Ethics panel says he bullies his staff; Jalisi says he's victim of 'smear campaign'
Bryan P. Sears//March 26, 2019
Ethics panel says he bullies his staff; Jalisi says he's victim of 'smear campaign'
//March 26, 2019
ANNAPOLIS — The House of Delegates Wednesday will vote on whether to reprimand Del. Hasan “Jay” Jalisi after the Baltimore County Democrat was accused of fostering a toxic workplace in a report from the legislature’s ethics committee.
Delegates are expected to follow the recommendation of the legislature’s Joint Ethics Committee, which concluded Jalisi should be reprimanded for what it called a pattern of bullying and abusive behavior directed at his staff and others.
Jalisi, who began his second four-year term this year, said he is the victim of a “smear campaign” and 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; this culminated (Monday) in the form of a report from the ethics committee seeking to reprimand me,” Jalisi wrote in a statement released to reporters.
The ethics committee is recommending Jalisi be stripped of his staff as a result of allegations that date back to 2015, Jalisi’s first year in office, according to the panel’s report released Monday night.
The committee’s investigation, completed last week, included testimony from 17 witnesses and an additional 18 sworn affidavits. The committee also attempted to interview other witnesses who declined to cooperate. Jalisi himself was offered an opportunity to testify before the committee on March 23 but declined, according to the report.
The committee’s 16-page report documents a number of incidents in which it said Jalisi bullied or demeaned his own staff and others legislative staff. The incidents date back to 2015 and Jalisi’s first year in office. The recommendations for sanctions come after Jalisi had been warned numerous times about his behavior by both the ethics panel and House Speaker Michael E. Busch.
As part of those warnings, Jalisi was ordered to undergo anger management, told not to hire staff until he completed those courses. In once case, he was asked to leave a hotel where he was staying as delegate after the business complained that Jalisi was abusive to hotel employees.
The reprimand of Jalisi represents the second time this session in which the House has had to discipline one of its own this session. Earlier this year, the Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, D-Harford County, was censured and stripped of her committee assignments and leadership positions after she used a racial slur to describe an area of Prince George’s County.
Jalisi, in his statement, complained of unfair treatment, noting that other troubled lawmakers including Lisanti were allowed to hire and pay staff.
“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 — this has included even those under federal indictment for criminal activities,” Jalisi wrote in his statement. “Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, Dels. Michael Vaughn, Don Dwyer, Dan Morhaim, all had paid staff until their terms ended or they resigned. Most recently, Del. Mary Ann Lisanti was censured but has paid staff.”
“How does not paying my staff help them, or anyone?” Jalisi wrote.
The delegate added that none of the complaints that were part of the investigation “came from my personal staff who have worked for me day-in and day-out for months and years.”
Jalisi said his staff, which hasn’t been paid this year, was given a choice by human resources to be transferred or “lose their jobs.”
“Each one of them opted to keep working for my office and got terminated without written notice,” Jalisi wrote. “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 was already barred from hiring staff this year after an incident reported last year in which he was ordered to attend anger management classes.
The ethics committee recommended that the prohibition continue until Jalisi completes those anger management classes. The recommendations give Jalisi until the start of the legislative session in 2020 for Jalisi to comply or face additional sanctions including loss of his committee assignments.
One aide to Jalisi described the work environment with Jalisi as “toxic” and said the delegate exhibited “no patience” or “self-control.” During one incident recounted in the report, Jalisi put his finger in the face of the unnamed aide and called the individual “stupid” and “incompetent” and made the aide stand in the delegate’s office and repeat, “I am incompetent, I am incompetent,” according to the report.
Jalisi was removed from the House Judiciary Committee in 2015, his first year in the legislature, after his daughter sought and obtained a restraining order against him.
The report highlights a pattern of behavior exhibited by Jalisi in the five terms he has served.
In 2015, the ethics committee issued a letter to Jalisi warning him about his conduct. An aide had complained about the work environment in which the delegate demanded staff work hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime and “treated his staff as ‘truant’ if they left to go to the restroom or to get lunch, and required his staff to keep daily logs of their work and justify to him how the tasks listed on their logs met their job requirements,” according to the report.
