The former legislative intern who claimed that a Republican state representative sexually assaulted her and testified at his Idaho House ethics hearing has taken the first step in civil litigation.

On Sept. 3, attorney Erika Birch filed a tort claim with the state on behalf of the 19-year-old woman, identified as Jane Doe. Idaho Reports obtained a copy of the claim through the Secretary of State’s Office.

The tort claim comes six months after Jane Doe accused former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, of sexually assaulting her in Boise. Jane Doe reported the assault, and Von Ehlinger was called before the House Ethics Committee for a public hearing, where Jane Doe testified in April.

Jane Doe worked as a page at the Idaho Capitol in the 2020 legislative session and an intern in 2021.

After hearing testimony, the ethics committee unanimously recommended to censure and immediately suspend von Ehlinger. He resigned just a few hours after the committee vote, though he maintained his innocence.

Von Ehlinger also was accused of inappropriate and harassing behavior with other women who worked in the Statehouse, including a former security guard who said she had a sexual encounter with him. The Ada County District Court issued an arrest warrant for von Ehlinger on charges of rape and sexual penetration with a foreign object Friday (see related story).

Among other claims made in the tort are a violation of the Respectful Workplace Policy of the Idaho legislative branch.

The claim alleges: “The legislature knew or should have known about a pattern of sexually inappropriate and/or gender-based behaviors perpetrated by elected officials on females working at the legislature/conducting legislative business at the legislature. The legislature, including members in leadership, knew that von Ehlinger had engaged in inappropriate behavior with young women whom he worked with or had contact with via his work as an elected official.”

The tort claim argues that the Legislature acted with “reckless disregard and with deliberate indifference to the rights of women in general and Ms. Doe in particular.”

Other claims include a violation of Jane Doe’s constitutional right to be protected from discrimination based on one’s sex or gender. The tort says assault, battery or seduction was inflicted by von Ehlinger on Jane Doe on or around March 9, 2021. She claims defamation based on false information that impugned her honesty, integrity, virtue or reputation to expose one to public hatred, contempt or ridicule.

The tort claim also points to Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, who made public comments about Jane Doe and linked to a blog post that revealed personal information about her in a legislative newsletter and on Giddings’ legislative Facebook page.

Additionally, the tort claims that both von Ehlinger and his attorney, David Leroy, were told that they should not identify Jane Doe, but claims Leroy did release her information. And Jane Doe claims negligent infliction of emotional distress, saying the committee’s handling of the complaint inflicted emotional distress.

Conspiracy claim names Giddings, Scott, Zito

One part of the tort outlines an alleged conspiracy to violate Jane Doe’s equal protection rights by several Republican legislators working collectively. The claims are as follows:

It alleges that Giddings was involved in drafting the media and press statement for von Ehlinger that claimed he had “been falsely accused of having unconsented sexual contact with an adult volunteer member of the legislative staff.” On April 16, Leroy released an unredacted copy of his response, despite demands that he should not do so.

It also alleges that Giddings communicated with members of the press, asking a reporter whether he received a copy of von Ehlinger’s response from Leroy and encouraging reporting on it.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, on April 16 attempted to gain access to Jane Doe’s police report to the Boise Police Department, according to the tort. And Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, asked someone on April 26 about which criminal code is triggered when someone makes a “false report.”

Giddings filed a police report claiming that she was “accosted” by Jane Doe and/or threatened on April 20. She wrote a Facebook post asking for donations “if you want to support due process and equality under the law.”

Retaliation claim

The tort claim alleges that Idaho Code 6-2101 prohibits retaliation against an employee for reporting violations or suspected violations of the law. On March 11, the claim states: “Doe reported Von Ehlinger’s criminal and tortious conduct inflicted upon her which led to an ethics complaint against Von Ehlinger. She participated in good faith in the Committee’s investigation and in the public hearing. As a result of her report and participation, she experienced adverse actions including the release of her name and other identifying information, defamatory statements, invasion of her privacy, infliction of emotional distress, etc.”

The claim ultimately outlines that after experiencing what she alleged was “a traumatizing sexual assault,” she reported the same to legislative personnel as she believed “she was required to do and in order to prevent Von Ehlinger from victimizing anyone else.”

“Ms. Doe suffered and continues to suffer extreme emotional distress including suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. She has experienced a multitude of physical symptoms as a result of the emotional trauma, including but not limited to: anxiety, inability to sleep; loss of appetite, the inability to keep food ingested down/regular vomiting, headaches, and inability to focus. She has experienced fear for her physical safety and the safety of her family. She has suffered injury to her good name and reputation, to her privacy and to her sense of security.”

Jane Doe was unable to continue working and unable to finish her college courses, it says.

Should the litigation go forward to trial, it would be up to a jury to decide on a verdict and possible compensation. Jane Doe’s attorneys are asking for damages exceeding the $500,000 cap per occurrence for claims.

Idaho Reports attempted to reach House Ethics Committee Chair Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, for comment. Dixon did not answer and his voicemail box was full. Idaho Reports also attempted to reach Dixon by email.

Majority Caucus Chair Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, told Idaho Reports that she anticipated having a statement by afternoon. House Speaker Scott Bedke was unavailable at the time of Idaho Reports’ call.