BOISE, ID – Two former Idaho State lawmakers, including one who is serving a prison sentence for the rape of a teenage intern, are being sued by the female victim. Plaintiff Jane Doe, who resides in Canyon County, was serving as an intern for the Idaho Legislature during the 2021 session. She filed a federal lawsuit yesterday against Aaron von Ehlinger, a former Nez Perce County legislator; and Priscilla Giddings, a former legislator from Idaho County.
In addition to a claim of “Assault and Battery” against von Ehlinger, Doe claims he and Giddings allegedly violated her Equal Protection Rights and committed conspiracy to do the same; violated her free speech; intentionally and negligently inflicted emotional distress; invaded her privacy; and committed defamation.
Giddings and von Ehlinger are being sued in their individual capacities. A previous lawsuit against the State of Idaho was resolved and dismissed with prejudice on November 23, 2022.
Von Ehlinger was arrested on October 8, 2021 for felony charges of rape and forcible penetration. Following a criminal trial on April 25-29, 2022, a unanimous jury found him guilty of raping Doe. On August 31st, von Ehlinger was sentenced to 8 to 20 years in prison.
According to court documents, Doe worked as a Legislative Page during the 2020 legislative session and later submitted an internship application for the 2021 legislative session. Representative Chad Christensen, a House member from District 32, agreed to sponsor her. At this time, she had recently graduated from high school.
“At some point during the 2021 session, and prior to February 7, 2021, while Ms. Doe was working in the Idaho Capitol building, she met then Representative Aaron von Ehlinger. Von Ehlinger was almost 39 years old at the time and had served in the legislature since his appointment by Governor Little in June 2020,” court records say. “Von Ehlinger gave Ms. Doe a copy of his legislative business card and hand-wrote his personal cell phone number on the back of the card. Von Ehlinger told Ms. Doe to call him any time if she needed anything at all. Von Ehlinger invited Ms. Doe to come into his office on at least one occasion.”
Von Ehlinger reportedly visited Doe at her office located in the Legislative Services Office, on more than one occasion. In early March 2021, von Ehlinger asked Doe if she would go out to eat dinner with him, according to court records.
“On March 9, 2021, von Ehlinger picked up Ms. Doe near the Capitol building in a borrowed BMW car and took her to an expensive restaurant for dinner. After dinner, he drove Ms. Doe to his apartment instead of back to her car. Von Ehlinger told Ms. Doe he needed to get a parking permit from his apartment.
32. When they parked at his apartment, von Ehlinger turned off the car, got out, went around to Ms. Doe’s side of the car, opened her door, and reached his arm out to her motioning for her to get out of the car and follow him into his apartment,” court documents say.
The complaint says von Ehlinger sexually assaulted Doe while they were in his apartment.
“Von Ehlinger made unwanted and non-consensual sexual contact with her and performed unwanted and non-consensual sexual acts on her,” the complaint says.
On her next working day at the legislature, March 11, 2021, Doe reportedly told Assistant Sergeant at Arms Kim S. Blackburn about the alleged sexual assault by von Ehlinger.
“Upon information and belief, Blackburn in turn reported the assault to Speaker of the House, Scott Bedke. The Attorney General’s office was also notified, and it was determined that a report to law enforcement would be made. Ms. Doe met with a Boise Police detective on March 11, 2021,” the documents say. “On March 17, 2021, Representatives Scott Bedke, Mike Moyle, Jason Monks, and Megan Blanksma filed an ethics complaint with Representative Sage Dixon, Chairman of the House Ethics and Policy Committee (the “Ethics Committee”) regarding von Ehlinger’s behaviors vis-à-vis Jane Doe.”
Doe was later informed that the Ethics Committee had begun investigating a complaint against von Ehlinger related to his alleged sexual assault of her.
“Ms. Doe was told that the next time she came to work, she needed to speak to the Committee. Ms. Doe cooperated in the Committee’s ethics complaint investigation, including providing testimony to the Committee in a closed-door session,” the complaint says.
Von Ehlinger responded to the ethics complaint by submitting a confidential written response dated April 2, 2021.
“The von Ehlinger Response contained numerous untruthful statements and actions attributed to Ms. Doe. For example, the von Ehlinger Response represented that Ms. Doe engaged in consensual sexual behavior with him, among other untruthful and defamatory statements,” according to the complaint.
After conducting its investigation, the Ethics Committee found probable cause to proceed with a public ethics complaint process to determine if von Ehlinger had engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of the House.
Von Ehlinger issued a news release on April 16, 2021 about the Ethics Committee investigation.
“The von Ehlinger news release document reflects it was authored, and last modified by, “Representative Priscilla Giddings,” the complaint says.
At 11:47 a.m. on April 16, 2021, von Ehlinger’s second attorney, David Leroy, was advised in writing by Doe’s attorneys that all documents and records should be “appropriately redacted to protect Personal Identifying Information about Ms. Doe,” court documents say, adding that “[s]hould such public outing of her identity or personal information occur, it is reasonably foreseeable that Ms. Doe will suffer severe emotional distress and as recent history has shown, perhaps worse, such as threats to her physical safety.”
