Democratic state Sen. Tony Mendoza is suing the California Senate — and he isn’t pulling any punches against his colleagues.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Sacramento County Superior Court, Mendoza argued he’s been unconstitutionally forced to take a leave of absence pending an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against him. He also asked the court to reinstate him.
The legal action comes as this investigation into Mendoza is apparently nearing its end. The Senate Rules Committee is scheduled to meet Friday — and legislative sources say the senators on the committee will be told of the investigation’s findings in closed session.
Mendoza’s lawsuit alleges the Senate is “conducting a secret and apparently unbounded investigation into the last decade” of his career in the Legislature, “without notice specifying the charges against him, the scope of the investigation, or the standards against which his conduct will be judged.”
“The accused needs to have some delineation of exactly what they are being charged with, and exactly what is being investigated,” says Mendoza’s lawyer, Cass Ferrannini. “And the people complaining need to understand how the process works, as well.”
The Senate declined to discuss the suit.
Mendoza (D-Whittier), reluctantly — but voluntarily — took a paid leave from the Senate in early January to allow the investigation to proceed. But he vowed to return in February.
As February approached and the investigation continued, the Senate passed a rule change that allowed the Rules Committee — the chamber’s governing body composed of five senators — to extend his leave for another 60 days against his will.
The senator’s lawsuit heaps scorn on his former roommate, Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles). “Because [De León] is currently campaigning for a seat in the United States Senate, he is now distancing himself from Senator Mendoza as it is more politically expedient to avoid any negative fallout from his long tenure as Senator Mendoza’s co-tenant,” the filing reads.
Mendoza also seeks to show the Senate is treating him differently than other lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct. He alleges there are pending investigations related to sexual harassment and misconduct into six other sitting senators and eight current members of the Assembly — but only he has been forced to take a leave.
“It is an unconstitutional sleight-of-hand where attacks on one Senator are used to hide other more serious allegations and offenders from public view,” the lawsuit reads.
He also suggests racial motivations, pointing to news reports that Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) is under investigation for hugging women against their will.
“Senator Mendoza who is Latino and of Mexican heritage, was asked to take a leave of absence, was stripped of his committee memberships, and was unilaterally and unconstitutionally suspended by the Rules Committee,” the court filing says. “However, another Senator, who is Caucasian and who is also under investigation for alleged sexual harassment and misconduct,” was not.
In addition to seeking reinstatement to the Senate, Mendoza is also asking the court to overturn a voter-approved amendment to the California Constitution, Proposition 50. This measure was passed in June 2016 and allows the Senate or Assembly to suspend a lawmaker with or without pay by a two-thirds vote.