4 California lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct since 2006; none punished

Friday, February 02, 2018 04:25PM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Four current California lawmakers have faced sexual misconduct complaints since 2006, according to documents released Friday by the state Legislature.

All were told to watch their behavior, ranging from inappropriate comments to unwanted touching, but none were formally disciplined, the documents show.

They are Democratic Assemblywoman Autumn Burke of Los Angeles, Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen of Huntington Beach, Democratic Sen. Tony Mendoza of Artesia, near LA, and Democratic Sen. Bob Hertzberg of LA.

The documents, released in response to media outlets' requests for records, offers the fullest picture yet of sexual harassment and misconduct in California's Capitol. Until now, names of lawmakers facing allegations were only made public if the victims chose to speak out.

Sexual misconduct in the California Capitol grabbed the spotlight in October when nearly 150 women published a letter saying such behavior is pervasive and often goes unchecked. It came amid a national wave of allegations against men in politics, Hollywood and elsewhere.

Mendoza was suspended last week amid an investigation into accusations of inappropriate behavior toward young women who worked for him. One complained in 2010 that he made her uncomfortable by sending her text messages unrelated to work, according to the documents.

Allen, who is running for governor, is accused of inappropriately touching a female staff member in early 2013, according to a heavily redacted complaint. The documents say on separate occasions, he stood uncomfortably close, touched her foot with his and squeezed her shoulders.

The Assembly's chief administrative officer told Allen he had made two women uncomfortable by being overly familiar. Allen was advised "to be very conscious of his conduct."

In a statement, Allen said, "The release of this unsubstantiated complaint is a political attack by a Democrat-led committee ... There has never been anything in any of my actions that has been inappropriate, and nor will there ever be. I was actually shocked 6 years ago that any friendliness I displayed was in any way misconstrued. Everyone deserves to work in an environment free from inappropriate behavior."

Burke acknowledged participating in an inappropriate discussion about anal sex after a complaint was filed last year, the documents show. The Assembly's human resources director discussed the inappropriateness of the conversation and the need to maintain a professional office environment, but there did not appear to be other punishment.

Burke, who signed the October letter that sparked the sexual misconduct discussion, said the complaint stemmed from an after-hours discussion in which an aide was sharing a personal story. The complaint was filed by a "disgruntled former staff member," but she took responsibility, she said in a Friday statement.

"When this claim was brought to my attention, I took full responsibility for my part," she said. "As a leader, I recognize my obligation to ensure a safe and comfortable work environment for everyone in my office and I think every claim needs to be taken seriously. However, I believed then and still believe that the complaint was motivated by the former staff member's anger over being terminated."

Hertzberg was accused of grabbing a staff member, dancing and singing to her in 2015.

Hertzberg, a former Assembly speaker, is known for greeting people with hugs but recently said he would stop after three female lawmakers, some who weren't named, told the Sacramento Bee newspaper that his hugs made them uncomfortable. His nicknames include "Hugsberg" and "Huggy Bear."

In a statement, Hertzberg said, "This instance, a settled matter from several years ago, involves a single occurrence with a family member of someone I knew, and I'm sorry to her and anyone else who may have ever felt my hugs unwelcome. The integrity and timeliness of HR records is critical, and the fact that some records were written today and others were handwritten proves the point that the Legislature's HR practices are problematic. I remain committed to working on solutions that will instill faith in the Capitol as a safe and accountable workplace for all."

The documents may not provide a full scope of harassment by lawmakers and senior staff members. Critics of the system say many women don't report misconduct for fear of personal and professional retaliation.

Legislative staff members don't have protections if they come forward, although a measure slated to pass Monday would change that.

Two former lawmakers, Raul Bocanegra and Rod Wright, also are named in the documents. Bocanegra, who was a staff member at the time of the complaint, resigned late last year as more allegations emerged.
(Copyright ©2018 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)