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Political Smell Test: Connelly’s attack mailer on Darneille, featuring student/victim of sexual misconduct

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Oct. 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm with No Comments »
January 28, 2013 6:29 pm

A mailer distributed last week by Tacoma trial lawyer and 27th legislative district senate candidate Jack Connelly features the image of a teenage girl to illustrate Connelly’s claim that his opponent, state representative and fellow Democrat Jeannie Darneille, has a “concerning” record on public safety issues.

The ad depicts a blond adolescent female sitting against a school locker, wearing what appears to be a short skirt riding high up her thighs.

“Hard to imagine,” the mailer’s text reads. “She’s a teenager, and her math teacher groomed and had a sexual relationship with her for almost a year … but Jeannie Darneille says that’s not criminal.”

On the flip side, the ad states: “Jeannie Darneille voted against criminalizing sexual contact by a teacher with a teenage student. Why?”

The mailer goes on to cite Darneille’s vote against HB 1385 – a measure introduced in 2009 that modified the crime of sexual misconduct by a school employee to include those who engage in sex with any student up to age 21.

“Whose side is she on?” the mailer asks of Darneille.

The piece is the latest in a series of Connelly ads attacking Darneille’s record as a state lawmaker for 12 years.

THE FACTS:

House Bill 1385 sought to modify a law that defines sexual misconduct by school employees after a Washington Court of Appeals ruling found existing state law was hazy on the issue.

The court case, State v. Hirschfelder, involved a Hoquiam High School choir teacher convicted in 2007 with felony sexual misconduct after he allegedly had sex with an 18-year-old student.

The state appeals court examined whether the law prohibited sex with students aged 16 and 17 only, or with all students 16 and older. The court found the law was ambiguous, but ruled its legislative history indicated lawmakers intended to criminalize only sex between school employees and students aged 16 and 17.

In 2009, Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, introduced the bill to amend the law so it applied to an school employee engaged in sex with an enrolled student in the same school aged 16 to 20.

Darneille was among 14 representatives who voted against the bill’s original version. After the Senate unanimously adopted an amended version that raised the age of affected students from 20 to 21, Darneille also joined 15 other House members to cast votes against the final version.

The measure ultimately passed, the governor signed it and it became law in July 2009.

In 2010, the Washington Supreme Court separately reversed the appeals court’s ruling on a 5-4 vote, which found the original law wasn’t vague and applied to students up to 21 — the maximum age of a Washington public K-12 school student.

WHAT THE CANDIDATES SAY:

Darneille said she opposed the measure largely because it encompassed cases involving students who are otherwise considered adults.

“When you have someone who is 18 years or older, that person can make decisions for themselves,” Darneille said. “They can live independently, they can vote, they can pay taxes. We don’t have any other setting in society where consensual sex between adults is illegal or the basis of a class C felony.”

Darneille also called provisions of the measure redundant because they were included in other laws already on the books.

“It’s already illegal to have sex with a minor,” she said. “It’s already illegal to groom, and it’s already illegal to make a victim of a young person that has disabilities or other reasons that affect their decisions.”

Darneille added the racy image of the teen included in Connelly’s mailer is “pretty disgusting” and “completely distasteful.”

Connelly said the girl and the scenario depicted in the mailer are fictitious –unlike some of his previous ads, which used his actual clients and cases to criticize Darneille’s record. His campaign used the graphic simply to illustrate the issue, he said.

“The imaging is to tell the story that this is the type of person who is taken advantage of,” Connelly said. “We’re getting a lot of positive response about it. We’ve got a lot of people thanking us for bringing this bill to their attention.”

Connelly noted those who testified in favor of the measure before it was passed “pointed out this is the age that students are the most vulnerable to being groomed and need this kind of protection.”

BOTTOM LINE:

The teenager and the scenario depicted on the mailer don’t reflect an actual case.

But Connelly’s mailer accurately reflects Darneille’s opposition to a measure that was overwhelming supported by the Legislature and aimed to protect public school students from being sexually exploited by teachers and other school employees.

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