The State Bar of Arizona has asked a retired judge to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against Bruce Hamilton, the agency's longtime executive director.
On Monday, Bar officials confirmed rumors that have circulated widely in Arizona's legal community since a heated Board of Governors meeting November 22: Hamilton is on a voluntary "leave of absence" until at least the end of the year.
The allegations against Hamilton involve at least two female Bar employees. Through his attorney, Hamilton denies sexually harassing the women, saying he only attempted to "pursue a personal relationship" with each.
State Bar president Michael Piccarreta says the organization's ruling body--its Board of Governors--has ordered a sweeping investigation of the allegations.
"When we receive internal complaints," says Piccarreta, a Tucson attorney, "we take them seriously, conduct an investigation and, if well-founded, take appropriate action. However, it would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing internal complaints and how the [Bar] Association is responding to those complaints."
Several high-ranking Bar officials say one of the employee complainants, Pam Mundy, an administrative assistant, has retained Phoenix attorney Michael Manning to represent her. Both she and Manning declined to comment about the allegations; Manning refused to confirm even that he is Mundy's attorney.
Meanwhile, State Bar communications director Becky Weiner confirmed that she complained to a Bar official about Hamilton.
Steve Timarac, a former human resources director at the State Bar, confirms that both Mundy and Weiner complained separately to him about Hamilton's alleged behavior. (Timarac, who left his position at the Bar in July 1995, now is executive director of the Arizona Special Olympics.)
"It was before that that I had had the conversations with Pam and Becky," Timarac says.
Timarac is one of many current and former State Bar employees expected to be interviewed by Elizabeth Stover, a retired Maricopa County Superior Court judge who has agreed to investigate the claims against Hamilton. Attempts to contact Stover were unsuccessful.
It's unclear as to why it took so long--more than two years in both instances--for the Board of Governors to begin to address allegations of impropriety against Hamilton, an attorney.
Hamilton has retained Phoenix attorney David Gomez to represent him. In a letter to New Times, Gomez wrote:
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"My understanding is that you propose to write an article in the New Times that two employees have alleged sexual harassment against Mr. Hamilton. Such an article would be false and defamatory and the New Times publishes at its peril. The truth is two complaints were lodged with executive management against Mr. Hamilton relating to attempts to pursue a personal relationship, one in 1991 and one in 1994. Both incidents were handled internally and resolved. Earlier this year, five and two years later, respectively, these incidents were brought to the attention of the State Bar president [Michael Kimerer, at the time], and were again reviewed. He was satisfied that the issues had been resolved."
However, in an interview with New Times, Kimerer--a Phoenix attorney who immediately preceded Piccarreta as Bar president--did not indicate satisfaction with the outcome.
Said Kimerer: "I will tell you that information came to the Board of Governors which led them to believe that a complete investigation was merited."
A State Bar handbook calls for employees who claim to have been sexually harassed to complain to the executive director. However, no provision exists for a situation in which the executive director himself is the alleged harasser.