Capi­tol cases murky

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By John My­ers

SACRA­MENTO — The Cal­i­for­nia Leg­is­la­ture has in­ves­ti­gated 31 al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment since 2006, ac­cord­ing to brief sum­maries re­leased with­out more de­tailed in­for­ma­tion on Thurs­day.

The re­lease of the to­tal num­ber of in­ves­ti­ga­tions comes af­ter The Times re­quested spe­cific in­for­ma­tion fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions in a let­ter signed by scores of women that a “per­va­sive” cul­ture of ha­rass­ment ex­ists in and around the state Capi­tol. Some of those women called Thurs­day’s lim­ited re­lease of in­for­ma­tion dis­ap­point­ing.

In separate doc­u­ments, the Se­nate dis­closed 15 in­ves­ti­ga­tions and the Assem­bly dis­closed 16. The doc­u­ments do not de­tail specifics, offer dates of the in­ci­dents, out­line the com­plaints or di­vulge any in­for­ma­tion about whether the in­ves­ti­ga­tions were re­lated to law­mak­ers or staff. None of the doc­u­ments offer any ex­pla­na­tion about the re­sult of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

The na­ture of the sum-

maries paints a murky pic­ture of how many com­plaints were filed, and of­fers no in­for­ma­tion on the cost of the 31 in­ves­ti­ga­tions paid by the tax­payer-funded in­sti­tu­tions.

Be­cause the sum­mary doc­u­ment fails to de­lin­eate be­tween com­plaints and in­ves­ti­ga­tions, some key el­e­ments of how top leg­isla­tive of­fi­cials have han­dled abuse al­le­ga­tions re­main un­clear. Nei­ther house has of­fered an ex­pla­na­tion on how of­fi­cials de­cide which com­plaints are quickly dis­missed and which are el­e­vated to the sta­tus of a for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion — es­pe­cially those which trig­ger the hir­ing of an out­side law firm. Of­fi­cials also have not of­fered any ex­pla­na­tion on which charges led to dis­ci­pline of a staffer and which ones led to some­one be­ing fired.

The lack of dis­clo­sure makes it im­pos­si­ble for the pub­lic to as­sess whether the 31 in­ves­ti­ga­tions over 11 years ac­cu­rately re­flect the size and se­ri­ous­ness of abuse al­le­ga­tions — or whether the sum­maries in­stead down­play the scope of the is­sue.

The Times re­cently re­ported about one in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­cluded in the tally of in­ves­ti­ga­tions: a 2009 claim by leg­isla­tive staffer Elise Flynn Gy­ore that she was groped by Raul Bo­cane­gra, then a chief of staff and now an Assem­bly Demo­crat from Pa­coima. Bo­ca­negera was dis­ci­plined at the con­clu­sion of a for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Assem­bly Rules Com­mit­tee. He apol­o­gized when The Times asked him about the in­ci­dent and said it was “some­thing I re­gret and learned from.”

Both houses pro­vided The Times with copies of a to­tal of 15 per­son­nel set­tle­ments that re­sulted in pay­outs of more than $1 mil­lion, but did not spec­ify how many of those agree­ments were in re­sponse to ac­cu­sa­tions of abuse or sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

The Assem­bly said Thurs­day that the doc­u­ments re­leased cover a va­ri­ety of work­place is­sues. Eleven set­tle­ments were reached with Se­nate em­ploy­ees since 2006 and four with those who worked for the Assem­bly. There are men­tions of “ha­rass­ment” in only three of doc­u­ments re­lated to set­tle­ments to­tal­ing at least $250,000. But the set­tle­ments in­clude scant in­for­ma­tion about al­le­ga­tions or in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Some, but not all, cases have been pre­vi­ously pub­li­cized.

Three com­plaints were in­ves­ti­gated in the Se­nate in both 2009 and 2015, the most ac­tive years. The Assem­bly re­ported its busiest year of in­ves­ti­ga­tion to be 2009, when there were four. Only one in­ves­ti­ga­tion has been con­ducted in 2017 in both houses, ac­cord­ing to the re­ports.

Though lim­ited in de­tail, the in­for­ma­tion none­the­less pro­vides the first of­fi­cial glimpse of the state­house work en­vi­ron­ment when it comes to com­plaints of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior. The House and Se­nate re­jected The Times’ re­quest for specifics and in­stead pro­vided the sum­maries, ar­gu­ing that such dis­clo­sure “com­pro­mises the pri­vacy rights of vic­tims, wit­nesses, and oth­ers.”

