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Baltimore County Del. Jay Jalisi blasts ethics investigation as 'nasty smear campaign'

Baltimore County Del. Jay Jalisi blasts ethics investigation as 'nasty smear campaign'
Del. Jay Jalisi said in a statement that he was not properly informed of the complaints against him and that his due process rights “were consistently violated.” (Amy Davis / The Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore County Del. Jay Jalisi blasted an ethics investigation that found he fostered a toxic environment in his legislative office as a “nasty smear campaign and a sham investigation.”

The General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics issued a searing report Monday that recommended public discipline for the second-term Democratic delegate.

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The ethics report outlined a pattern of “bullying and abusive workplace behavior” by Jalisi during his five years as a delegate.

“There has been an ongoing pattern of bullying and abusive workplace behavior on the part of Delegate Jalisi toward staff — particularly female staff members,” the report states.

The report said Jalisi repeatedly berated and belittled his staff, as well as employees in the General Assembly’s Office of the Chief Clerk.

According to the report, he refused to approve overtime worked by his staff and required one employee to stand in the office and repeat: “I am incompetent. I am incompetent.” The delegate also filed an ethics complaint against a witness who spoke to the ethics committee, which the committee determined “constituted retaliation against the witness.”

Jalisi issued a statement overnight Monday saying he was not properly informed of the complaints against him and that his due process rights “were consistently violated.”

He was absent Tuesday from the House of Delegates for a second consecutive day.

Jalisi said he was provided copies of the allegations Friday and a hearing before the ethics committee was held Saturday. The report was issued Monday night.

“It almost seems that the ethics committee report was written even before the committee hearing!” Jalisi wrote in his statement.

Jalisi took exception to House Speaker Michael Busch’s decision to forbid the delegate from having any staff paid by the General Assembly. As complaints about Jalisi mounted over the years, Busch required Jalisi to participate in an anger management program. When Jalisi did not do so, Busch decided to stop paying for the delegate’s staff.

Jalisi cited other lawmakers who have been investigated for ethics violations but had paid staff until they left office or resigned: Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, who resigned last year before pleading guilty to criminal charges; Del. Don Dwyer, who served weekend jail time on drunken-driving and drunken-boating convictions before losing re-election in 2014; and Del. Dan Morhaim, who was reprimanded in 2017 for not fully disclosing that he was a paid consultant to a medical cannabis firm.

“It should be noted that the Maryland assembly has a long-standing precedence that even when a member has been reprimanded or censured by it, their staff still gets paid,” Jalisi wrote in his statement.

Jalisi said his employees were given the option to transfer to another lawmaker, “and each one of them opted to keep working for my office and got terminated without written notice.”

“If the allegations of verbal abuse were true, my staff should have been the first ones to agree to move to another position and keep their jobs,” Jalisi said.

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Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, issued a statement saying that the ethics findings were "disappointing."

"We are a party of inclusiveness and mutual respect,” she said. “I support the decision of the House and expect that this will serve as a wakeup call to all lawmakers that staff mistreatment is completely unacceptable.”

The House is expected to consider reprimanding Jalisi on Wednesday.

A reprimand amounts to a public rebuke of a lawmaker by their colleagues. It is a less serious form of discipline than a censure, which was the punishment given to Del. Mary Ann Lisanti of Harford County earlier this year for her alleged use of a racial slur during a private gathering of lawmakers. The most serious form of discipline in the General Assembly is expulsion.

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