4 Nebraska state senators launch support fund for ‘survivors and witnesses’ of Herbster misconduct

State Sens. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, Joni Albrecht of Thurston, Suzanne Geist of Lincoln,...
State Sens. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, Joni Albrecht of Thurston, Suzanne Geist of Lincoln, and Rita Sanders of Bellevue held a news conference Tuesday morning in La Vista to share more details about efforts supporting sexual misconduct victims.(Brian Mastre / WOWT)
Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 10:10 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2022 at 10:19 AM CDT
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LA VISTA, Neb. (WOWT) - A group of Nebraska state senators has launched a fund Tuesday to support “survivors and witnesses of Charles Herbster’s sexual misconduct.”

State Sens. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, Joni Albrecht of Thurston, Suzanne Geist of Lincoln, and Rita Sanders of Bellevue said in a news conference at the Hampton Inn in La Vista said they wanted to establish an avenue of support for any other women who might otherwise be too intimidated to come forward. Stating “you are not alone,” the four women legislators promoted a website — herbstervictimwitnessfund.com — soliciting messages from potential witnesses or victims of Herbster’s sexual misconduct.

Two of the senators said during the news conference that they had received “intimidating” letters from Herbster. Asked for details, one said they were asked not to delete relevant items from their laptops.

Herbster, a Republican candidate for governor of Nebraska, has faced accusations of sexual misconduct in recent weeks from several women including State Sen. Julie Slama of Sterling. The candidate filed a defamation lawsuit last week and was countersued for sexual battery by Slama on Monday.

“We are Nebraska leaders determined that no survivor or witness of sexual assault will be intimidated into silence,” the website states. “The Herbster Victim Witness Legal Defense Fund is standing up to Herbster’s tactics by helping survivors and witnesses of his misconduct pay legal bills and receive the counsel they deserve.”

The site promises to handle all information received “with sensitivity and confidentiality.” The senators are listed as the fund’s board of directors.

Four Nebraska state senators launched a website Tuesday, April 26, 2022, to offer support for...
Four Nebraska state senators launched a website Tuesday, April 26, 2022, to offer support for victims of and witnesses to sexual misconduct by Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster.(WOWT / Herbster Victim Witness Defense Fund)

Linehan mentioned an ad that the Herbster campaign launched Tuesday was meant to intimidate other victims from coming forward, making this fund and website necessary.

The 30-second ad rehashes the same points that Herbster himself went over during his online news conference last week: It likens the recent accusations made against Herbster to “lies stacked up to ruin them,” referencing Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh and featuring a building somewhat resembling the state capitol made out of Jenga-shaped wooden blocks. The ad alleges that fellow Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Jim Pillen and Gov. Pete Rickets are behind the sexual misconduct allegations made by Slama, ending with “Jim Pillen’s attack on Herbster, built on lies” voiced over a photo of Pillen and the tower portion of the wooden building toppling into a pile.

“This is all threats and bullying. There’s no legal action taking place here,” Linehan said about Herbster’s defamation lawsuit.

Acknowledging the effort behind the fund was rather “thrown together,” Linehan said she encouraged anyone who may have experienced any incidents of misconduct to reach out through the website and promised confidentiality to anyone coming forward. She said the four senators behind the fund knew how intimidating it can be to come forward, especially for younger women, and wanted to create an avenue for support for anyone who wishes to do so.

The four senators have endorsed Pillen in the primary race for Nebraska governor but said Tuesday’s announcement had nothing to do with being his ally. Linehan said it was a show of solidarity for their fellow state senator; the four women and Slama — “we’re the five Republican women in the Legislature” — often spend much of their time together working together on priority bills.

Talking about Slama “carrying this around for so long,” the senators said there was no political gain for her to do so.

“She stepped forward because she knew he should not be governor,” Linehan said.

Geist said it would be “very difficult” to work with Herbster as governor of Nebraska, saying that anyone who wins the election will need to build trust with the legislature.

Slama’s attorney released a statement ahead of Tuesday’s news conference referencing the most recent political ad from Herbster’s campaign:

“Charles Herbster released a vicious new political advertisement this morning, trying to bully sexual assault victims into silence. Herbster’s “Jenga” ad falsely attributes Senator Slama’s account of sexual assault by Herbster as being part of a wild conspiracy. Herbster’s ad slanders Senator Slama’s family members, and promotes a far-ranging conspiracy theory that other people are behind well-corroborated reports of sexual assault and harassment of 8 women and at least 3 on-the-record witness accounts. Charles Herbster is solely responsible for the harm he inflicted against Senator Slama, and he will answer for it in court.

Just as she is holding Herbster accountable for his frivolous lawsuit, Senator Slama will take the appropriate steps to hold him accountable for this latest round of slander against her. In the meantime, media outlets should carefully consider whether they want to continue to broadcast this inherently defamatory content. We call on the responsible members of Nebraska’s media community to conduct their own due diligence and force Herbster to show a factual basis for the conspiratorial claims in this ad for this ad to continue to run.”

Dave Lopez, attorney for Nebraska State Sen. Julie Slama

Herbster’s campaign issued a written statement Tuesday afternoon:

“This is just another attempt by the Jim Pillen campaign and Ricketts establishment machine to sling mud at Charles W. Herbster before the May 10th primary election. All four Senators have been financially supported by Governor Ricketts in the past and were early supporters of Jim Pillen. It is absolutely shameful that they would use such serious matters to push a political smear campaign.

Charles will continue to fight to expose politically-motivated lies, to clear his good name, and to focus on the issues that he will tackle as the next governor of Nebraska.“

Ellen Keast, Herbster for Nebraska campaign manager

Political reporter Brian Mastre contributed to this report.

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