State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, has denied allegations that he sent a sexually explicit message and image to a University of Texas graduate student. [RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]” data-c-credit=”Austin American-Statesman” State Sen. Charles Schwertner on Wednesday forcefully denied that he sent a sexually explicit text message and image to a University of Texas graduate student, and he hired high-profile Austin defense attorneys to represent him in the matter.After the American-Statesman reported Tuesday that the university was investigating the allegation, Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican, turned to attorneys Perry and David Minton, who said Wednesday that they have “spent hours with Senator Schwertner and others regarding these claims.”
The attorneys offered no information that would rebut the accusation.
“Senator Schwertner did not send any inappropriate texts as alleged. Period,” the attorneys said in a statement. “The Senator is devastated over these allegations and is concerned for the unnamed victim. We are in contact with the University of Texas to resolve this matter. Our statements regarding the Senator will be proven in the days and weeks to come.”
The university is investigating the student’s account that Schwertner sent the lewd message and image after she had expressed interest in working at the Legislature during a text-message conversation on networking and career advice, according to three senior UT officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the inquiry. During an otherwise professional exchange, Schwertner abruptly told her, “I just really want to f— you,” and sent her a nude image that showed a man showering but did not include his face, according to two of the officials, who have seen the messages and the picture.
The UT investigation has not unearthed any potentially criminal activity, the officials said.
Most of Schwertner’s Senate colleagues have so far avoided taking sides. The Statesman on Wednesday contacted the offices of every senator. None defended Schwertner, and only one, Houston Democratic Sen. Sylvia Garcia, said she believed the accuser.
“It’s important that we as a Senate take this seriously, No. 1, and, secondly, make sure that we commend the brave woman who brought this to the University of Texas,” Garcia told the Statesman. “I don’t see any reason why women would make this up, and if you look at data, most of these complaints, when someone does step forward and is brave enough to step forward, it’s not because they made it up. It’s something that’s real.”
Garcia said that she was not calling for Schwertner to resign at this time. But if the allegations are proven true, she said, Schwertner should do what others in similar positions have done. She named disgraced former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat who resigned after it was revealed that he had sent inappropriate images of himself to women, including a minor.
“I think (Schwertner) needs to take stock and do as others have. You saw what Congressman Weiner had to do,” Garcia said.
Twenty-one senators either declined to comment or did not immediately respond to the Statesman’s calls and emails Wednesday. Seven said they were concerned or troubled by the allegations and are waiting for the results of the UT investigation before reaching a conclusion.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate, took a similar stance.
“I am deeply concerned about the serious allegations reported in the Austin American-Statesman on September 25 regarding Sen. Charles Schwertner. I had no advance knowledge of the inquiry until I read about it in the news report,” Patrick said in a statement.
Patrick also said he was concerned that UT officials spoke with the Statesman, “potentially jeopardizing the integrity of a serious investigation.”
“I am calling on the university to complete their inquiry in a professional manner, protecting the privacy right of both parties,” Patrick said. The Senate, he said, will wait for the UT investigation to conclude and “expects a full report on this matter.”
Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said that if the inquiry determines Schwertner sent the text, that action is “below the standard for people elected to positions like ours.”
“It is something very concerning, but before someone passes judgment, it needs to be substantiated,” said Seliger, who chairs the Higher Education Committee.
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, who recently oversaw a revamping of the Senate’s rules for handling sexual harassment complaints, said, “Sexual harassment is not tolerated in the Texas Senate.”
“Regarding Senator Schwertner, we are awaiting the results of the current investigation by the University of Texas at Austin,” Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said in a statement. “This issue is taken very seriously, which is why the Texas Senate’s updated policy calls for in-person training to be documented for all employees and senators during the first two weeks of the 86th legislative session in January.”
Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said the Senate “has a duty to combat sexual harassment.”
“This matter is currently under investigation at the University of Texas, and it’s imperative that the integrity of that process be preserved so that people will feel safe reporting to UT in the future,” he said in a statement.
UT officials have so far declined to comment on the record, saying the school does not comment on ongoing investigations. It is likely investigating Schwertner under a university policy that prohibits sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behaviors.
The policy, part of UT’s Handbook of Operating Procedures, states that it applies to “all University students and employees, visitors, contractors, applicants for admission to or employment with the University, as well as University affiliates and others conducting business on campus” and “during official functions of the University, or incidents that have a substantial connection to the interests of the University regardless of the location in which the incident(s) occur.”
The standard of evidence that UT uses in investigating and adjudicating complaints under this policy is the “preponderance of the evidence” standard. “This standard is met if the allegation is deemed more likely to have occurred than not,” according to the policy. That is a less stringent standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard used in criminal proceedings.