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

Coincidentally, in late 1999, the old complaint against Lotstein by the female investigator yet again reared its head. This time, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office sniffed around, informing prosecutors that they were investigating Lotstein. The timing of the "investigation" was suspect, in that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Rick Romley -- and, by proxy, the vocal Lotstein -- were engaging in a public war of words.

The County Attorney's Office forwarded its files on the 1993 complaint to the attorney general for independent review. It went nowhere as a potential criminal case, and an assistant AG tells New Times he soon returned the files.

Liz Sukenic's third incident with Barnett Lotstein occurred around that time, if her chronology is accurate. Sukenic later wrote that Lotstein had entered her office, where, ". . . I noticed he was looking at my legs and shoes. He made me feel uncomfortable. He commented about my shoes and said he liked my shoes (the shoes were strappy black leather). . . . He also noticed a bruise on my thigh."

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

Lotstein says he did comment about the bruise, though he says it was closer to her knee than her thigh. But he says there was nothing sexual about his remark.

"It seems to me that the things she alleged wouldn't be something to become so overwhelmed about," Lotstein says. "A lot of people have told me that Liz is a very sensitive, emotional woman, and maybe that plays into this. I don't know."

Jan Jennings was chatting with Liz Sukenic on the morning of February 3, 2000, about pending office moves on the eighth floor. In passing, she noted that Sukenic wouldn't have to work near special assistant Jerry Landau anymore, a gentleman known to have a foghorn of a voice.

No, Sukenic said, it was Barnett Lotstein she wanted to be away from. In separate documents and interviews, the women have said Sukenic then tearfully told Jennings of the three alleged episodes involving the special assistant.

From the Sukenic letter to Maricopa County: "Jan Jennings responded, 'You know, this guy has a history of this, he's done it before. They ought to fire his ass and hire Howard [Sukenic] for the position. You know, you have put me in the position of reporting this because it is sexual harassment. . . . Elizabeth explained that she didn't want to report the incidents because she feared that Lotstein was too important. She specifically told Jennings that she feared retaliation and that too many people would be hurt . . ."

Jennings says she never told Liz Sukenic or anyone else that Lotstein had a history of sexual harassment, because she didn't know it at the time.

"It ticks me off that she said that," Jennings tells New Times. "Now, from what I learned later, people in the office did know about the prior incident with the investigator, but I didn't. I do remember Liz saying she didn't want to report it because Barnett is too important. I told her I thought I was going to have to pass it along."

Paul Ahler ordered an investigation, which senior office investigator Bill Heath completed 11 days later, on February 14. Heath separately interviewed Lotstein, Elizabeth and Howard Sukenic, Jan Jennings, prosecutor Jim Blake, and three women who work on the eighth floor.

According to Heath's report, Liz Sukenic told him she "felt that Mr. Lotstein was 'leering' at her legs and shoes [during the incident in her office]. . . . During the conversation with her, he did not make eye contact, but focused on her legs and shoes."

The three women said they'd never noticed any tension or discomfort between Liz Sukenic and Barnett Lotstein. In fact, research analyst Jaime Daddona told Heath of an event "about a week prior to the start of this inquiry, when she, Mr. Lotstein, and [another woman] were standing around talking, and Mrs. Sukenic . . . joined them in the conversation, with everyone laughing and joking about nothing in particular. Ms. Daddona related that Mrs. Sukenic jokingly placed her arm around Barnett and half-patted and half-hugged his back and shoulder area."

Liz Sukenic conceded to Heath that she "may have 'patted' Mr. Lotstein on the back on one occasion, but that she has never had any other physical contact with him on any occasion, social or work-related."

Lotstein said he'd done nothing wrong.

On February 22, Ahler wrote his "Dear Liz" letter, in which he called her allegations unsubstantiated and warned her to keep her complaint and investigation confidential. He sent essentially the same letter to Lotstein, with a word of caution: "Even though Ms. Sukenic's allegations of sexual harassment cannot be sustained, you are counseled to use better judgment when discussing personal matters with co-employees. Comments about bruising or someone's personal appearance can be misconstrued if taken in the wrong context."

Sukenic responded to Ahler on February 28: "I understand that you felt these incidents should have been reported immediately as they happened but, quite frankly, I realized that Mr. Lotstein has a great deal of power and influence in the office, and I was quite scared to come forward for fear of my accounts being dismissed in light of Mr. Lotstein's position. Furthermore, I was fearful of retaliatory actions which would not only affect my career, but also, in subsequent time, my husband's."

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