State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Pa. lawmaker gets three-year restraining order against Miccarelli

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 16, 2018 5:50 AM
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Miccarelli arrives at the Luzerne County courthouse to meet with Toohil's lawyers. (Photo by AP)

 

(Harrisburg) - A potentially unprecedented conflict is unfolding in Pennsylvania's House of Representatives.

After alleged abuse, one Republican lawmaker has been granted a restraining order against another. 

Representative Tarah Toohil says fellow Republican Representative Nick Miccarelli threatened to kill her and otherwise abused her during and after a relationship in 2012.

Toohil was granted a temporary restraining order last week, which involved Miccarelli giving up all the guns he owns, and barred him from the state Capitol building anytime Toohil was there.

Thursday morning, lawyers for the two lawmakers agreed to lengthen it to a three-year restraining order--the maximum available under Pennsylvania law.

Miccarelli can't have contact with Toohil, and can't reclaim his weapons for the duration of the order.

As she left the Luzerne County Courthouse after the deal, which was reached without a hearing, Toohil didn't say much--only that "we are safer today, and that's what we were trying to do--secure our safety, my safety."

Under the agreement, Miccarelli is now allowed back in Capitol while Toohil is there.

The two are permitted to be on the House floor at the time for votes, and the deal doesn't bar them from serving on committees or participating in any other legislative activity together, if such a situation arises.

Miccarelli also doesn't have to say whether he's guilty.

His spokesman, Frank Keel, called the compromise a "major victory."

"He made those couple of concessions," Keel said. "First of all, he only has a couple of personal firearms, so it's no big deal whatsoever...the three-year protection from abuse order is also no big deal because Nick hasn't had contact with Representative Toohil in six years."

Jarret Ferentino, the lead lawyer in Toohil's restraining order case, disagreed with that assessment.

"Representative Miccarelli agreed to a Protection from Abuse order today after being accused of very, very serious abuse accusations," he told reporters. "I don't know on what planet that would seem to be a vindication."

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Rep. Tarah Toohil and her lawyer, Jarrett Ferentino, speak to reporters at the Luzerne County courthouse in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Thursday, March 15, 2018. The Pennsylvania lawmaker who alleges a fellow lawmaker pulled a gun on her and threatened to kill her was granted a three-year protective order against him Thursday. (AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam)

House Republican Leaders, Governor Tom Wolf, and a number of other lawmakers, including Toohil, are calling for Miccarelli to step down.

He has so far ignored them.

A motion Miccarelli's lawyers filed to dismiss the restraining order case called Toohil's statements "completely false and...solely the vengeful words of a former lover with an agenda."

Reached for comment after the hearing, Keel walked that statement back, saying it's not really how Miccarelli feels, and that the five-term lawmaker just wants to put the whole situation behind him.

"We're working towards not only trying to defend this innocent man, but to save his character, his career, and his life," Keel said. "So, we had to come back at them with the same force with which they were coming at us. Let's just put it that way."

Keel added, "this #MeToo tsunami that we're in the middle of--it's extremely important, it's laudable, but in some cases, it may be going too far, and it's being abused."

He said Miccarelli, who has served five terms in the House, plans to run for reelection.

Going forward, Capitol police have said they'll respond if the restraining order is violated while Miccarelli and Toohil are in the building together.

House Republicans have put additional security measures in place, too.

During an internal investigation, leaders stripped Miccarelli of the badge that lets lawmakers swipe into the Capitol complex. He has to enter through a metal detector with the general public.

For now, Toohil lawyer Terry Mutchler said, it's enough.

"I think the House has taken great pains to ensure, not only Representative Toohil's security, but also the security of everyone in the Capitol," she said.

But the case likely isn't over.

House Republicans have forwarded the results of their review to the Dauphin County District Attorney, who is leading his own criminal investigation.

And Toohil isn't the only woman accusing Miccarelli of abuse.

An officially unnamed political consultant who works in Harrisburg alleges that when she dated Miccarelli soon after Toohil did, he drugged and raped her.

"Both of these women made serious allegations of sexual assault and domestic violence," said Mutchler, who is representing both the accusers. "The House found these allegations credible. You know in plain language, the House believed these women."

When the allegations against Miccarelli first came to light in a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer and LNP's The Caucus, the lawmaker wrote a long post defending himself on his personal Facebook page. In it, he named the accuser who has chosen to stay anonymous.

In his statement about the House GOP investigation into Miccarelli, spokesman Steve Miskin didn't reference any of the Delaware County Republican's actions directly.

But he did note, "all parties and participants in the investigation were reminded [the caucus] does not tolerate retaliation against any individual who reports or complains about harassment or improper conduct."

Speaking carefully to avoid identifying her anonymous client, Mutchler said she thinks "what you see with this Facebook posting related to this incident is that when people question why women don't come forward, you really don't have to look further than that to understand."

"There is a retaliatory aspect to things like this," she added. "I can't speak further related to that, but I think that those kinds of actions are unconscionable."

Asked whether perceived retaliation would play into the case going forward, Mutchler said she thinks "there are additional discussions that will be continuing with the House of Representatives in that regard."

As it stands, Miccarelli and Toohil will return to work together when the House resumes session next month.

This story has been updated with additional information. 

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