Senate debates future of colleague accused of sex misconduct

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — State Sen. Tony Mendoza struck a defiant tone Wednesday amid calls from colleagues for him to resign or temporarily step aside because of sexual misconduct allegations, saying he shouldn't have to leave for "allegedly making someone feel uncomfortable."

 The question of what to do with Mendoza dominated the Senate's first day back in Sacramento, with Democrats meeting behind closed doors for hours — Mendoza included — to debate action.

Options on the table included Mendoza taking a voluntarily leave of absence until the investigation concludes or moving to suspend or expel him.

Staff members were shut out of the discussions and senators didn't comment as they went in and out of the room. Mendoza, whose family sat in the gallery, said he'd cooperate with investigators in order to clear his name and warned his colleagues against acting rashly.

"The allegations against me, as far as I know, do not involve any form of touching or even suggest inappropriate bodily contact. Unlike others, I have been accused at most of allegedly making someone 'feel' uncomfortable," he said in a statement before the session convened. "I believe I am receiving unequal application of sanctions, without benefit of a thorough investigation or the due process that I am entitled to receive under both the California and US Constitutions."

Mendoza is accused of behaving inappropriately toward three young women who worked for him, including by inviting one to his home and offering another alcohol when she was underage.

One of his former staff members filed a formal complaint with the state alleging she was fired for reporting his behavior, the Sacramento Bee reported Tuesday.

The Senate has hired two law firms to handle all sexual harassment allegations for the next two years, including the claims against Mendoza, but he says he has not been contacted by them.

Republicans, meanwhile, were divided on whether to back a proposal by Sen. Andy Vidak to expel Mendoza, with some saying it could create a slippery slope by acting before the investigation concludes.

In the Assembly, Democratic Speaker Anthony Rendon urged his colleagues to be "active protectors" on issues of sexual harassment and misconduct. Two Democratic members from Los Angeles — Raul  Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh — already resigned amid allegations of improper conduct including groping women.

"We must provide that protection for those who work here and those whose work requires them to come here," Rendon said. "We can do better, we must do better."

Asked if any other sitting lawmakers are facing allegations, Rendon told reporters he does not comment on human resources issues.

In the Mendoza allegations, Adriana Ruelas, his former legislative director, filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing accusing Mendoza and the Senate of retaliation, the Bee reported.

She says she reported Mendoza's repeated inappropriate overtures to a young Senate fellow who worked in his office before being fired in September. Her complaint alleges Mendoza invited the young woman to his home and had her drive him to an overnight event and suggested he would stop by her hotel room in the evening, the newspaper reported.

Two other women accused Mendoza of behaving inappropriately toward them during his time in the Legislature, including offering alcohol to one of them when she was underage and asking the other to one-on-one meetings over dinner or drinks.

Mendoza has pushed back aggressively against the allegations and said he has not been contacted by Senate investigators. On Tuesday, he urged a state audit of the Legislature's sexual harassment policies, which he said would ensure more transparency for victims, the accused and the public.

Vidak, the Republican senator, said it's time for the chamber to act.

"The Senate should stop being his enabler," he said. "He is not entitled to any so-called due process in this regard as serving in the Legislature is a privilege, not a right."


(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Photo: Getty Images

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content