SACRAMENTO – California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) announced Thursday he is taking unprecedented steps to end a culture of pervasive sexual harassment in the Capitol by hiring two law firms with deep experience in investigating work-place misconduct and partnering with a respected non-profit that provides intervention services to abused women.
Chair of the Judiciary committee Senator Hanna-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) also announced a series of hearings on sexual harassment policies in California.
“America is finally reckoning with entrenched inequities in our personal and professional relationships and in workplaces of every type,” said Senator de León at a Capitol press conference. “Nowhere is this reckoning more important than in the halls of power – our political institutions.”
Selected by a bi-partisan panel of Senators, a team of lawyers from the firms Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Van Dermyden Maddux have been retained for two years to conduct independent, thorough and prompt investigations into allegations against Senators, including Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), and report their findings to the Senate Rules Committee.
Senator de León also announced he has asked Senator Mendoza to take a leave of absence until the investigation into allegations against him is concluded.
“I believe it is the right thing to do at this time,” said Senator de León.
Regarding recent allegations of inappropriate behavior by Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), Senator de León said they too will be investigated by the newly-retained team of attorneys.
Investigations will start immediately, Senator de León added.
Senator de León also announced the Senate has partnered with WEAVE, a well-known Sacramento crisis-intervention organization for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, to deliver around-the-clock assistance and counseling to victims of sexual misconduct.
Investigators and WEAVE will establish hotlines for victims of sexual assault, harassment or other forms of abuse to call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Based in California, Gibson Dunn is a highly-regarded global firm with expertise in internal investigation. Leading their investigative team will be Benjamin Wagner who spent 24 years as a federal prosecutor in Sacramento and served as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District under President Obama from 2009 to 2016.
Van Dermyden Maddux is a Sacramento employment law firm with a focus on investigations into workplace misconduct including sexual harassment and assault, retaliation, and whistleblower complaints. Senior partner Deborah Maddux – former Counsel to the University of California and FPPC attorney – will lead the investigative team from Van Dermyden Maddux.
The Senate contract with WEAVE is modeled after a successful partnership with Los Rios Community College District and will include the services of a trained advocate to provide trauma-informed counseling to Senate staff, including interns. All communications between the advocate and reporting individuals will be held in strict confidence. No information will be shared with the Senate without the written consent of the reporting individual.
WEAVE will provide monthly reports to the Rules Committee on types of misconduct being reported and the hours spent with victims and meetings with the investigative team. The report will not include names or identifiable information.
WEAVE also will work with the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) and the Senate Rules Committee to develop sexual assault and violence prevention materials and training for all members, staff and lobbyists.
“WEAVE has been the safe place for survivors of sexual violence to share their stories for 30 years,” said Beth Hassett, Chief Executive Officer of WEAVE. “We applaud Senate pro Tempore de León and the Senate leadership for establishing this safety net for survivors that will ensure they have a safe place to disclose sexual violence and seek support and resources.
“This is a first step in changing the culture at the Capitol and creating a work environment that does not tolerate sexual violence, supports survivors and holds perpetrators accountable.”
Also applauding the partnership with WEAVE was Sandra Henriquez, CALCASA Chief Executive Officer.
“CALCASA supports the California Senate in its efforts to improve sexual misconduct and harassment reporting by providing a professional Confidential Advocate to complainants,” said Henriquez. “The local rape crisis center, WEAVE, has a long-standing history of serving the Sacramento area, and its collaboration with the Capitol is a thoughtful, trauma-informed response that supports survivors.”
Senator de León also said he will continue to work with the Assembly to adopt a unified, bi-cameral approach “to ensure all legislative employees have the protections they need to feel safe and respected in their workplace.”
Also on Thursday, Senator Jackson announced she will be scheduling a series of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings beginning in January to examine California’s legal standards and key legal questions surrounding sexual harassment in all industries.
“The goal will be to gain clarity about California’s current sexual harassment laws and formulate possible legislation that ensures that perpetrators are held accountable, workplaces are free from harassment, victims can pursue justice, and due process is upheld,” said Senator Jackson. “As we do important work confronting sexual harassment within the Legislature, it’s also important that we take a serious look at our state’s current laws in all work environments and the legal context for addressing such issues.”