Romley's Richelieu

Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley's office is accused of retaliating against a former colleague who says top aide Barnett Lotstein sexually harassed her

In an interview with New Times last week, Lotstein struggled to make sense of what he says is a baffling situation. "I guess sometimes when you're in a position of prominence in an office like this, you can get caught in the crosshairs," he said. "This is disturbing to me, obviously, and it's embarrassing. I had to tell my wife of 35 years, my three daughters, my mother. When I told my wife what Elizabeth was accusing me of, she -- and just about everyone else -- said, 'What? You're kidding me.'"

Though she's no longer working for the County Attorney's Office, Jan Jennings defends her ex-employers, saying that what may look like retaliation really wasn't.

"I know it sort of looks like retaliation against Liz, but that's really not how it happened," Jennings says. "Everything came together around the time Liz told me about Barnett. Before Barnett ever came up, Paul had told me to get on track with Liz on work-related issues. Afterward, Liz felt that nobody believed her, because it wasn't substantiated. It wasn't that. It was just that you couldn't substantiate it."

County Attorney Rick Romley
County Attorney Rick Romley

Many claims of alleged sexual harassment turn into he-said, she-said broadsides. Manuals on the subject instruct employers to examine any history of both the accused and the accuser while trying to sort things out. Elizabeth Sukenic apparently hasn't made similar allegations against anyone.

But records obtained by New Times show that, in February 1993, a female investigator in the County Attorney's Office complained in writing to a supervisor about Barnett Lotstein's allegedly wayward behavior. In her memo, the woman conceded the incidents -- Lotstein allegedly "inappropriately" touched her twice -- "could have been accidental or possibly unknowing, but conduct such as this is inappropriate and offensive, as well as embarrassing."

The investigator (whose name isn't being used in this story) later accepted Lotstein's apology for twice touching her "inappropriately" -- actually, he said he didn't even know he'd done it. Lotstein says he and the investigator currently have a cordial and professional relationship.

However, Paul Ahler's handwritten notes in a file about the 1993 allegations indicate that he, too, spoke with the investigator after Lotstein apologized:

"Barnett apologized. She accepted. She said she is not sure she believes his explanation."

Barnett Lotstein joined the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in 1992, after more than 15 years at the Arizona Attorney General's Office. A veteran career prosecutor originally from Pennsylvania, he tried a slew of mostly white-collar cases in the 1970s and 1980s.

Easily the most noticed was the 1988 money-laundering trial of impeached Arizona Governor Evan Mecham, in which Lotstein shared duties with another prosecutor. Mecham dubbed his adversary "Loathstein" during the proceedings, which ended in an acquittal.

In 1992, County Attorney Rick Romley recruited Lotstein as a senior prosecutor, with an eye on using the babbling barrister to serve as his liaison with legislators and the media. Lotstein tried cases for a time, earning a commendation letter from then-judge Michael Dann after a successful prosecution for "the best cross-examination I have seen by any attorney, criminal or civil, in over 12 years with the court."

In February 1993, however, Lotstein faced trouble at his new job, when the first allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled against him. This was the complaint filed by the female investigator, in the form of a memo to her supervisor.

"This memo is to inform you of the conduct of attorney Barnett Lotstein, which I believe is inappropriate," it started. The one-page document alleged Lotstein first had "brushed his arm against my left breast, which I believed was accidental, even though he did not acknowledge his actions and no apology was offered."

Then, a week or two later, "Attorney Lotstein put his hand, palm up, in my lap as if he were reaching for the next page, resting it in the crotch area of my slacks. At this very moment, Mr. Romley came into my office to check on the progress of the assignment, and Lotstein raised his hand from this position to waist level."

The office handled this investigation less formally than it would the Sukenic matter years later. Chief deputy Ahler's handwritten notes say Lotstein told him "that any touching was totally accidental and unknowing. He offered to apologize. I advised him to be more aware of his movements around female employees."

Lotstein tells New Times, "This was around the time of the Anita Hill incident, and people were very sensitive about these kinds of issues. I didn't deny doing it, but I had no recollection of either incident, either. We just moved on with life."

Despite the bump in the road, Lotstein's star inside the County Attorney's Office continued to ascend.

That November, Romley signed his annual job evaluation of Lotstein. Calling his aide an invaluable staff member, Romley added, "The only constructive comment I can make to Barnett is a need to be more sensitive to fellow employees."

The investigator's allegations resurfaced in early 1996, during a heated political battle between Romley and Attorney General Grant Woods in which Lotstein took an active role. Officials from the AG's Office repeatedly tried to get the female investigator to cooperate for a possible prosecution of Lotstein, but records indicate she declined.

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