HARRISBURG — State Sen. Daylin Leach announced on Monday that he is stepping aside, at least temporarily, from his role as the Democratic leader on an influential Senate committee as he fights decades-old allegations of sexual abuse.
“I have always believed that as elected officials, we should always avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Leach, who has for years served as the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. "Given that the Judiciary Committee will potentially be taking up legislation that could theoretically be relevant to the battle I am fighting, I thought it was best that I allow the debates on such issues to play out without the distraction of such an appearance. "
Senate Democrats are awaiting the results of a law firm’s investigation into a complaint that Leach lured a woman into oral sex in 1991, when she was 17 and he was representing her mother in a criminal case. Leach, of Montgomery County, has repeatedly denied the allegations and last month filed a defamation suit against the woman and two activists who have supported her.
It also comes as a large contingent of Senate Democrats are seeking support for a bill that would abolish the statute of limitations for sexual abuse, assault, and misconduct for all victims. Previous bills seeking to change the criminal statute of limitations for such crimes have passed through the Judiciary Committee, but failed to win full Senate support.
Leach wrote in his statement that he spoke to Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny) on Monday “about allowing me to take a leave from my duties" while he works "to clear my name against completely false assertions about events 28 years ago.”
The three-term senator from Wayne wrote that he intends to be the Democratic chair of a different, unspecified committee “where the legislation we consider will be less likely to present the appearance of a conflict.”
Costa said Monday that a decision had not been made regarding whether Leach would be reassigned as Democratic leader on a different committee. Costa said he had not seen Leach’s statement and “can’t speak" to it. The minority leader declined to comment when asked whether he or anyone else in the caucus asked Leach to step aside.
Because their party has the majority in both chambers, Republican chairs currently decide which bills come up for a vote in committee. The Democratic leaders such as Leach serve as a voice for the minority party.
Committee assignments are generally set at the beginning of each two-year session. Absent a death or resignation, it’s rare for major changes to occur outside of that initial selection.