Capitol Alert

Questions about Senate probe remain unanswered as Mendoza sanctions expected

Then-Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, looks at the vote tally on the Assembly floor on Thursday February 11, 2010. Mendoza, now a state senator, faces misconduct allegations from three different women who worked in his legislative offices.
Then-Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, looks at the vote tally on the Assembly floor on Thursday February 11, 2010. Mendoza, now a state senator, faces misconduct allegations from three different women who worked in his legislative offices. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The Senate Rules Committee will hold an emergency session today to take away Sen. Tony Mendoza’s leadership positions at the request of Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León.

The pro tem, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, requested the five-member panel sanction Mendoza, D-Artesia, in response to misconduct allegations involving three different women who worked in the legislator’s Senate and Assembly offices, which were reported by The Bee. The meeting is not open to the public.

All three Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee – de León, Sen. Toni Atkins and Sen. Connie Leyva – have said they will vote to remove Mendoza as chair of the powerful Insurance, Banking and Financial Institutions Committee and take away his appointments on other boards and commissions as the allegations are investigated.

The scope of an internal investigation into the allegations involving a Senate fellow working in Mendoza’s office this year remains unclear.

Secretary of the Senate Danny Alvarez previously said employees of the Senate Rules Committee had “rigorously reviewed and investigated” the allegations since Sept. 22. The pro tem’s office described the investigation as ongoing in a statement.

Yet de León and Alvarez did not respond to requests for information about the Senate’s step-by-step policy for investigating allegations or details about how they investigated Mendoza. Alvarez has not responded to calls or emails from The Bee. De León has not granted a request for an interview.

De León and his spokesmen have repeatedly said that he was not aware of allegations against Mendoza, at the time his roommate in Sacramento, until The Bee contacted his office in early November.

Many have questioned how the leader of the California Senate and head of the committee that has been investigating Mendoza’s behavior for over a month was unaware of the allegations. It’s one of the few questions Alvarez made an effort to clarify in a statement.

Alvarez said “our process has been to conduct a thorough but internal investigation into complaints before reporting them to Rules Committee” according to the statement. “In this case, we had not yet completed our investigation which began September 22, so Rules Committee members had yet to be notified,” he said.

According to Mendoza, who has called the allegations “unsubstantiated,” the investigation had yet to include getting his side of the story. In a statement of his own, he said he had no knowledge of any allegation against him and criticized the Senate’s process for investigating allegations as “opaque and unjust.” Mendoza said the Rules Committee directed him to refer all inquiries from media to its staff, without providing him with any information about the allegation.

The allegation involving the Senate fellow prompted the Rules Committee on Nov. 12 to change its policy for investigating complaints and take away much of the role of committee employees in the process.

Now all sexual harassment, abuse and assault allegations will be directed to an outside law firm, instead of the Rules Committee employees. The outside firm will investigate claims and publicly report findings, with some names and details redacted.

A spokesmen for de León said the pro tem worked with the Senate Rules Committee and Senate Democratic Women’s Caucus to select a seven-person panel charged with hiring a law firm.

The panel includes Alvarez, Democratic Sens. Leyva, Atkins and Bill Monning; Republican Sen. Patricia Bates; Diane Boyer Vine, Legislative Counsel of California; and Christy Bouma, president of the Institute of Governmental Advocates, the association representing registered lobbyists.

De León said interviews with law firms will begin this week, and he expects a final decision to be made by mid-December.

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Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna

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