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Report: Women accuse Milwaukee legislator of sexual misconduct

Posted at 5:32 PM, Dec 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-02 12:49:01-05

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Two women have accused Democratic state Rep. Josh Zepnick of sexual misconduct, a newspaper reported Friday.

A woman told The Capital Times that she was working at the state Democratic Party's 2015 convention in Milwaukee when Zepnick became drunk and kissed her. Another woman the newspaper described as a former legislative staffer said a drunken Zepnick kissed her during a 2011 party for a Senate recall candidate.

Both women requested anonymity, saying they were concerned about their jobs. Neither filed complaints at the time of the incidents but said they decided to tell their stories now in light of multiple women accusing men in politics, entertainment and the media of sexual misconduct.

The convention worker's co-workers told the newspaper the woman described the incident to them that same night. The newspaper did not name any of those workers. The former legislative staffer told the newspaper she believes others witnessed Zepnick kissing her but isn't sure who specifically would have seen it.

Zepnick said in an email to the newspaper that no one had ever confronted him with such allegations. He didn't deny the allegations in the email, and didn't respond to follow-up messages from both The Capital Times and The Associated Press asking him to clarify whether he denied them.

"No legislative staffer ever confronted me with any such allegation nor did their employer; nor anyone from Legislative Leadership or the Assembly Chief Clerk office," Zepnick said in his statement.

"No one from the Democratic party staff has ever said anything to me, and since that time, I have had many interactions with political staff which have been professional, positive, and without any suggestion of this type of activity."

TODAY'S TMJ4 tried to knock on the door of Zepnick's last listed address but there was no answer. 

While these are just accusations, his constituents have concerns.

"It's happening everywhere," said William Havrilla, a resident in Zepnick's district. "It's not just here with the person up the street or any other politicians."

Two of Zepnick's Democratic colleagues in the assembly took to Twitter, calling on him to resign since the allegations were published. Rep. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchburg, said lawmakers are expected to lead through example. 

Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, said he was "disgusted" by the report, adding that staffers should feel "safe and comfortable with the knowledge that they will not be harassed or assaulted."

Zepnick, who represents Milwaukee, was first elected to the Assembly in 2002. He was arrested for first-offense drunken driving in October 2015. He pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a forfeiture, had his license suspended for six months and ordered to use an ignition interlock device for a year.

Aides for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Minority Leader Gordon Hintz didn't immediately reply to emails seeking comment. Aides for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling also didn't immediately reply to emails.

Earlier this week all four legislative leaders refused to release any sexual harassment complaints Senate and Assembly officials have received, citing privacy concerns.

Rep. Zepnick sent following statement to TODAY'S TMJ4 late Friday night after this story aired:

As a recovering alcoholic, I have confronted and apologized for many mistakes I made during my years of irresponsible drinking. While I have no recollection of these alleged incidents, there is never an excuse for inappropriate behavior. I take the claims seriously and respect the feelings of the women involved. I apologize to both women for my actions and for any distress that I may have caused. My life is back on track and I've been sober for over 2 years. I will not be resigning and I will continue to work hard on behalf of my constituents."