HARRISBURG - Members of the state House of Representatives met on Monday for the first time since a judge granted a protection order against a Delaware County lawmaker accused by another legislator of physically abusing her when they dated six years ago.
The session day passed with little drama and no confrontation between Miccarelli and his accuser, Luzerne County Republican Rep. Tarah Toohil. But the extraordinary nature of the situation – this is believed to be the only case of a member obtaining a restraining order against another member – raised the specter of expulsion among some legislators.
One House leader, Rep. Stan Saylor of York County, said having both Miccarelli and Toohil on the floor of the House at the same time moves the question of whether to forcefully remove Miccarelli from office from a mere concept “into reality.”
“I think everyone is sitting there thinking, ‘What should I do’ It is a very murky area,” said Saylor, who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Republicans and Democrats in the House have called on Miccarelli to resign. But Saylor, speaking to reporters for The Caucus and The Inquirer, was the first Republican House leader to openly discuss ousting Miccarelli at length. He said leaders of both parties need to explore the rules and procedure for expulsion.
Miccarelli, 35, has strenuously denied the allegations made by Toohil and a second woman, who jointly filed a complaint with the House alleging physical or sexual abuse. He said he intends to serve the remainder of his term, which ends on Nov. 30.
He is not seeking re-election.
In a brief interview after a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday, Miccarelli told a reporter, “I’m happy to be back doing the job my constituents elected me to do.”
Miccarelli sat on the floor of the House in his assigned seat, speaking only briefly with a few members who passed by. A couple members stopped and shook his hand. He voted on resolutions, checked his computer and phone, and joined a few standing ovations – one for a resolution honoring Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years after his death.
Toohil and the second woman, who has declined to be identified publicly, filed a complaint against Miccarelli with the House in late February. The unnamed woman, a consultant in Republican political circles, alleged she was sexually assaulted in 2014 after she and Miccarelli stopped dating. This newspaper does not identify victims or alleged victims of sex crimes.
Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for the House Republicans, said mid-afternoon Monday that no problems had surfaced between Miccarelli and Toohil and “and everyone is acting professionally, like they should.”
A spokesman for Miccarelli, however, accused the “scandal-obsessed media” of “creating another story when none existed” by reporting on the attendance of the House session day by both Toohil and the man she has accused of assaulting her.
“We've received no indication whatsoever that either the Republican or Democratic House Caucuses are considering expulsion. And what would such an extraordinary measure be based upon anyway? Nothing more than the baseless allegations of two of Nick's jilted, former girlfriends who have provided no evidence whatsoever to support their outrageous claims,” said the spokesman, Frank Keel.
Toohil could not be reached for comment Monday.
Spectacle in the House
But lawyers representing Toohil and the second woman said they were bothered by the spectacle of a lawmaker who is the target of a restraining order attending session with his accuser sitting 10 seats away.
”For the first time in Pennsylvania history, you have a sitting lawmaker under a protection from abuse order in the people’s House,” attorneys Terry Mutchler and Charlie Lyons said in a written statement. “That’s a very sad day and, in our clients’ view, it’s a blight on the House. Today you see the practical application of a protection order playing out in real terms, and it underscores the reality that Rep. Miccarelli should heed the unprecedented calls of his own party leadership and step down. Our clients continue to call for his removal.”
The initial, temporary restraining order, obtained by Toohil on March 9, prevented Miccarelli from working at the Capitol when the House was in session. Miccarelli didn’t attend Appropriations Committee meetings that week.
A permanent, three-year order issued six days later restricted Miccarelli’s access to firearms and limited his contact with Toohil to official House business. He was permitted to attend session. Miccarelli did not admit to any wrongdoing as part of the negotiations before the final order was issued.
Lawmakers under cloud
Saylor said he was not predicting Miccarelli will be expelled. He said he doesn’t know how he personally would vote if a resolution is filed.
“I’d have to think about that, “ Saylor said. “The important thing is: what are the standards?”
Much may depend on the outcome of an investigation of the abuse allegations by the Dauphin County district attorney’s office, Saylor said.
Moving forward on Miccarelli’s expulsion, Saylor said, could also prompt resolutions to oust Rep. Vanessa Brown, D-Philadelphia, who was implicated in a sting investigation in which lawmakers were videotaped taking cash from an undercover agent posing as a lobbyist, and against Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, D-Reading. A sexual harassment complaint against Caltagirone by a legislative aide resulted in a $248,000 secret state payout to the woman in 2015. Caltagirone denied any wrongdoing. Brown has been charged in the sting case but maintains her innocence.
“Do we do Nick? Do we do Brown? Do we do Caltagirone?” Saylor said.
“I think you need to include everyone to be fair,” said Rep. Seth Grove, also a York County Republican.
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny County, could not be reached for comment.
The last expulsion of a House member occurred 43 years ago, in 1975, when Rep. Leonard Sweeney, D-Allegheny County, was ousted after his conviction in a mail fraud case as a private lawyer.
House Parliamentarian Clancy Myer said any member of the House could introduce a resolution to expel another member. But before the chamber could vote on it, he said, there would have to be an investigation conducted by a small group of House members, who would issue a report.
The full House would need a two-thirds majority vote to expel that person. The accused would have a chance to speak on their behalf before a vote is taken.
Myer said he was not aware of any member making a move to draft a resolution to expel Miccarelli. There’s been talk among some female House Democratic lawmakers, but they have acknowledged a Republican would likely be needed to sponsor the resolution in the GOP-controlled chamber.
The state constitution provides some guidance as to when expulsion can be used. It states that the Legislature has the power to punish its members “for contempt or disorderly behavior in its presence, to enforce obedience to its process, to protect its members against violence or offer of bribes.”