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PA Victim Advocate Criticizes Senate 'No' Vote As 'Political Vendetta'

Marc Levy
FILE PHOTO: In this Oct. 17, 2018, file photo, victim advocate Jennifer Storm, second left, joins survivors of child sexual abuse including Patty Fortney-Julius, third left, and Mary McHale, second right, waiting for a news conference.

The state Senate denied the commonwealth’s victim advocate, Jennifer Storm, another term by a vote of 32 to 18 Monday. Supporters of the move said Storm is both unqualified and under investigation by the State Ethics Committee

Storm criticized the move as an effort to “discredit” and “defame” her.

Since she was first nominated to the position in 2013 by former Gov. Tom Corbett, Storm has led the Office of Victim Advocate, which provides support and services for crime victims. During her tenure, she said she worked to assert the rights and wishes of Pennsylvania victims of Roman Catholic clergy abuse.

Storm said that work earned her an enemy: Senate President Joe Scarnati (R, Cameron County).

“[He] made it very clear a year and a half ago that he had it out for me and was very vocal about that,” Storm said Tuesday on WITF’s Smart Talk.

Storm alleges Scarnati took issue with that work because of his connections to the Catholic Church. In a statement earlier this year, Scarnati denied any of his legislative decisions were influenced by lobbying interests.

Storm also pointed to her criticism of Scarnati’s stance against legislation that would have removed the statute of limitations for survivors of sexual abuse, as well as another bill that would have allowed survivors of clergy sexual abuse to sue the Catholic church.

“A lot of survivors were angry, [and] a lot of them called him out and they called him to account…and he didn’t like that,” Storm said. “His sights were set on me and he was intent on destroying my career [and] my reputation.”

In a statement Tuesday, Scarnati called Storm’s comments about him “egregious” personal attacks.

“I am shocked and disappointed at the level of anger and hate expressed by Ms. Storm. Her continued unprofessionalism is troubling. Regardless of the deflection attempts by Ms. Storm, the fact is that 32 members of the Senate voted down her nomination as Pennsylvania’s Victim Advocate,” Scarnati wrote.

The GOP-led state Senate has tried to mandate that whoever represents crime victims as the Victim Advocate must be a licensed attorney. Pennsylvania’s Crime Victims Act, passed in 1998, does not explicitly list that requirement.

Storm argues the proposed change was an attempt to personally disqualify her from serving another term. A document from the Office of Victim Advocate responding to the effort states a legal degree is a “rarity among victims advocates,” and is not required under federal or state law.

Scarnati and Senate Republicans also allege Storm did not disclose that she was under investigation by the State Ethics Committee during her re-nomination process. Storm did not deny she’s under scrutiny, but said she informed Senate leadership in early April about the investigation.

The committee is investigating whether Storm improperly produced a documentary and book during her term.

“Maybe they thought I was unethical in some way. I’m not. I’m an incredibly honest, forthright person,” Storm said. “If I made a mistake on some type of document, I will surely rectify that, but I have nothing to hide.”

Sen. Sharif Street of Philadelphia County was one of five Democrats that voted to oust Storm. During floor debate, he argued she did not give equal attention to shooting victims in Philadelphia as she did to victims of other crimes.

Storm rebuked that characterization during her Smart Talk appearance, arguing Street’s opposition had more to do with her stance against his bill that would allow certain convicted murderers parole eligibility after 35 years.

Storm said she will remain the acting Victim Advocate unless Gov. Tom Wolf asks her to step down.

“I shouldn’t lose my job for doing my job,” she said during a media availability.

Read more from our partners, WITF.