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California's Legislature investigated 31 abuse complaints made over the past decade

John Myers, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- 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 Los Angeles 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 summaries 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 lead to discipline of a staffer and which ones lead 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 Los Angeles 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. 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.

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