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

At least two media outlets got tipped, but declined to report anything. The case again went away, for a time.

In the fall of 1998, Liz Sukenic was ready to return to work.

David Hollenbach
Lotstein is Rick Romley's spinmeister with local media.
Lotstein is Rick Romley's spinmeister with local media.

She and her husband, Howard, have two young daughters, and are active in community activities. Until now, the only mention of Elizabeth Sukenic in local media has been a 1993 tidbit about the Camelback Young Republicans, of which she then was president.

That October, Howard was about to move from the County Attorney's Office -- where he was a supervisor -- into private practice. He and Barnett Lotstein were friends as well as colleagues, Lotstein recalls, and they'd occasionally eat lunch, and attend Arizona State games together.

Around that time, the Sukenics hosted a party at their Scottsdale home, which Lotstein and Rick Romley attended. The Sukenics liked Romley, and had donated to his reelection campaigns. During the party, Liz Sukenic spoke to Romley about going to work at the County Attorney's Office. The timing was good, as he had an opening for the job of community relations director.

Sukenic started work as a part-time employee in October 1998, at $19.42 an hour. Sukenic's new employers gave her wide latitude in her new position, a rarity in a shop whose supervisors usually keep tight leashes on subordinates. Sukenic reported at first only to Romley and Paul Ahler.

Personnel records and other documents indicate that Liz Sukenic agreed to work 20 hours weekly at the office, and another 10 at home, a schedule that allowed her to do her job and complete her child-rearing duties.

In short, Sukenic did what she'd been hired to do -- make Rick Romley and his office look better.

But things weren't all going swimmingly on the eighth floor. In early 1999, according to the claim letter and other documentation, Liz Sukenic told her husband about an encounter with Barnett Lotstein. She and Lotstein had been alone in an office elevator, she said, when he told her, "Hey, it's you and me. What we could do in this elevator." "It won't happen, Barnett," she'd responded.

Howard Sukenic later told investigators he hadn't confronted Lotstein because Elizabeth told him she'd "handled" the matter. Sukenic said he did confide in deputy county attorney Jim Blake, then a division chief who was godfather to the Sukenics' oldest child.

Blake confirmed that during his interview with investigators after the allegations came to light. From the county attorney's investigative report into the Lotstein/Sukenic matter: "Mr. Blake got the impression that comment was sexual in nature, even though it was not stated by Mr. Sukenic. When asked how Mr. Sukenic appeared when he told him, Mr. Blake [said] Howard seemed very surprised and upset, saying, 'Can you believe a friend would do something like that?'"

(That supervisor Blake didn't report the allegations involving Liz Sukenic -- a good friend -- to higher-ups cost him his job as division chief. Blake said he didn't say anything because Howard Sukenic told him things were under control. Colleagues say he resigned as a supervisor before his superiors demoted him. He's now a line prosecutor in Mesa.)

Lotstein says he doesn't recall ever being alone in an elevator with Liz Sukenic. And he says he had no clue that Sukenic felt uncomfortable around him.

To the contrary, Lotstein says, "She would come into my office and sit down -- sometimes with the door closed -- and we'd talk about work and personal stuff. If she felt so uncomfortable, it seems that you stay away from that person, you don't sit around with that person and talk about personal things, you don't put your arm around that person as she did to me just before all this came out."

Sukenic's concerns about Lotstein didn't seem to affect her successes at the office. She earned an excellent performance evaluation in July 1999, with no "needs improvements" in any category. By then, Jan Jennings had become Sukenic's immediate supervisor.

"Liz effectively utilizes her time, and is willing to put in the extra hours to complete a job assignment," Jennings wrote in the evaluation, which Ahler signed. ". . . Liz is in a unique position, the possibilities are really endless. I want her to use her creative side and 'go outside the box.' I will do my part to help Liz succeed by working closely with her during the upcoming year."

Two months later, in September, Sukenic received a merit pay raise, to $20.16 an hour. Around that time, however, Sukenic allegedly had a second bad experience with Lotstein. A copy of her handwritten recollection is part of the internal investigative report into the matter:

"I can't remember our conversation exactly, except that, out of the blue, no rhyme or reason, he said, 'I could just kiss you.'" Sukenic didn't tell her husband about this and a subsequent alleged incident until after she spilled the beans to Jennings last February.

By then, Howard Sukenic had returned to the County Attorney's Office as a prosecutor. Barnett Lotstein says that, at the request of both Sukenics, he put in a good word with Rick Romley, which may have expedited Howard's rehiring.

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