JOHN CAHER Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B7

Date: Friday, March 28, 1997

ALBANY -- Two former staffers have lodged allegations of sexual and political exploitation against Columbia County's top lawyer.

In a pair of federal civil rights lawsuits filed on Wednesday, two women accuse County Attorney William J. Better of violating their liberties. One of the women alleges Better stalked her for years. The other contends he discriminated against her because of her sex. Both allege Better pressured them to become active members of the Republican Party.

Better, a Republican, denies the allegations and contends the charges are ``simply not true,'' said his attorney, John E. Higgins of Latham.

``It's a stick-up,'' Higgins said.

Higgins said the two pending lawsuits arose after Better refused to pay a quiet settlement and after the county refused to fire the county attorney and refrain from giving either him or his wife, a school teacher, any county post.

The allegations were lodged in two separate federal lawsuits filed by women represented by attorney Kim E. Greene of Albany. Seeking monetary damages are Lisa Shallo Rinaolo, an attorney who had worked for Better, and Diana Kipp, a clerk who also worked for the county attorney.

Rinaolo, hired as a part-time assistant in 1993, argues Better became verbally abusive after she took a maternity leave in 1995. She also accuses Better of improperly representing, in his private practice, an elderly client with Alzheimer's disease and of attempting to stifle an investigation.

The allegations of professional misconduct arise in the context of a complaint Rinaolo alleges was filed against Better by a colleague, who promptly lost her job. Rinaolo contends that when her colleague was fired by Better, Rinaolo's workload was increased.

Rinaolo argues she was fired on Jan. 9, 1996, after ignoring Better's offer to become a member of the Republican Party.

Kipp contends Better stalked her for years, made repeated sexual advances, exposed himself to her in his office and forced her to contribute to the executive committee of the Republican Party. Kipp argues she repeatedly spurned unwanted advances.

Records show, however, that Kipp called Better's private law office on at least 50 occasions during the time she claims he was harassing her, Higgins said. He said numerous messages left at Better's private law office requested that he call her at home. He said Better and Kipp, both married, had been friends.

Another former staffer, Bethene Lindstedt-Simmons, has filed a notice of claim indicating that she intends to file a sexual discrimination suit against Better but has not yet sued.