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Investigators move sexual harassment case against legislator forward

State Rep. Carl Trujillo

State Rep. Carl Trujillo

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – An internal investigation into allegations that state Rep. Carl Trujillo sexually harassed a lobbyist in 2014 found “sufficient credible evidence” to move forward with a formal charge against the Democratic lawmaker and start public hearings that could result in discipline.

In a report published Saturday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers found “probable cause” that Trujillo’s conduct toward a lobbyist – on two occasions in 2014 – had violated the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy.

However, they found no probable cause that Trujillo had retaliated against the lobbyist.

Trujillo, in any case, lost his re-election bid in last month’s Democratic primary and is set to leave office at the end of the year.

He has repeatedly described the allegations as politically motivated lies, timed to hurt his campaign.

Travis Jackson, an attorney representing Trujillo, said the investigation itself was “fundamentally unfair from the outset” and designed to arrive at a predetermined outcome.

“The goal is not to find the truth, but rather to set an example,” Jackson said of the investigation. “While it is right to protect against genuine sexual harassment, here, this new legislative anti-harassment policy is being used as a political weapon to destroy the reputation and career of a good man for political reasons and political gain.”

Laura Bonar

Laura Bonar

The investigation centered on allegations levied by Laura Bonar of Animal Protection Voters. In a public letter released in May, Bonar accused Trujillo of propositioning her, touching her inappropriately and retaliating when she rejected his advances.

She called on him to resign.

Trujillo, a business owner and scientist from Nambé, vigorously disputed the allegations and accused the internal House panel conducting the investigation of failing to follow legislative rules and policy.

Nevertheless, the House panel – with help from two attorneys hired as special counsel, Thomas Hnasko and Theresa Parrish – said it found enough evidence to proceed with a formal charge and ethics hearings on two specific accusations:

• An encounter Jan. 28, 2014, in a House committee hearing. Bonar reported that Trujillo made a suggestive comment to her when she asked whether she could sit in an open seat next to him.

Bonar said Trujillo leaned close and responded quietly, “You can sit next to me anytime, Laura, at dinner, by the fire, in the pool.”

She said she could feel his breath on her neck and that he touched her thigh. Investigators found probable cause to support the allegation of verbal harassment, but no probable cause that he touched her thigh.

• An incident Feb. 5, 2014, in a hallway outside the House chambers. Bonar accused Trujillo of grabbing her arm, pulling her close and asking when they could meet.

In both cases, the investigation found “sufficient credible evidence” that Trujillo had violated the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy “by interfering with Ms. Bonar’s work and creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”

Jackson, Trujillo’s attorney, said the two remaining claims are “false and slanderous.”

“The investigation against Rep. Trujillo was both politically motivated and fundamentally unfair from the outset,” Jackson said. “No formal complaint was ever filed. The lawyers hired to act as investigators are not independent, and withheld the basic facts of the complaint and the identities of witnesses – all while taking the incredible position that an elected representative accused of misconduct has no due process rights.”

The investigation, meanwhile, rejected the allegation that Trujillo had retaliated against Bonar. Instead, the panel’s report found evidence that Trujillo continued working to find state funding for spay-neuter services for pets and worked with Animal Protection Voters on other animal issues.

The ethics subcommittee, composed of two Democrats and two Republicans, adopted its findings and recommendations Friday. Signing the resolution were Republican Reps. Cathrynn Brown of Carlsbad and Kelly Fajardo of Belen and Democratic Reps. Joanne Ferrary of Las Cruces and Javier Martinez of Albuquerque.

Their probable cause finding, after weeks of closed-door investigatory hearings, triggers a new phase – open hearings on the remaining allegations to be held by an eight-member House hearing committee.

That committee, after holding its hearings, could then recommend disciplinary action against Trujillo to the full Legislative Ethics Committee. But it would be up to the full 70-member House to ultimately vote on reprimand, censure or expulsion from the body.

And that appears unlikely to happen, because the full Legislature isn’t scheduled to reconvene in Santa Fe until January 2019.

Trujillo was defeated in the primary election by fellow Democrat Andrea Romero of Santa Fe.

Top-ranking lawmakers adopted a revised anti-harassment policy this year, just ahead of the 30-day session. It came after allegations of sexual harassment shook up capitols across the country, including the Roundhouse in New Mexico, amid the #MeToo movement.

Trujillo is the first lawmaker to face a formal investigation under the new policy.

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