SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California senator likely engaged in unwanted flirtatious or sexually suggestive behavior with six women he worked with, including four subordinates, according to an independent investigation released Tuesday.
The investigation, which was conducted by outside lawyers at the Senate’s request, found Democratic Sen. Tony Mendoza “more likely than not” engaged in behavior such as offering a 19-year-old intern alcohol in a hotel suite at a Democratic Party event, suggesting a young woman in a Senate fellowship take a vacation with him and rent a room in his house, and asked several of the women invasive questions about their dating lives.
The investigation does not name any of the women, although some have previously spoken to media. Four worked for Mendoza, while a fifth is a lobbyist and a sixth was a Senate fellow in another office.
Mendoza has been out on suspension during the investigation and did not immediately comment on the investigation’s findings.
The Los Angeles-area senator’s colleagues will vote as soon as Thursday on whether to censure, suspend, expel or reinstate him. Mendoza will be allowed to defend himself on the Senate floor.
Several accusations against Mendoza first became public last fall in a report by the Sacramento Bee as the #MeToo movement took hold in California’s Capitol. The investigation outlines three other cases that weren’t publicly known.
Mendoza has stubbornly defended himself and sued the Senate last week for suspending him amid the investigation. The investigation cleared him of allegations he fired three staff members who reported his behavior toward the Senate fellow last fall. One of the former employees has filed a complaint with the state alleging retaliation.
The investigation was conducted over two months, with lawyers interviewing 47 witnesses, including Mendoza, and reviewing available documents.
It found no instances of Mendoza being ‘physically aggressive’ or ‘sexually crude.’ But the women “understood that Mendoza was suggesting sexual contact,” the report said.
“Although none of the women reported that Mendoza explicitly threatened them or offered career benefits in exchange for sexual favors, the subordinate employees believed that complaining about his conduct could put their careers at risk,” said a three-page summary released by the Senate Rules Committee.
Mendoza’s conduct has partially ensnared Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a fellow Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate against Sen. Dianne Feinstein. De Leon and Mendoza shared a house in Sacramento, where Mendoza invited the young Senate fellow to visit and, according to the investigation, move in. De Leon moved out shortly after the allegations became public and has previously said he was unaware Mendoza invited her to the home.
In the Assembly, meanwhile, Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia said Tuesday that allegations of groping and other misconduct against her are a political smear designed to discredit her record.
She denies groping a former male legislative staffer who worked for a colleague in 2014. She also denies running an office rife with alcohol consumption and talk of sex. A vocal leader in the #MeToo movement, Garcia ramped up her defense on Tuesday.
She alleged a private investigator began interviewing her former staff members and tenants in the properties she owns last fall attempting to find compromising information. She did not specify who is targeting her.
Daniel Fierro, the staff member who accused her of groping, says he has “no idea” about involvement from private investigators. Dan Gilleon, a lawyer representing several former staff members alleging inappropriate office behavior, said he routinely uses investigators but did not say if he used any to look into Garcia.
Sen. Mendoza issued a statement Tuesday about what he says is a “dangerous precedent of the lack of due process in response to accusations of inappropriate behavior by members of the legislature.”:
“I am particularly disheartened and extremely concerned, as members of the Senate should be, over the extreme lack of due process that has been afforded during the entire investigative process regarding the allegations of inappropriate behavior by certain members of the legislature. Quite frankly, the whole lack of due process could be best described as the proverbial “building the plane as we fly it” approach which is both troubling and disconcerting. It sets a dangerous precedent now and into the future for this body because past precedent has been to only expel members who have been convicted of a felony. This raises the stakes for future perceived infractions by members of this body.
Senate Rules Committee has recommended action against based on its unfair and secret investigative that violated my civil rights and due process. Today, it refused to provide me any opportunity to even review the findings or to offer my side of the story. The Committee had never provided me any charges, the basis for the charges, a list of witnesses or access to any evidence used against me, or an opportunity to make a response to the investigative findings. My only role in the investigation has been as a witness subject to the investigators ‘ questions. This inability to view and understand the accusations in a timely fashion rubs across the grain of fairness, impartiality and ultimately justice.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg recently told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Rosen last week that women should never be afraid to complain about disparate treatment, but added that the accused must be treated fairly. She went on the say that “There’s been criticism of some institutional codes of conduct for not giving the accused person a fair opportunity to be heard, and that’s one of the basic tenets of our system, as you know, everyone deserves a fair hearing.”
This government body must rise above and not be swayed by the court of public opinion, but rather, influenced to arrive at a conclusion based on facts and one of the basic tenants of our society, a due process that allows for a complete and thorough investigation procedure that then allows the accused to view and respond to the accusations in a timely manner. Unless we adhere to the pillar of fairness that serves as a key anchor of our American system of justice, we are condemned to repeating the mistakes of our past when due process was nothing more than a legal luxury reserved only for the well-heeled or mere legal folly.”
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