BOSTON (AP) — The unprecedented series of events that unfolded after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced against the husband of Senate leader Stan Rosenberg has left many questions lingering, even as lawmakers tried to restore some sense of normalcy and refocus on legislative matters.
Several unnamed men told The Boston Globe that Bryon Hefner, 30, had grabbed their genitals or forcibly kissed them.
Within days, Rosenberg had announced he was taking a leave from the post of Senate president and the Senate voted to launch an independent investigation. Senators also named Worcester Democrat Harriette Chandler acting Senate president for the duration of the probe.
Rosenberg, 68, a respected Democrat from Amherst and a legislator for more than a quarter century, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. But his long career and the future of the Senate leadership hangs in the balance.
Some questions and answers about Rosenberg and the Senate probe:
What exactly is being investigated?
The 1-page order approved by the Senate authorizes the ethics committee to examine the “conduct” of Rosenberg, and “whether he violated the rules of the Senate.”
Committee members in public statements spoke of protecting the “integrity” of the Senate but shed little other light on what specific matters the investigation might focus on.
Senate rules instruct members to avoid conflicts of interest and broadly prohibit them from improperly using their influence for personal or political gain. Those same rules also permit the ethics committee to look into unspecified “other misconduct,” and mete out discipline accordingly.
Senators made clear they were not investigating Hefner per se, as he is a private citizen and not subject to Senate rules. Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley indicated they were prepared to open a criminal probe of Hefner should any alleged victims come forward.
What about the ‘firewall’?
In 2014, as Rosenberg was seeking to succeed then-outgoing Senate President Therese Murray, he wrote to colleagues promising to build a “firewall” between his professional and personal lives. The letter followed complaints that Hefner — then Rosenberg’s domestic partner — had boasted on social media of his clout with Rosenberg while also appearing to disparage Murray.
Whether that barrier was breached over the past three years is likely to factor into not only the investigation but whether Rosenberg ever returns to the top leadership post.
The Globe reported that the men who alleged sexual misconduct by Hefner said they did not come forward because they had professional business with the Legislature, believed Hefner had significant influence on Rosenberg, and that reporting Hefner’s behavior to Rosenberg could jeopardize their careers.
The Globe said it uncovered no evidence that Rosenberg was aware of Hefner’s alleged behavior.
In a statement to reporters, Rosenberg said Hefner exerted no influence over Senate affairs.
Who will investigate?
Democratic Sen. William Rodrigues, who chairs the ethics committee, said it would move swiftly to name a special investigator to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation.
There were some indications the committee, made up of four Democrats and two Republicans, might seek an individual from outside of Massachusetts for the role as another means of minimizing any political or personal conflicts.
The Senate order said the investigator would be provided full access to Rosenberg’s office and staff, and be empowered to issue summons to witnesses.
Committee members stressed that any witnesses who wished to come forward confidentially could do so and their identities would be shielded from the public.
Several unanswered questions remained, such as how much the investigation might cost and how long it might take.
What would happen next?
Once the special investigator completes work and files a report, it will be up to the ethics panel to recommend what, if any, punishment should be imposed.
According to Senate rules, potential forms of discipline may include reprimand, censure, suspension with or without pay or expulsion from the chamber.
The full Senate must vote to accept any disciplinary recommendations from the committee.
Could Rosenberg regain his position?
Rosenberg remains a senator and could be restored to the presidency if exonerated. But it would not happen automatically.
A vote by the full Senate would be required to reinstate him as leader.
Chandler, who is serving as acting president, has made clear she does not wish to serve in the role beyond the conclusion of the investigation.
Nonetheless, the jockeying for possible succession is already well underway.
Three other Democratic senators, in carefully worded statements, said this week they would pursue the presidency if it became vacant — presumably meaning if Rosenberg does not or cannot return.
In addition to Sens. Eileen Donoghue, of Lowell, Linda Dorcena Forry, of Boston, and Karen Spilka, of Ashland, Democratic Sen. Sal DiDomenico of Everett has sent signals that he might be interested in the post.
It could all make for a dramatic next few months on Beacon Hill, even as lawmakers debate key issues such as criminal justice reform and health care while also trying to craft a $40 billion state budget.