Ethics Critique Drives Out Massachusetts Lawmaker

BOSTON (CN) – The first openly gay lawmaker to lead a legislative chamber in Massachusetts resigned Thursday on the heels of a blistering audit about his role in a sexual-misconduct scandal that brought charges against his husband.

Stanley Rosenberg was president of the Massachusetts Senate when he was photographed here at a March 14, 2016, signing ceremony at the Statehouse in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

Released Wednesday, the 112-page report by the Senate Ethics Committee says Stanley Rosenberg had a duty to protect the Senate from his “disruptive, volatile and abusive” husband.

Rosenberg, a Democrat, had been president of the state Senate since 2015 but announced a leave of absence on Dec. 4, 2017, less than a week after the Boston Globe broke a story about four men who accused Rosenberg’s husband, Bryan Hefner, of a years-long pattern of sexual assault and harassment.

Hefner, 30, pleaded not guilty last month in Suffolk Superior Court to charges of sexual assault, criminal lewdness and distributing nude photos without consent.

Rosenberg, 68, announced earlier this year meanwhile that he and Hefner had split and that he would seek re-election in his western Massachusetts district.

Putting the kibosh on those plans Wednesday, however, the report prepared by independent investigators hired by the Senate Ethics Committee found that Rosenberg showed poor judgment in giving Hefner “unfettered access” to his Senate email account.

The report says it was common knowledge among Senate staffers that Hefner used Rosenberg’s email to send correspondence to public officials that he made to look as though they came from Rosenberg.

Auditors found that, in addition to his misconduct on emails, Hefner also sent text messages to Senate personnel with sexually and at times racially charged language.

“We credit Senator Rosenberg’s genuine loyalty and feelings towards Hefner, but conclude that he should have done more to control Hefner’s access to information and to the people who worked in and around the Senate,” the report states. “Senator Rosenberg stated that, if he could not share Senate information with Hefner, he was left with two untenable choices – to divorce Hefner or quit his job. It is not for us to suggest what Senator Rosenberg should have done, but we can say definitively that, in light of the facts known to him about Hefner’s behavior at the time, what he did was not sufficient. We are aware of numerous people either working in the Senate, or having business there, who reported experiencing unwanted touching, sexualized or inappropriate text messages, racist or racially insensitive remarks, and demeaning conduct from Hefner, and we believe there are more victims of Hefner’s conduct that we were unable to identify through our investigation. While we credit Senator Rosenberg’s assertions that he was not aware of much of this conduct on Hefner’s part, he had a hand in enabling the behavior by continuing to provide Hefner largely unfettered access to Senate information and to the people who worked in, or had business before, the Senate.”

The report prompted calls for Rosenberg’s resignation from both Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey.

“The Senate’s ethics report reveals a deeply disturbing pattern of behavior, making it clear that Senator Rosenberg has compromised the business of the Chamber and trust of his constituents,” Baker said in a statement. “For the good of the institution and those who elected him to serve, I believe the senator needs to resign immediately. My thoughts remain with the victims and I commend them for their bravery.”

Bryon Hefner, estranged husband of former Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg, departs Suffolk Superior Court after his April 24, 2018, arraignment on sexual assault and other charges in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Rosenberg released his own statement that lamented his reported shortcomings.

“Although, as the report notes, I was unaware of many of the events attributed to Bryon, and took steps to address those incidents that came to my attention, that does not diminish my sorrow at what reportedly transpired or my sense of responsibility for what the Ethics Committee concludes was a failure on my part in not doing more to protect the Senate,” Rosenberg said.

“I had hoped that, with the conclusion of the investigation, I would be able to focus, once again, on representing my constituents and contributing meaningfully to the work of the Senate,” he said.  “In light, however, of the disciplinary measures recommended by the Ethics Committee, it would not be fair to my constituents to have a representative in the Senate who lacked the authority to represent their interests fully.”

Rosenberg’s resignation will take effect at the end of the day on Friday, May 4.

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