The rogue’s gallery of California legislators whose careers have been affected or ended by charges of sexual harassment over the last 10 years or so numbers at least seven.
But as lawmakers return to Sacramento for the start of another year’s work, some of the males among them might be taking comfort in the probability that they won’t have to be quite as careful in their treatment of female staffers and colleagues as before.
That’s because of a decision from Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Steven M. Gevercer, a Jerry Brown appointee, that forced disclosure of the names of witnesses who complained about Matt Dababneh, a former Democratic assemblyman from the western San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles.
Lawyers for the Legislature fought the decision, but eventually turned over the names of 52 persons involved in the case against Dababneh, who resigned his seat in late 2017 after serving four years.
Dababneh was accused in early December 2017 of sexually assaulting Pamela Lopez, a Sacramento lobbyist who alleged that Dababneh in 2016 pushed her into a Las Vegas hotel bathroom, masturbated in front of her and urged her to touch him. “I felt the weight of a body push me into the restroom,” she said.
Dababneh denied the allegation and threatened to sue Lopez for defamation. His resignation came after an investigation by the Legislature. Now he has the names of everyone who came forward to speak about his allegedly frequent behavior.
This might mean that present, former and future legislators subjected to #MeToo complaints can also get the names of anyone coming forward to speak about their supposed proclivities. That list includes Democrats like Tony Mendoza, Bob Hertzberg (accused only of hugging people), Autumn Burke, Raul Bocanegra, Steve Fox and Rod Wright, who was accused only of using “coarse and vulgar” language with employees, plus Republican Travis Allen, who vehemently denied any misbehavior.
It also means witnesses may be less likely to come forward in the future, as legislative assurances of secrecy have now turned out not to be legally binding.
One labor lawyer told a reporter that “To learn at the end of the day that the person you had the courage to come out and complain about is going to get a list of you and everybody else who provided statements, that is absolutely going to discourage people from coming forward.”
It was already bad enough for women who believed they had been assaulted in one manner or another to have to come forward in a legislature where some former leaders have been exposed as racist or sexist.
One example is former state Senate President Kevin de Leon, exposed as anti-black and possibly anti-Semitic in an infamous recording that caused the resignations of Los Angeles City Council President Nuri Martinez and Ron Herrera, a former Teamsters Union leader and then president of the Los Angeles County Labor Federation. Both President Biden and Gov. Gavin Newsom called on de Leon also to resign the Los Angeles council seat in which he sought refuge after being termed out of the legislature.
The latest developments come after multiple former legislative staffers complained to the San Francisco Chronicle of steady mistreatment and foot-dragging by the Legislature in acting on their complaints, while also failing to keep their complaints confidential.
Now there may be nothing much to keep those complaints private, as any newly accused legislators can not only expect to have names, but will most likely seek the chance to have their accusers questioned and cross-examined as they try to clear their own names.
Most of the #MeToo complaints involving legislators come not from top-level lobbyists or policy advisers accustomed to speaking publicly, but rather from secretaries and other aides not specifically prepared for heavy questioning.
The result, therefore, is that lawyers who expect fewer alleged victims of harassment or other mistreatment to come forward will probably prove correct.
Which means lawmakers may now have a freer hand to misbehave and act out their sexual fantasies than they’ve had in many years. All because of a single action by one local judge.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected]. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net