The complaint says at 12:42 p.m. on that same day, William Myers, the attorney representing the Ethics Committee, also advised Leroy that the Ethics Committee was “redacting the name and other identifying personal information of the complaining witness from the publicly available complaint and respectfully requests that you do the same in your communications with the media.”
Giddings and Leroy reportedly spoke on the afternoon of April 16, 2021.
“Upon information and belief, von Ehlinger participated in communications with Giddings on that day,” the complaint says. “Shortly after 3:00 p.m. on April 16, 2021, Leroy sent multiple reporters a copy of the unredacted von Ehlinger Response, which contained defamatory statements and intimate details about Ms. Doe.”
A few minutes later, Leroy allegedly told Annie Hightower, an attorney representing Jane Doe, that the response “was necessarily sent out upon request. It was done so without redaction . . .”
“On the afternoon of April 16, 2021, Redoubt News posted an article entitled Idaho Swamp Trying to Unseat Another Conservative. The article included a headline image that contained a photo of Ms. Doe when she was a minor. The Redoubt News article included a byline that said: “In the age of the ‘me too’ movement, what happens when men are falsely accused?” The Redoubt News article contained information attributed “mostly from the
response filed from the attorney for Rep. von Ehlinger.” The Redoubt News article was defamatory and invaded Ms. Doe’s privacy,” the complaint says, adding that the Redoubt News article also included links to copies of von Ehlinger’s Response and his press release.
The following morning, von Ehlinger’s first criminal defense attorney copied Leroy on an email, denying that the first attorney had released an unredacted copy of the von Ehlinger Response, or Jane Doe’s identity, and asking that any news reports stating otherwise be corrected.
“At 9:43 p.m. on April 16, 2021, Giddings posted on Facebook through her Priscilla Giddings ID Representative 7A account, a link to the Redoubt Article with her comment, “Follow the money! Idaho’s very own Kavanaugh.” The link posted the image with the picture of Ms. Doe as a minor, and the article contained her name and a link to the unredacted von Ehlinger Response,” the court documents say.
On Saturday, April 17, 2021, Giddings sent out her “Rep. Priscilla Giddings – District 7 Legislative Update” via her legislative email.
“The Update included defamatory and insulting comments about Ms. Doe under the “ugly” section. That included calling her a “honey trap” and calling the Ethics Committee process “reminiscent of so many national ‘Me too’ witch hunts.” Giddings District 7 Legislative Update also contained a link and encouragement to read the Redoubt News article which publicly identified Ms. Doe and included her photo as a minor,” according to the complaint.
Idaho Dispatch also posted an article on April 17, 2021, entitled “Rep. von Ehlinger Says Evidence and Polygraph Test Prove Rape Allegation is False.”
“Although the Idaho Dispatch article redacted Ms. Doe’s name because Idaho Dispatch “felt it was standard practice in media to not name accusers,” the article included images of the unredacted von Ehlinger Response, which the Idaho Dispatch later removed and apologized for,” the complaint says.
At 4:30 p.m. on April 18, 2021, Leroy informed Doe’s counsel that he had withdrawn from representing von Ehlinger in the upcoming Ethics Committee proceedings and admitted his “mistake in releasing the unredacted report and profoundly apologize to your client. I am so sorry that I sent out an unredacted verson [sic] of the report. I never intended to do that,” the complaint adds.
“Leroy emailed Giddings on April 19, 2021, at 10:11 a.m., and told her that if she sent the unredacted von Ehlinger Response to Redoubt News, “I would suggest that you likewise request them to delete it immediately,” court records say. “Later that morning, Leroy emailed multiple reporters to whom he had sent the unredacted von Ehlinger Response and asked that they contact him. In follow up communications with these reporters, Leroy asked that the reporters delete the unredacted version of the von Ehlinger Response and replace it with a redacted one he sent to them.”
Attorneys for Doe alerted the Attorney General’s office to the post by Giddings linking to the Redoubt article.
“Upon information and belief, a Deputy Attorney General told Defendant Giddings to claw back her re-post of the article and to stop publicly shaming Ms. Doe,” the court documents say, adding that “neither Leroy, Giddings nor von Ehlinger ever asked Redoubt News to remove the article, photo of Ms. Doe as a minor, and link, all of which publicly identified Ms. Doe and contained offensive information about her.”
On April 25, 2021, Giddings reportedly sent out another District 7 Legislative Update.
“In the “bad” section Giddings said that Ms. Doe (who she called the claimant in the [ongoing] Ethics Committee investigation) “accosted” her, causing her to expedite her return into the Capitol and ask for security to intervene. Giddings quoted a voicemail message left by Ms. Doe and said that “apparently she is upset because I referenced information about the Ethics Committee complaint and the counter complaint in my week 12 newsletter,” and she provided a link to the April 17, 2021 (week 12) update,” the complaint says.