A year later, Jalisi “verbally abused, bullied, and was belligerent with staff for the ethics committee” who spoke with him about the 2015 complaint. Jalisi told legislative staff that the ethics committee’s letter “meant nothing,” according to the report.
The longtime ethics committee staff described the interaction with Jalisi the “worst encounter I’ve had with a member.”
Jalisi was counseled by Busch and Democratic Party leaders in the House regarding both his treatment of his own staff and that of the ethics committee.
In 2017, Jalisi was again accused of bullying his own staff and accused of requiring his staff to sign nondisclosure agreements, which the legislature’s human resources department had told the delegate were unenforceable.
That aide ultimately asked to be transferred to another office after Jalisi bullied and yelled at the aide, according to the report.
Jalisi later tried to block the move, claiming his nondisclosure agreement barred such re-employment in another office.
That same year, Jalisi demanded staff in the chief clerk’s office retrieve bills from the Senate and began to interfere with their work when they did not comply. State troopers were called to “monitor the situation for the rest of the evening.” Jalisi was later warned again by Busch and others.
The following year, Jalisi went back to the clerk’s office and accused staff of killing his bills in the 2017 session when they refused to get them from the Senate. Jalisi, according to reports, yelled at the clerk saying: “You are the one that killed my bill last year. You would not get up and go to the Senate to get my bills back before Sine Die. You killed my bill. You are not to look at or touch any of my bills.”
Another delegate witnessed the incident and told the ethics panel that the behavior was “appalling.”
Jalisi was warned about his behavior yet again, according to the report.
Busch called for another meeting with Jalisi in March of last year, but the delegate declined to attend. At the same time, the ethics panel was alerted to another incident between Jalisi and his staff and sent a letter to the delegate reminding him of the code of conduct and warning him to avoid any retaliatory actions against any aides who had filed complaints.
In August, Busch recommended Jalisi “participate in an anger management and workplace civility program.” Failure to take the approved classes, according to the report, would result in the matter being referred to the ethics committee. Jalisi was barred from hiring aides until he completed the classes.
A month later, Jalisi filed a complaint against a witness who had previously cooperated with the ethics committee. The ethics panel decided that Jalisi’s complaint was in retaliation against the witness, according to the report.
By the beginning of the year, Jalisi hired two new aides and planned to continue the employment of two others despite being barred from doing so until he completed the anger management classes.
Jalisi told one of the new employees that they would be paid even though human resources repeatedly told the aide to speak to Jalisi about their status and the aide’s inability to be placed on the General Assembly’s payroll. By late January, the aide quit after working for a month without being paid. Jalisi, in an email, told the individual his company would pay for the time worked in his Annapolis office
The committee report said the aide was verbally abused.
Jalisi also told another aide, who was also not paid, to ““stick with him” and he’d eventually be paid.
In February, Jalisi was told not to return to an Annapolis hotel where he was staying after a series of confrontations with hotel staff. The hotel room was paid for by the General Assembly.
“Delegate Jalisi has disregarded the advice he has received and has refused to comply with the Speaker’s request that he participate in an anger management and workplace civility program,” the committee wrote in its report to the legislature. “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. 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.”
As a result, the committee is recommending Jalisi be formally reprimanded and continue to be required to attend anger management classes. The panel also recommended that Jalisi continue to be barred from hiring staff until those classes are completed.
The committee recommended that Jalisi be required to return badges and keys given to aides he has hired and prohibit those individuals from being allowed to access state email accounts, parking or offices paid for by the General Assembly.
Finally, the committee recommended that continued bullying or belligerent be referred back to the ethics panel for additional sanctions.
Jalisi criticized the committee and the process and said he was denied due process.
“During this time I, through counsel, requested multiple times to be provided with an opportunity to be heard, and be provided with copies of any complaints against me, but I was never afforded this opportunity and my due process rights were consistently violated,” wrote Jalisi.