Open Reporting: Inside the Capitol
This post is part of our Open Reporting at CALmatters, in which we share progress on stories as we’re developing them, while also inviting you to share thoughts and comments to help inform our research. Our goal: more transparent and effective journalism. We welcome your feedback.
Both leaders of California’s Legislature have agreed to release records about certain investigations of sexual harassment in the state Capitol.
“The Senate and the Assembly will release documents related to sexual harassment claims that have been substantiated against a high-level legislative employee or legislator for which discipline has been imposed or allegations have been determined to be well-founded,” Senate leader Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in a joint statement released Friday.
“The documents to be released will be the claim filed and the letter provided to the accuser or the accused wrapping up the investigation and providing information about the final outcome of the investigation. All documents will redact the personally-identifying information of the accuser and any witnesses for privacy reasons.”
De León has instructed his staff to release the records within the next two weeks, his chief of staff said. Rendon’s office gave a less precise timeline, saying they are working to compile the information and will release it in the coming weeks.
The announcement comes as a wave of sexual misconduct allegations roils the statehouse, leading two assemblymen to resign and a state senator to take a leave of absence. Since October, when nearly 150 women signed an open letter complaining that California politics is rife with a pervasive culture of harassment, reporters have been requesting documents held by the Legislature about its investigations into workplace complaints.
The Legislature initially refused to release such information, arguing that the law does not require disclosing it. But the law does not forbid the Legislature from releasing the records, a case I made in letters to legislative leaders in November. Transparency about substantiated cases of abuse, I wrote, is in the public interest.
State Sen. Joel Anderson was at least a little tipsy and rubbing a lobbyist’s shoulders during a political fundraiser at a steakhouse near the Capitol last month when he leaned in close and told her he wanted to “bitch slap” her.
That’s the finding of the latest sexual harassment investigation released by the California Legislature on Tuesday as the fallout of the #MeToo movement continues to ripple through the state Capitol. The records include a letter reprimanding Anderson, a Republican from Alpine, and calling his behavior “completely unacceptable.” The letter from Senate leader Toni Atkins, a Democrat, instructs him to “interact in a professional manner going forward” and says he will face more severe discipline if he doesn’t.
Atkins’ Republican counterpart applauded the move, saying all senators need to adhere to standards of conduct.
“The behavior exhibited in this incident will no longer be tolerated. The decision to issue a reprimand in this case is warranted and appropriate,” Senate Republican leader Pat Bates said in a statement.
Anderson, who is termed out of the Senate this year and is running for a seat on the Board of Equalization, told investigators that he did not use the term “bitch slap” in a threatening way. Instead, he argues, he used the term to describe something he found shocking. He said it was a poor choice of words and he should have instead said “blow your mind.”
Investigators disagreed, saying the lobbyist and four witnesses they interviewed heard Anderson say it as a threat, something to the effect of “I ought to bitch slap you.”
“Although we do not reach a conclusion on the specific phrasing, we conclude the term was not used in the context described by Senator Anderson,” the investigation says.
The list below shows all the harassment cases that have been substantiated by the California Legislature since it began releasing such records in February. We are continually updating this spreadsheet; scroll to the right for a link to the source documents.
State Sen. John Moorlach put a woman in a headlock and gave her a “noogie” while they were posing for a photo at a reception—something he said he does frequently in good fun, according to investigative records released Friday by the state Senate.
“While your behavior… does not appear to be sexual in nature, it is still considered ‘unwanted behavior’ and as such is inappropriate and a violation of our policy,” Senate leaders wrote in a letter to Moorlach, a Republican from Costa Mesa.
The letter says Moorlach had previously been counseled for inappropriate touching because he poked an employee in the stomach. It instructs him to “stop giving ‘noogies’ or touching anyone in ‘fun,’ regardless of whether you believe the ‘noogies’ or touching are wanted or welcomed by the recipient.”
Moorlach responded with a statement saying he was “guilty of occasional playfulness” and vowing to stop “this innocent and gregarious behavior.”
Moorlach becomes the latest entry on our running tally of misconduct reports the Legislature has released in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Scroll to the right for a link to the redacted documents released by the Senate.
The most explosive allegation to come out of the #MeToo movement in the California Capitol—a lobbyist’s claim that then-Assemblyman Matt Dababneh pushed her into a bathroom and made her watch him masturbate—has been substantiated by an Assembly investigation. And legislative officials went even further by denying Dababneh’s request for an appeal of the findings, according to records released Monday.
Dababneh, a San Fernando Valley Democrat who resigned in December, has denied the allegation and sued lobbyist Pamela Lopez for defamation after she publicly accused him of trapping her in a bathroom, masturbating and asking her to touch him while they were both at a Las Vegas hotel in 2016 for a mutual friend’s wedding. The Assembly investigation was triggered by a formal complaint Lopez lodged after hundreds of women signed a letter last fall decrying a culture of sexual harassment in the California Capitol.
Since then, the Legislature has approved a new policy for preventing and responding to harassment, and leaders agreed to make public certain records when investigations determine that elected officials and high-level staff members engaged in misconduct.
“So far it seems like the process is working,” said Lopez on Monday. “I was sexually harassed by Dababneh, the legislature conducted an investigation and substantiated that claim, then denied his appeal.”
We are keeping track of the harassment records the Legislature is releasing with this spreadsheet; scroll to the right to see the documents.