If the end is near for Tony Mendoza‘s career in the California state Senate, he isn’t going quietly.
Facing the possibility of a floor vote to discipline him as early as Thursday, the Democrat from Artesia said in a letter to fellow senators Wednesday that investigators’ finding of “unwelcome flirtation and sexually suggestive behavior” toward staff members isn’t serious enough to warrant expulsion.
“Although I wholly regret that I previously caused others to feel uncomfortable, I believe that my suspension or expulsion from the Senate would be both unwarranted and unprecedented,” Mendoza wrote, noting that previous California Senate expulsions have been for criminal behavior.
Mendoza said voters in District 32 – which includes Montebello, Whittier, Pico Rivera, Downey and Norwalk – will have a chance soon enough pass judgment on him when he seeks a second four-year term in the June 5 primary.
A former Artesia city councilman and state assemblyman, Mendoza has been on leave from the Senate since Jan. 3, after The Sacramento Bee reported allegations that he made sexual advances toward young women working in his office and fired staff members who raised concerns about the behavior.
Mendoza intended to go back to work Feb. 1, but colleagues voted Jan. 25 to extend his leave for up to 60 days while an investigation by two law firms hired by the Senate continued.
That leaves his legislative district as one of four without representation because of Sacramento’s sexual harassment scandals, which have led to the resignations of Assemblymen Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh, both San Fernando Valley Democrats, and voluntary leave for Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat.
Last week, Mendoza took the unusual step of suing his fellow senators, claiming the investigation violated due process by denying him information about the allegations and standards for judging him and giving him little opportunity to defend himself.
Tuesday night, the Senate Rules Committee announced that the two-month investigation — including interviews with Mendoza and 46 other witnesses, and reviews of documents, emails and text messages — determined that Mendoza engaged in “a pattern of unwelcome flirtation and sexually suggestive behavior towards several female staff members and other women he interacted with at the capitol.” The findings included three previously unreported accusations.
Investigators found that dating back to 2007, when he was in the Assembly, Mendoza “more likely than not” asked a staffer to share a room with him at an event in Hawaii; drunk alcohol and talked suggestively with a 19-year-old intern at a Democratic state convention; repeatedly asked out a staffer and kissed her on the cheek while driving her to her house; invited a Senate fellow to visit him at home.
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The investigators also said none of the women said they had sexual relationships with Mendoza, that he was not “physically aggressive or sexually crude towards them,” and that he never “explicitly threatened them or offered career benefits in exchange for sexual favors.” But the woman who worked for Mendoza said they believed complaining about his advances “would put their careers at risk.”
After being warned in at least a couple of cases, including once by an Assembly human-resources representative, Mendoza changed his behavior toward the women, the investigators said.
In another finding that helps Mendoza, investigators found three Mendoza staff members were not, as they claimed, fired in retaliation for expressing concerns about sexual harassment.
Mendoza responded to the findings in a statement blasting the “unfair and secret” investigation that “violated my civil rights and due process.”
In his separate letter to Senate colleagues Wednesday, Mendoza noted that no California senator has been expelled since 1905 (when three members were tossed out for malfeasance in office).
After Leland Yee, Ron Calderon and Roderick Wright faced criminal charges in 2014 that led to convictions, none of the three was expelled from the Senate – but left office early in other ways.
The five-member Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, was to make a recommendation about Mendoza to the Senate’s Democratic and Republican caucuses. This could lead to the full Senate voting as early as Thursday to censure, suspend, expel or reinstate Mendoza. Expelling him would require a two-thirds vote; censure would require a majority.
The Senate Rules Committee said Mendoza would get a chance to speak on the Senate floor before a vote is taken.