Maryland House of Delegates votes unanimously to reprimand Jalisi over 'abusive' treatment of his staff

Maryland’s House of Delegates voted 136-0 Wednesday to publicly reprimand Del. Jay Jalisi of Baltimore County for “an ongoing pattern of bullying and abusive workplace behavior.”

The delegates voted after receiving a 16-page report Monday night outlining an investigation by the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics that alleged Jalisi forced his legislative staff to work overtime without pay, bullied others, got kicked out of a hotel and made a staffer stand in the delegate’s office and repeat: “I am incompetent. I am incompetent.”

“As members of this House, we have a duty to protect our dedicated staff,” Del. Samuel Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat who is co-chairman of the committee, said before the vote. “No elected official has the right to abuse and belittle others.”

Jalisi, 53, a Reisterstown Democrat, was not present at the House of Delegates session Wednesday — his third consecutive day of absence.

But he released a statement that described the accusations against him as a “political hit job.”

“Sadly, over the past few months, I have been the target of a nasty smear campaign and a sham investigation by a powerful lobby in Annapolis,” Jalisi said.

After the vote, Jalisi defended himself in an interview in his office in the House of Delegates building. He denied many of the allegations against him, calling them “bogus” claims made by disgruntled ex-employees.

He said other allegations involved things that did happen, but they should not have risen to the level of an ethics investigation.

“This is a very sad day for me,” Jalisi said. “This is more about attitude and style and less about substance. They’ve started tone-policing elected officials.”

Jalisi described himself as running an “A-team” operation in his legislative office that quickly responds to constituent complaints.

“That team needs to finish its job,” he said.

Jalisi said he sets high standards of performance for both himself and his staff — modeled on his time as a surgeon — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

“I can be impatient at times, but being impatient is not being rude,” Jalisi said.

He said he didn’t agree to participate in anger management classes — as requested by House of Delegates leadership — because the identities of his accusers weren’t revealed to him and he couldn’t evaluate their claims. When Jalisi didn’t comply, House Speaker Michael Busch defunded his office and asked his staff to transfer to other delegates. Some staff members didn’t, however, remaining loyal to Jalisi.

“People who have nothing to do with anything have lost their jobs,” Jalisi said.

Jalisi said he didn’t appear for the floor session Wednesday to defend himself because he didn’t believe he would be treated fairly.

He added that it’s a personal sacrifice for him to work in Annapolis because he’s independently wealthy and takes a pay cut by working as a delegate.

“People are made to believe bogus stuff,” Jalisi said. “I lose money by coming here.”

A reprimand is a less serious form of discipline than the censure that the House of Delegates imposed on Democratic Del. Mary Ann Lisanti of Harford County earlier this year for her alleged use of a racial slur.

The ethics committee met five times this year in closed session about Jalisi’s conduct after Busch reported a “pattern of bullying and abusive workplace behavior” on Feb. 5. The committee found that Jalisi’s conduct was worst toward female staff members, according to the report.

This year, Jalisi was staying at a local hotel at the General Assembly’s expense, but after a series of confrontations with hotel staff during his stay, hotel management advised him that he could no longer be a guest there, the report states.

Jalisi’s abusive behavior took place over a period of years, dating to 2015, according to the committee’s report.

Jalisi repeatedly refused to comply with efforts to improve his treatment of his staff, the report says.

In 2016, Jalisi “verbally abused, bullied and was belligerent with staff for the ethics committee,” and in 2018, Jalisi failed to attend meetings with the speaker and the majority whip about his conduct, according to the report.

“Delegate Jalisi could have avoided this public shaming if he had simply accepted and tried to learn from the advice and guidance so many have offered him,” the report states. “Delegate Jalisi’s continued verbally and emotionally abusive conduct has simply become unmanageable and is unlikely to change, thereby requiring the ethics committee to recommend more severe action to address his behavior and protect the General Assembly’s staff.”

Del. Nic Kipke, an Anne Arundel County Republican, who sits on the ethics committee, said the committee did not take the decision to recommend the vote of reprimand lightly.

“Hopefully, his behavior changes and we can move forward,” said Kipke, who is House minority leader. “Most people agree this was a necessary action.”

This isn’t the first time Jalisi’s actions have been scrutinized.

In 2015, a Baltimore County judge issued a protective order barring Jalisi from contact with his then-teenage daughter. Jalisi’s daughter wrote in an application for the order that her father slapped her during an argument. She also accused him of “verbal harassment, intimidation, persistently following to places or demanding whereabouts, slandering.”

Baltimore County police were called to the family’s Lutherville home after the argument. No criminal charges were filed.

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