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Does A Politician Accused Of Sexual Harassment Deserve Due Process In Court Of Public Opinion?

Capital Public Radio File

Capital Public Radio File

Click the Play button above to listen to Ben Adler's interview with Loyola Law School Professor Jessica Levinson.

Applying the Rule of Law to the “court of public opinion” can be a difficult balancing act, to say the least.

Exhibit A: Recent events at the California state Capitol, where sexual harassment allegations against two California lawmakers are prompting calls for them to resign.

That's raising the question of whether elected officials accused in media reports should be forced from office before criminal charges or completed investigations.

“We need to be very careful when we decide to remove people from office – or ask them to resign from office – based on allegations,“ says Loyola Law School Professor Jessica Levinson, who studies political ethics and governance. “But I think that when there is a mountain of credible allegations, then it’s entirely fair for the voters to say, I’m not comfortable with this person being my representative.”

Levinson says a legislative body does not necessarily need to wait for a jury conviction before voting to expel an elected official, because there is a different standard in politics than in law. 

Still, she warns, a news story should not be enough to expel a politician – but neither should lawmakers have to wait for a guilty verdict. Instead, she says, it’s best to wait for a politically independent investigation to determine if allegations are credible.

Lawmakers can vote to expel one of their colleagues with a two-thirds supermajority – but that hasn’t happened since 1905. California voters also created a new option last year by approving Proposition 50, which allows the Legislature to suspend a member with or without pay.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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