“In her “ugly” section of her April 25, 2021, District 7 Legislative Update, Giddings provided a link to an April 22, 2021, Redoubt News article entitled Kangaroo Court, Part 2: Idaho Swamp Violates Constitutional Rights. This Redoubt News article outlined concerns with the Ethics Committee hearing process including a statement that von Ehlinger could “easily be denied his right to face his accuser, a violation of the Sixth Amendment.” The Redoubt News article referred to the process as a “witch hunt” with a “predetermined outcome” and called it “blatant tyranny.” Once again, the Redoubt News article contained a link to the unredacted response which identified Ms. Doe,” the document says.
The complaint alleges that other representatives aligned with Giddings and von Ehlinger were taking steps in furtherance of attempting to harass, or cause others to harass, Doe and “to otherwise discourage her from cooperating with the Ethics Committee and with law enforcement.”
For example, the complaint says, “a. On or about April 16, 2021, Rep. Heather Scott attempted to gain information about Jane Doe’s criminal complaint to the Boise Police Department. b. On or about April 26, 2021, Rep. Christy Zito asked other legislators which criminal code is triggered by someone making a “false report,” suggesting Ms. Doe could be criminally prosecuted for reporting von Ehlinger’s sexual assault [on] her.”
Von Ehlinger’s Ethics Committee hearing took place on April 28-29, 2021, during which Doe gave public, sworn testimony. Von Ehlinger refused to answer certain questions under oath, exercising his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Giddings was called as a witness at the Ethics Committee hearing.
“Giddings provided testimony under oath on April 28, 2021. She testified about an interaction with Ms. Doe outside the capitol building on April 20, 2021 wherein Giddings said Ms. Doe was loud, aggressive and intimidating toward Giddings. Giddings further testified that she thought Ms. Doe was possibly on drugs and had violated several code sections. Giddings testified that she reported the above to the police,” the complaint says.
During her testimony, Giddings denied posting a picture of or identifying the name of Doe, on social media.
The Ethics Committee voted unanimously to recommend that von Ehlinger be expelled from the House, but he resigned on April 29th, 2021 before the House could vote on his expulsion.
In her May 2, 2021, District 7 Legislative Update newsletter, Giddings referred to the Ethics Committee’s hearing process and stated that “[w]hat actually happened was nothing less than a kangaroo court, which delivered a predetermined verdict, a predetermined punishment, and violated every tenant of due process and good order,” the complaint says.
Two ethics complaints were filed against Giddings – one on April 19, 2021, and another, signed by 24 state representatives, on May 3, 2021.
“The May ethics complaint accused Giddings of conduct unbecoming a member of the House, including engaging in sex discrimination and retaliation and bullying of a teenage witness when she disseminated the identity and photo of Ms. Doe and made defamatory statements about her. It also included allegations that Giddings misrepresented her actions under oath during the von Ehlinger Ethics Committee hearing,” according to the complaint.
The Ethics Committee found probable cause to believe that Giddings had engaged in conduct unbecoming. A public hearing on the May 2021 ethics complaint against Giddings occurred on August 2-3, 2021.
“Giddings provided testimony under oath at this Ethics Committee hearing and denied having misrepresented any facts regarding her posting and refused to apologize for her actions,” according to the complaint. “In her witness disclosures for the Ethics Committee hearing, which she chose to release publicly, Giddings represented that Ms. Doe’s landlord would discuss “Jane Doe’s drug usage habits, mental stability, and how he recently evicted her.”
The Ethics Committee unanimously found that Giddings acted in a manner unbecoming of a representative and recommended to the full House that she be censured and stripped of her seat on the House Commerce and House Resources Committee. The House voted in favor of the Committee’s recommendation.
Meanwhile, the complaint alleges that Giddings continued to make “public and disparaging comments” about Doe including referring to her as a “tramp.”
“Because of the release of Ms. Doe’s identity, Ms. Doe has continually suffered public humiliation and harassment on social media and at public events,” the complaint says. “For example: a. a person dressed in drag as a beauty queen, with a sash that has Ms. Doe’s real name and “Miss Idaho Capitol” on it, appears at public and political events mocking her. For example, this person attended the Republican Party’s Keep Idaho Red event, and he was live streamed on social media, and photos were also posted with horrific and humiliating comments like, “Miss Idaho Statehouse sure gets around” and “[Doe] hittin [sic] on new supply – Humphrey’s.” b. There have been social media posts during or directly after Gidding’s Ethics Committee hearing saying: “MY NAME IS [JANE DOE]! SCOTT BEDKE THREW ME A HUGE LEGISLATIVE PARTY THIS WEEK! EVERYONE GOT TOGETHER AND ANYONE WHO MENTIONED MY NAME WAS 86’D!” c. A recent post on Facebook included an image of the original Redoubt News article with the photo of Ms. Doe as a minor and said: “SAY HER NAME! [JANE DOE]!”
Doe has requested a jury trial, compensation for alleged emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.