The lawyer for a lobbyist who says she was sexually harassed by state Rep. Tony Cornish has sent the lawmaker a letter instructing him to save all documents that could be relevant to a potential lawsuit.
"I write to remind you of your duty to preserve evidence regarding your actions towards my client," reads the letter that attorney Scott Flaherty sent Monday to Cornish, the chairman of the House Public Safety Committee.
Cornish has denied wrongdoing. The Republican from Vernon Center was the second Minnesota state lawmaker accused of sexual harassment last week, after which House leaders temporarily suspended his committee chairmanship. The other accused lawmaker, Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, has been urged to resign by DFL colleagues and Gov. Mark Dayton.
Schoen was accused last week of unwanted text messages to a DFL House candidate and unwanted touching by another DFL candidate. He has also denied wrongdoing and so far has resisted demands to step down.
The lobbyist, who is not being named by the Star Tribune, remains unnamed in her attorney's Nov. 13 letter, which repeats allegations revealed in the Star Tribune and other media last week that Cornish pushed her against his office wall and tried to kiss her, and propositioned her for sex 40 times over a decade.
Cornish did not immediately respond to a new request for comment on Monday. Last week, Cornish acknowledged that he sent the lobbyist a string of text messages in which she denied his repeated requests to have sex with her. "I'm an adult, I'm not a saint," he said.
Flaherty's letter refers to a text message Cornish sent to the lobbyist that reads: "Would it scare you if I said that I was just interested in good times, good wine, good food and good sex?"
Flaherty's letter says Minnesota law requires preservation of evidence "whenever a party knows or should know that litigation is reasonably foreseeable," citing case law.
The letter from the lobbyist's attorney serves as a strong signal of potential litigation: "We are still investigating the full scope of your misconduct, and we understand that other female victims are still deciding whether and how they can safely come forward."
Flaherty also offers to help Cornish preserve documents: "My firm uses state-of-the-art electronic-preservation tools, and we can assist you if you are unsure about how to comply with your preservation duties."
With a potential lawsuit, Cornish now faces a deepening legal morass; last week the House announced it will retain an outside firm to investigate the matter.
Dayton called on Cornish to resign, having already called for Schoen's resignation. Also Monday, Dayton ordered the Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) office to conduct a review of sexual harassment policies, trainings and procedures in the executive branch of state government.
"No one should be subjected to the harassment and assaults that have come to light in recent days, nor suffer from the fear, shame and mistrust that result from such acts," Dayton wrote to MMB Commissioner Myron Frans. "Every victim should trust that they have the support and tools they need to report those offenses, without fear of reprisal or further pain and suffering."
DFL Chairman Ken Martin announced Monday that all campaigns receiving party support, including access to the party's voter file, will be required to attend a training on sexual harassment and workplace conduct.
"Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem that needs to be addressed," Martin said in a statement. "Unfortunately no workplace is immune, including political campaigns. The Minnesota DFL Party has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and expects our candidates and campaigns to follow this policy."
A group of several dozen religious leaders also called on both Schoen and Cornish to resign: "As faith leaders of various traditions, we believe in redemption. But redemption can only come to those who have done wrong when you offer serious apologies and substantive restitution to the women you have harmed," reads the letter sent by the Rev. Emily Goldthwaite Fries.
"That begins with a public apology to the women you've wronged, to the people of the great state of Minnesota, and your immediate resignation from office," the letter concludes.
J. Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042