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Nurses association calls for lawmaker’s resignation over altercation with its lobbyist

The California Nurses Association is calling for a lawmaker to resign from the Senate and withdraw his candidacy for the state Board of Equalization after an altercation with its lobbyist at a Sacramento restaurant near the Capitol.

The California Senate is investigating allegations that Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, threatened to “bitch slap” the association’s female lobbyist during an evening fundraiser at The Diplomat Steakhouse.

Anderson was kicked out of the restaurant after allegedly harassing the woman during the Aug. 13 altercation, which he describes as a misunderstanding.

The nurses identified the woman as Stephanie Roberson, the association’s government relations director, and said she filed a complaint with the Senate.

“Specifically, at that event, as witnessed by several people in attendance and restaurant staff, Sen. Anderson engaged in both physical and verbal acts of sexual harassment, that were followed by repeated threats of violence when Ms. Roberson objected to his behavior,” said Bonnie Castillo, executive director of the California Nurses Association, in a statement.

Sources present that evening who asked not to be identified said Anderson appeared to be drunk and asked Roberson why the nurses never endorsed him. Around 8 p.m., witnesses allege Anderson approached her again, became upset and and loudly threatened to “bitch slap” Roberson on more than one occasion.

The Diplomat said a “male patron threatened to strike a female patron.”

“This threat was observed by restaurant staff who immediately intervened and escorted the male out without further incident,” said Patrick Harbison, a spokesman for The Diplomat, in a statement. He added that the restaurant is willing to participate in the investigation.

Anderson expressed remorse and suggested his words were interpreted incorrectly.

“I have the utmost respect for Stephanie and I sincerely regret my word choice that was not directed at her,” Anderson said in statement. “I welcome the Rules Committee investigation to clear up this misunderstanding.”

Lizelda Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, said the Senate does not comment on complaints or investigations as a practice.

Lawmaker and lobbyists were gathered at the restaurant on 11th and L streets for a fundraiser, where several guests were drinking, for Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena. Bradford said his fundraiser ended at 7 p.m., and he was not present during the incident.

The Legislature has been under scrutiny since more than 140 women signed an open letter last fall calling out “dehumanizing” behavior by powerful figures in state politics. Legislative leaders adopted a joint policy to address sexual harassment complaints after three state lawmakers resigned.

The leaders of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus said all lobbyists, staff members, legislators and Capitol visitors should be treated with respect.

“The allegations against Sen. Joel Anderson are deeply disturbing and warrant a full investigation,” said Assembywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, and Sen. Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino, in a joint statement. “Sexual harassment and threats of violence are never acceptable and those who engage in that type of behavior must be held accountable.”

Anderson was elected to the Senate in 2010 after serving in the Assembly for four years. He terms out of the upper house this year and won the primary election in June for a Board of Equalization seat that represents San Diego, Riverside, Orange and Imperial Counties.

The nurses said the association is exploring legal actions against Anderson.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect comments from the California Nurses Association, Sen. Steven Bradford, the California Legislative Women’s Caucus and witnesses to the alleged encounter.

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