A former Superior Court judge whose nomination for a seat on the state Board of Fisheries was rejected by lawmakers has denied accusations of inappropriate sexual comments when he previously sat on the board.

"Women have endured for too long various forms of sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere," Karl Johnstone wrote in a statement. "I believe that legitimate claims should be taken seriously and investigated. But let me be clear, I never made inappropriate sexual comments as stated by Rep. [Ivy Spohnholz]."

During the April 17 confirmation hearings Spohnholz, an Anchorage Democrat, said several people who worked for the Board of Fisheries when Johnstone served from 2008 through 2015 contacted her about sexual harassment.

“They each described inappropriate sexual comments that were made by them that were both, as I said inappropriate and unwelcome, which created a hostile work environment for them repeatedly,” Spohnholz said during the joint session just before the vote on the nomination. “The women were not willing to testify on the record regarding the allegations because of the fear of retribution by Mr. Johnstone.”

The confirmation vote was tabled at the request of Sen. Bill Wielechowski, but fellow Anchorage Democrat Sen. Tom Begich pushed for a vote that eventually rejected his nomination, 33-24.

Wielechowski said he initially intended to vote to confirm Johnstone, but the allegations caused him to change his vote. He said the allegations could have cost Johnstone a return to the board.

In addition to denying the claims, Johnstone questioned the timing of the allegations.

"First, these claims were made at the very last minute and I was given no opportunity to respond," he wrote in a statement to KTVA. "Several legislators objected to, in their words, this last minute, unsubstantiated character attack with no chance to respond."

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, and Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, both voted against Johnstone's confirmation but issued an apology on Friday.

"Our decisions had nothing to do with the unfair accusations levied against him on the floor,” wrote Vance, who called the accusations a political stunt.

But Spohnholz stood by her actions Monday, saying the people who came to her with the allegations were credible.

"I think it is very difficult to have conversations about sexual harassment in any context that are reasonable and thoughtful and careful, and the legislative process doesn't handle sexual harassment very well," Spohnholz said. "But when we're considering giving somebody a position of authority over other people's lives and livelihoods, I do think that character matters."

Johnstone said he has thick skin, but wrote in his statement that his family has been affected by the accusations.

Here is Johnstone's statement in full:

Women have endured for too long various forms of sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere. I believe that legitimate claims should be taken seriously and investigated.

But let me be clear, I never made inappropriate sexual comments as stated by Rep. [Spohnholz].

During the two weeks before my confirmation vote I appeared before the House and Senate Resource Committees for nearly 8 hours and answered many questions. Approximately 200 people testified in support and in opposition. Several hundred written comments were made in support and opposition. More comments were made on social media in support and in opposition, many anonymously. At no time did any of this information contain a claim or an inference that I engaged in the conduct stated by Rep. [Spohnholz].

It was not until the very last minutes before a vote was taken that Rep. [Spohnholz] stated that within the last 24 hours she had been contacted by more than 2 women who worked for the Board of Fisheries when I was on the Board and who claimed I made inappropriate and unwelcome sexual comments. Rep. [Spohnholz] then stated they did not want their names disclosed because they feared retribution if I was put back on the Board. This was unfair and made no sense on many levels.

First, these claims were made at the very last minute and I was given no opportunity to respond. Several legislators objected to, in their words, this last minute, unsubstantiated character attack with no chance to respond.

Second, there was no information as to what I supposedly said, or when or where I said it. And, of course, Rep. [Spohnholz] did not disclose the names making the claims.

The reason given for not providing names and supporting claim information makes no sense. Rep [Spohnholz] said they feared retribution if I went back to the Board of Fisheries. However, all women who worked for the Board of Fisheries support section while I was on the Board have left and found employment elsewhere. Even if they were still there, they could have no fear of retribution since Board members have absolutely no authority over staff. Staff work under the direction of the Executive Director of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. Finally, now that I am not on the Board, why has Rep. [Spohnholz] refused to disclose these names? The answer seems clear. The charges made by Rep. [Spohnholz] were false.

Some people believe Rep. [Spohnholz] crossed the line. Three members of the House, while opposed to my appointment, publicly apologized and personally called me to apologize for the shameful conduct of their colleagues and said others felt the same.  Many more comments to news outlets say the same.

I have thick skin and can take the hits, but it stings to know my four daughters have been hurt by this.

My appointment to the Board of Fisheries is no longer at stake.  My hope is that the truth comes out because the only thing at stake now is my reputation. All Alaskans should be concerned that the truth comes out.  What happened to me can happen to anyone.

Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.

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