Representative Mike Zabel deserves due process. He deserves to have his day in court or, failing that, have a fair hearing to establish guilt or innocence of any alleged crimes. He deserves to be able to face his accusers and demand that they provide proof of his transgressions. He deserves to be treated like any other individual who has been charged with a crime or with an ethics violation.
You know who else deserved that? State Senator Daylin Leach. As I’ve written in the past, Leach was accused of inappropriate behavior by a handful of women, some of whom ultimately had to defend themselves against a defamation suit because of it. The only crime that Leach was ever found guilty of was bad taste in jokes.
Another person who deserved due process was Nick Miccarelli. Nick was a promising legislator from Zabel’s own stomping grounds in Delaware County, and was put through a crucible of fire by women who accused him of sexual harassment. They had no proof. In fact, I was privy to information that showed at least one of them lacked any credibility, and was acting out of “scorned woman” motivation. Ultimately, attacked by both his own GOP colleagues and the opportunistic Democrats, he left the House at the expiration of his term.
Leach and Miccarelli had their faces plastered all over the front pages of the newspapers. Women who refused to be named benefited from the cloak of secrecy. At the time, I wondered why we name the alleged abusers before they even have an opportunity to defend themselves. Once you are named, even if you are ultimately acquitted, your reputation takes a hit. The tattered ends are very difficult to stitch back into some semblance of wholeness. As former Secretary of Labor Ray Donovan once famously quipped “what office do I go to, to get my reputation back?”
I have long been an advocate for due process and fairness, and have written in defense of both Leach and Miccarelli. The two could not be more different in their politics, and yet they were both victims of the same “MeToo” crusade that engulfed us with Salem Witch Trial fervor a few years ago. Leach in particular was taken down more by innuendo than anything else, and made to pay for a style that rubbed people the wrong way. As I wrote in the Delco Times in 2018:
“Lack of nuance and sophistication on the part of women and men who are expert at exploiting a movement that looks a lot more like vengeance than justice has caused simple, frat boy behavior to be equated with and treated the same way as actual criminal activity. It’s like saying stealing a box of cereal from the Shop Rite is the same as robbing a bank. It’s not, and we all know it’s not, and people have to be honest enough to stop treating it as if it was.”
As far as Nick was concerned, he really was the victim of a woman scorned, which is something I find incredibly objectionable. Claiming you are a victim of abuse to get back at someone is an equally dangerous form of abuse which, in the wrong hands, can destroy lives.
And that brings me to Mike Zabel. I do not know the man even though his district backs up against my own in Havertown. From all accounts he is a loving husband and father, an avid runner, a good friend and someone who takes a deep interest in his community. He is also someone who, if the allegations against him have any substance, seems to have a propensity to misbehave at social events, especially after he’s had a few drinks. He’s been accused of acts that fall somewhere between criminal activity and what used to pass for normal male behavior during the Mad Men era.
We are, obviously, no longer in the Mad Men era. Touching a woman’s thigh when she has not given you permission to do so is the legal definition of an assault. It is also incredibly gauche, and stupid in the shadow of MeToo. Alcohol makes people do things that are foolish, as I know far too well. Humans make mistakes.
But while I feel that Zabel is entitled to due process and a fair hearing, I also feel the need to point out how deeply hypocritical his Democratic colleagues are. Senator Katie Muth was one of the driving forces behind the crusade to destroy Daylin Leach. In one notable instance, she refused to appear on the stage with him at a high school forum, giving as her reason the fact that she’d been a rape victim and felt uncomfortable around him. This was a pointed and completely inappropriate attempt to portray her senate colleague as a predator.
But when Todd Shepherd reached out to her for a comment on Zabel, he encountered radio silence. I would say the fact that both Zabel and Leach were Democrats eliminates any partisan bias, but when you consider that the Dems’ House majority in Harrisburg hangs by a thin one-legislator thread, you understand why the caucus doesn’t want to rock the boat.
Unfortunately for Zabel, the boat has sprung a leak, and while I still believe that he deserves the process denied to his former colleagues, his party should be criticized for engaging in an obvious cover up.
According to reporting here at Broad + Liberty, Zabel’s extracurricular activities were widely known in Harrisburg, and most of the Capitol press corps knew about the numerous accusations against him, but refused for whatever reason to break the story.
Perhaps they were waiting until after the election and a Democratic majority was ensured. Perhaps they and the legislators wanted to wait until a new rules package could be passed that would help cement that majority. Perhaps they just liked Zabel, and did not “believe all women.”
It’s just a bit interesting that Zabel’s story had to be pried out of the major actors, piece by meticulous piece, in contrast to the glee with which Leach and Miccarelli were thrown to the wolves.
As I said before, I want Zabel to be spared the canine fangs. He deserves the right to defend himself against these accusations.
But due process isn’t such a prized commodity in Harrisburg. As Oscar Wilde once wrote “And what sort of lives do these people, who pose as being moral, lead themselves? My dear fellow, you forget that we are in the native land of the hypocrite.”
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61