he grabbed my but.

He said he wished he came forward sooner.

"I want to be involved in Colorado politics and I don't want to be blacklisted," he said.

Cavaness added he was encouraged by local politicians who came forward last week accusing a different state congressman of sexual harassment.

Late last week, Colorado State Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, accused her colleague, State Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, of sexual harassment. Cavaness says that encouraged him to come forward.

“The courage of Faith Winter has given me the extra kick I needed to come forward and be named,” Cavaness said in his complaint. “I have no doubt that there are other victims, as most politically-active young gay men I know say they are not surprised and several have had similar experiences, to different degrees,” Cavaness wrote in his email to Speaker Duran.

He said that despite Rosenthal not being a member of the State House when the alleged misconduct happened, he filed a complaint with the Democratic leadership anyway.

"I don't know if the capitol will be able to do anything about it because he was just a candidate at the time," he said. "But I know it's important for me to have an official investigation into it."

After hearing Rosenthal wanted an apology, Cavaness promised he wouldn't be apologizing for being a victim. 

He added that he met Rosenthal in the last few weeks at a mutual friend's party and said there were no issues between them.

In a statement, Duran said she cannot comment on the allegations because of her investigative role in these complaints.

“I am withholding comment on these specific circumstances due to my role in investigating any formal complaints. Any formal complaints would be taken very seriously and receive a thorough review, and as I previously indicated, I would work with our nonpartisan Office of Legislative Legal Services and an independent outside party to conduct any investigations.
 
“Given the allegations that have come to light over the past week, it is clear that there is work to do to address concerns about harassment. I am renewing my call for a comprehensive review of the legislature’s harassment policies and procedures, to ensure a safe and respectful environment for all.”

Duran temporarily removed Rosenthal as vice chair of the House Local Government Committee. This is the same committee that Lebsock chaired until he was temporarily removed last week.

Duran will review the complaint, just as she will for the complaint against Lebsock. She can either have a legislative committee investigate the complaint, or ask a third-party human resources firm to investigate. Regardless of which option she chooses, it's possible this could be out of the jurisdiction of the workplace harassment policy because Rosenthal was not a lawmaker at the time of the accusations, and because they did not happen at the Capitol, or between co-workers.

9NEWS reached out to the Office of Legislative Legal Services and asked how Duran can start an investigation into accusations, which were made by someone who does not work at the Capitol, against someone who, at the time, was not a state lawmaker, and took place away from the Capitol. The director told us she cannot answer that question.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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