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California Senate Hires Outside Attorneys For Harassment Investigations

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

California Senate leader Kevin de León announces new policies for sexual harassment complaints and investigations at a news conference at the state Capitol on Thursday, December 14, 2017.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

The California Senate has rolled out a new process for handling complaints and investigations of sexual harassment that the chamber’s leader is calling unprecedented. But it's not drawing universal praise.

The Senate has hired two law firms that will partner to conduct all sexual harassment investigations – including into the two senators facing allegations, Tony Mendoza and Bob Hertzberg.

“We’re very serious about what is happening,“ President pro Tem Kevin de León told reporters at the state Capitol Thursday. “The steps that we’re taking are unprecedented, when you measure them with other bodies – either in the public or in the private sector.”

De León also announced the creation of a confidential reporting hotline and counseling services for Senate employees.

“It has been a process of deep self-reflection for this institution to change the way it has conducted itself for decades – if not generations,” he said.

But the group that sparked the #MeToo movement at the state Capitol with a letter signed by nearly 150 women called the Senate’s actions insufficient – because they don’t move the Legislature any closer to a joint Senate-Assembly process.

“We Said Enough” leader Adama Iwu criticized the selection of one of the law firms, pointing to political contributions to sitting senators that create “a continued perception of a conflict of interest. Additionally, taxpayer dollars will be used to pay for this firm, creating further conflicts.“

Iwu also said the Senate has yet to take any demonstrable steps to protect victims from retaliation.

Meanwhile, De León said he’s asked Senator Mendoza, who’s been accused of sexual misconduct toward three women, to take a leave of absence until his investigation is completed early next year. But Mendoza said he will not.

“This is contrary to the very concept of due process which is a pillar of our American system of fairness and judicial prudence. These actions bypass any process in a rush to judgement,“ the senator said in a defiant statement issued late Thursday afternoon.

Mendoza says he is accountable to voters – and will “vigorously defend myself to clear my name.”

Also on Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported that three more women are accusing Asm. Matt Dababneh of sexual misconduct, on top of allegations from two other women. Dababneh has submitted his resignation effective Jan. 1st.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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