SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CBSLA/AP) — California state Sen. Tony Mendoza resigned Thursday following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.
The immediate resignation, announced in a letter, came while the California Senate Thursday debated a resolution to expel the Los Angeles lawmaker. The highly unusual session came a day after Republicans and Democrats met separately in secret caucus meetings to decide the appropriate discipline for Mendoza (D-Artesia), who had previously said he planned to defend himself on the Senate floor.
“I refuse to participate any further in the farcical ‘investigation’ against me that ignores the Senate’s own rules, invests processes, criteria and standards as needed, ignores due process and constitutional rights to self-defense all for the purpose of playing to election year politicking,” Mendoza wrote in his letter.
The resignation came after Senate President Kevin De Leon’s introduced a resolution late Wednesday night that would impose the most serious punishment in the Senate’s arsenal, expulsion. Mendoza took aim at De Leon, is former roomate, in his letter.
“It is clear that Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon will not rest until he has my head on a platter to convince the MeToo movement of his ‘sincerity’ in supporting the MeToo cause,” Mendoza wrote.
“By forcing this outcome, this State Senate has sent a loud and unmistakable message that our employees will be protected, that we will lead by example, and that no one Senator is above the law or our code of conduct,” De Leon said in a statement.
De Leon and Mendoza are both Democrats from L.A. County who shared a home in Sacramento until last fall, when De Leon moved out when allegations against Mendoza became public. De Leon, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, will give up his leadership post next month.
Lawyers investigating complaints against Mendoza, who is 46 and married, found that he likely engaged in unwanted “flirtatious or sexually suggestive” behavior going back to 2006 with six women, including four subordinates, a lobbyist and a young woman in a fellowship with another lawmaker.
The Senate Rules Committee released a four-page summary of the independent investigation — conducted by a pair of private law firms — on Tuesday.
“Four of these women were working for Mendoza as staff members, interns or fellows at the time of his conduct,” according to the summary. “None of these women alleged that they had a sexual relationship with Mendoza or that he had been physically aggressive or sexually crude towards them.
“However, the recipients of this unwelcome behavior understood that Mendoza was suggesting sexual contact,” according to the report.
Several accusations against Mendoza first became public last fall in a report by the Sacramento Bee. Under pressure from other lawmakers, Mendoza took a leave of absence. The Senate Rules Committee suspended him in late January — days before he was set to return from leave — because the independent investigation had not yet concluded.
Mendoza sued for reinstatement last week alleging, among other arguments, that the suspension was unconstitutional.
In November, around the time the allegations against Mendoza surfaced, the committee announced new rules on how sexual assault allegations within the Legislature would be handled. The committee said it would no longer be handling the complaints itself, but instead would bring in an independent outside legal team to investigate.
The move came after the committee was accused of retaliating against whistle-blowers. A lawyer for a former Mendoza staffer says her client and two others were fired after they complained to the committee that Mendoza was acting inappropriately. The Rules Committee has denied the allegations.
The California Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to suspend a member, but the chamber voted last month to give the five-member Rules Committee the power to extend Mendoza’s leave of absence.
In a letter pleading his case to colleagues Wednesday, the Los Angeles-area Democrat said he was sorry if anyone was offended by his behavior but continued to deny wrongdoing.
The investigation, which was released Tuesday, found Mendoza “more likely than not” engaged in behavior such as offering a 19-year-old intern alcohol in a hotel suite at a Democratic Party event, suggesting a young woman in a Senate fellowship take a vacation with him and rent a room in his house, and asked several of the women about their dating lives.
Expelling or suspending Mendoza would have required a two-thirds vote — 27 of the 40 senators. He can be censured with 21 votes.
No senator has been expelled since 1905, and the Senate has suspended just three members — Leland Yee, Ron Calderon and Roderick Wright — all of them in 2014 when they faced criminal charges.
Mendoza repeated his complaint that the Senate has not followed its own process for disciplining lawmakers and that he hasn’t been allowed to read the full investigative report, including the evidence against him.
The summarized findings released late Tuesday “do not comport with my recollection or perception of the events described,” Mendoza wrote, but added: “I am immensely sorry if my words or actions ever made anyone feel uncomfortable.”
Mendoza’s letter specifically denied giving alcohol to an underage intern or inviting a young aide, who worked in his office through a California State University fellowship, to his house under the guise of reviewing resumes.
He did not directly address the investigation’s other findings.
Mendoza, who was chairman of the Insurance, Banking and Financial Institutions Committee until the allegations came to light last year, is the first member of the Senate to face punishment since the sexual misconduct scandal emerged last fall.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who represents a portion of the district Mendoza was elected to serve, took a voluntary leave after she was accused of groping. Two other Los Angeles-area Assembly Democrats — Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh — resigned their seats.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)