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Accusation, vindication, but has the damage been done?

Published September 12. 2018 12:17PM

In the #MeToo era, a person accused of sexual abuse can fall from grace faster than the speed of light.

In fact, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Think Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, to name a few.

Two White House aides resigned within the past year after allegations of domestic violence. This prompted President Donald Trump to wonder why lives are being shattered and destroyed by a “mere allegation.”

“There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as due process?” the president tweeted in February.

If Trump is right, it means that Republican congressional candidate and Olympic cycling gold medalist Marty Nothstein will have an even steeper hill to climb to overcome his Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6 general election battle to claim a seat in the newly reapportioned 7th District (Lehigh, Northampton and part of southern Monroe counties).

Because of the nature of this issue, I have been following the intense media coverage as it has played out during the past several months. Here are the general facts:

The incident began in late October of last year when an anonymous tipster, acting 11 days after Nothstein announced his candidacy, passed along allegations going back to 2000 to USA Cycling, the governing body for competitive bicycling in the United States. It, in turn, referred the matter to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which notified Nothstein of the investigation on Feb. 9 of this year.

It took until Aug. 23 for SafeSport to notify Nothstein that it had found no credible evidence that the allegations had merit, something that Nothstein had maintained all along.

“The Center has completed its inquiry into those allegations and has determined that, based on the information and evidence currently available, the Center is not proceeding with any further proceedings at this time, and the matter is now closed,” said Michael Henry, SafeSport Director of Investigations and Outcomes.

In the interim, however, Nothstein was placed on unpaid leave from his job as executive director of Lehigh Valley Preferred Cycling Center, which operates the world-class bicycling velodrome venue in Trexlertown. The organization is advertising for a new executive director.

Nothstein alleges that the velodrome board took the action without conferring with him about the merits of the allegations and, instead, turned over the anonymous complaints to SafeSport, which was set up last year to investigate these types of charges in cycling and other sports.

Operated as a nonprofit, the velodrome, is owned by Lehigh County and receives taxpayer money for maintenance costs. To make matters dicier, Nothstein currently serves as chair of the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners.

Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin and Upper Macungie Township police were alerted to the allegations. Upon their investigation, Martin said police found the allegation to be “meritless” under Pennsylvania criminal law.

“An anonymous tipster created an investigation, then anonymous tipsters spread the allegations to local media, while evidence of my innocence was clear,” Nothstein said.

“This has been a nightmare for me, for my family and for my campaign staff, and I intend to make certain that this injustice is corrected,” Nothstein said. He said he is conferring with advisers about what to do next, hinting that this might include taking legal action.

“The entire episode is a clear example of why good people don’t seek elected office,” Nothstein said at a news conference announcing his vindication recently.

Nothstein’s attorney William Chadwick said that in the 1950s if you wanted to destroy somebody, you implied that he or she was a communist; today, he said, if you want to destroy someone, you accuse them of sexual misconduct.

Even though cleared of the allegations, Nothstein is facing a daunting challenge to attempt to overcome all of the uncertainty and negative publicity that has piled up from the time when the story first broke.

In addressing the implications of a rush to judgment in the #MeToo era, the Atlantic Monthly made this observation: “Due process often speaks to a broader conception of fairness, not just a legal one. Individuals accused of domestic violence, sexual assault or other forms of wrongdoing should be heard before employers fire or discipline them. A rush to judgment can entangle innocents and promote unjust results, but fairness also requires that those reporting violence and harassment be fully heard.”

Democratic candidate Susan Wild is said to be leading in the congressional race to succeed Republican Charlie Dent, who resigned in May after announcing that he would not seek another term. Libertarian Tim Silfies is also a candidate.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

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