The Times did not seek iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion about vic­tims or the ac­cused in the ini­tial re­quests. A sub­se­quent re­quest sought cases in­volv­ing cur­rent and for­mer leg­isla­tive em­ploy­ees and cur­rent or for­mer law­mak­ers in which the charges were found true or dis­ci­pline was im­posed.

The Times had re­quested ag­gre­gate data on abuse com­plaints be­gin­ning in 2006, as well as set­tle­ment amounts paid out and the cost borne by tax­pay­ers for hir­ing out­side in­ves­ti­ga­tors to re­view al­le­ga­tions. Leg­isla­tive of­fi­cials were asked, too, to dis­close the num­ber of staffers who had been re­as­signed in the wake of abuse com­plaints.

Of­fi­cials pre­vi­ously said the Cal­i­for­nia Leg­isla­tive Open Records Act al­lows them to block the re­lease of more de­tailed in­for­ma­tion. The 1975 law gives the Leg­is­la­ture more dis­cre­tion in shield­ing records than does the broader Cal­i­for­nia Pub­lic Records Act, which ap­plies to all other state and lo­cal agen­cies.

“Pub­lic dis­clo­sure may even have the un­for­tu­nate ef­fect of dis­cour­ag­ing our em­ploy­ees and oth­ers from com­ing for­ward with com­plaints or in­for­ma­tion,” Daniel Al­varez, the sec­re­tary of the state Se­nate, wrote in an Oct. 31 let­ter to The Times.

De­bra Gravert, the Assem­bly’s top staffer, gave the same ex­pla­na­tion in a let­ter de­liv­ered on the same day.

Sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the work­place is pro­hib­ited by both state and fed­eral law. The Assem­bly’s per­son­nel man­ual goes even fur­ther, de­scrib­ing a strin­gent “zero tol­er­ance” stan­dard — in­clud­ing be­hav­ior that “may not be suf­fi­ciently se­vere or per­va­sive to con­sti­tute sex­ual ha­rass­ment in vi­o­la­tion of law.”

The doc­u­ments re­leased Thurs­day were cre­ated “for the pur­pose of pro­mot­ing pub­lic dis­course and at­ten­tion to the im­por­tant is­sue of sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the work­place,” ac­cord­ing to let­ters from both houses to The Times.

The Se­nate re­leased 72 pages of set­tle­ment doc­u­ments, with the dol­lar amount to­tal­ing $599,584. In some cases, the par­ties said they would keep the agree­ment con­fi­den­tial, with one em­ployee agree­ing to sim­ply tell peo­ple the “mat­ter has been re­solved.” The Assem­bly re­leased 30 pages of set­tle­ment doc­u­ments, with agree­ments to­tal­ing $415,000. These other set­tle­ments ranged from back pay to cash set­tle­ments for rea­sons of­ten de­scribed vaguely as “dis­putes and/or is­sues.”

David Sny­der, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the non­profit First Amend­ment Coali­tion, urged law­mak­ers to go beyond the min­i­mum amount of dis­clo­sure on the ex­is­tence of abuse com­plaints un­der the Capi­tol dome.

“Given the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, I think the Leg­is­la­ture should dis­close all of it,” Sny­der said of The Times’ re­quest. “The more the Leg­is­la­ture hides be­hind the spe­cial statute it cre­ated for it­self, the more it looks like they have some­thing to hide.”

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Assem­bly Speaker An­thony Ren­don (D-Paramount) did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment about why staff didn’t re­lease more-com­pre­hen­sive in­for­ma­tion.

The Times has asked for ad­di­tional de­tails on the 2009 Bo­cane­gra in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but Assem­bly of­fi­cials haven’t yet re­sponded to the re­quest. The same is true for sub­se­quent ef­forts to ob­tain records fo­cused on Bo­cane­gra in the Assem­bly and com­pre­hen­sive data from both houses re­gard­ing the fi­nal dis­po­si­tion of cases in which ev­i­dence of abuse or ha­rass­ment was be­lieved to ex­ist.

A state­ment from We Said Enough, the women’s group cre­ated af­ter the pub­lic let­ter on ha­rass­ment, said that by not re­leas­ing more in­for­ma­tion, the Leg­is­la­ture “con­tin­ues to do what it does best, pro­tect it­self.”

Gary Coron­ado Los Angeles Times

ASSEM­BLY SPEAKER An­thony Ren­don, left, and Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem Kevin de León.

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