The conservative legal group Judicial Watch announced Monday that it has filed a lawsuit against Rep. Alcee Hastings, accusing the 10-term Florida Democrat of sexually harassing a policy adviser who worked on a commission that Hastings once chaired.
The lawsuit, filed Monday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, accuses Hastings of making “unwelcome sexual advances” and taking retaliation against the female employee, Winsome Packer, from January 2008 to February 2010. Packer, a Republican, worked on the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, which Hastings had co-chaired until Democrats lost their House majority this year.
Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are the commission and its former staff director, Fred Turner.
According to the lawsuit, Hastings made repeated sexual advances toward Packer, including asking her to accompany him alone to his hotel room; asking her “humiliating and inappropriate” questions in public; and making unwanted physical contact, including “hugging her with both arms while pressing his body against her body and his face against her face.”
The lawsuit alleges that after Packer declined the advances and reported them to her superiors — including Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), another co-chairman of the commission — Hastings and Turner took retaliatory moves against Packer, including repeatedly threatening her commission job and marginalizing her from her colleagues.
“Ms. Packer was particularly vulnerable to such threats because she was a Republican working for the Democratically-controlled Commission, a point that both Mr. Hastings and Mr. Turner used to threaten and intimidate her,” the lawsuit alleges. “Eventually, the emotional distress, anxiety, and humiliation caused by the sexual harassment and retaliation caused Ms. Packer to suffer severe health problems and forced her to leave her prestigious position.”
In a statement Monday, Hastings said he had not seen the Judicial Watch complaint, although he had seen a draft complaint prepared by the group containing “numerous inaccuracies and untruths.” Turner did not return a call seeking comment.
“I have never sexually harassed anyone,” Hastings said. “In fact, I am insulted that these ludicrous allegations are being made against me. When all the facts are known in this case, the prevailing sentiment will be, ‘How bizarre!’ I will win this lawsuit. That is a certainty. In a race with a lie, the truth always wins. And when the truth comes to light and the personal agendas of my accusers are exposed, I will be vindicated.”
Judicial Watch, founded by former trade lawyer Larry Klayman in 1994, has a history of targeting lawmakers and administration officials, mostly Democrats. It filed at least 18 lawsuits against the Clinton administration in the 1990s, and in 2009, the group filed a lawsuit charging that Hillary Clinton was constitutionally ineligible to serve as secretary of state; the Supreme Court tossed out the case last year.
The group has also previously set its sights on Hastings, who has represented his south Florida district since 1992. In 2006, the group was among several pressuring then-House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) not to appoint Hastings to chair the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, citing Hastings’s impeachment by the House on charges of bribery and perjury in the 1980s. Pelosi eventually did not select Hastings for the post.
“Inspired by her own experiences, Packer uses A Personal Agenda to recall the alienation, hostility and impropriety she experienced as a newcomer to Capitol Hill,” reads the release for the novel, which was produced through the self-publishing service CreateSpace. The release quotes Packer as saying that in working on the Hill, “I felt that my civil rights had been encroached upon and given that the perpetrators have been others who had fought for their own rights, I found it to be sobering.”
It was unclear whether Hastings sought was referring to the novel in his statement Monday, which featured the phrase “personal agendas” in bold and underlined type. A Hastings spokesman did not return a request for comment on the point.