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Bad ending to a bad situation

The nasty fight over whether Rep. Carl Trujillo sexually harassed a Roundhouse lobbyist has come to an unsatisfactory end.

A legislative subcommittee recently dismissed the allegations against him after his accuser refused to testify. Trujillo says that means his name has been cleared.

Not exactly – what the public is left with is a muddle in which nobody looks good.

Trujillo lost his re-election bid for northern Santa Fe County’s House District 46 when he was beaten in the June Democratic primary. In May, lobbyist Laura Bonar of Animal Protection Voters had accused Trujillo of propositioning her, touching her inappropriately and retaliating when she rejected his advances.

Her allegations became one of the two main issues in the primary race. The other was the financial mess that took place when his newcomer opponent, Andrea Romero, was in charge of a coalition of local governments. Trujillo is a relatively conservative Democrat and Romero was favored by Santa Fe’s progressives.

Trujillo vehemently denied the sexual harassment accusations and said they were politically motivated lies. Several House Democrats said they believed Bonar’s account and called on Trujillo to resign.

His case eventually became a test for a revised anti-harassment policy that top-ranking New Mexico lawmakers adopted earlier this year as the #MeToo movement picked up steam.

An internal investigation conducted behind closed doors this summer found “sufficient credible evidence” to move forward with a formal charge against Trujillo on some of the allegations and start public hearings that could have resulted in discipline. The investigation did not find probable cause that Trujillo had retaliated against his accuser.

But the hearings, which were supposed to start earlier this week, were canceled after Bonar refused to testify under oath.

Part of her reasoning, according to her attorney, was concern that she might have to disclose the names of other women she had spoken with about sexual harassment incidents. “Laura’s primary interest in all this has been protecting victims of sexual harassment,” lawyer Levi Monagle said. “She wasn’t willing to out them to Mr. Trujillo’s attorneys.”

According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Wendy York, a special master in the case, said Bonar wouldn’t have been required to disclose confidential communications about others’ accusations about Trujillo.

Bonar also objected that Trujillo’s lawyers wanted records from any mental health providers for Bonar to determine if she had discussed her allegations with them. The special master asked that she be given the records and she would decide if anything would be provided to Trujillo’s legal team.

So what we’re left with is a he-said, she-said with no full public vetting of the case. At least in the congressional hearings over Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh – another case with sexual impropriety allegations – we got to hear from both sides in an open hearing (regardless of the disputed value of the quickie FBI investigation that followed the hearing).

The Trujillo controversy was costly for taxpayers – the Legislature paid $138,000 through October to contract attorneys who worked on the Trujillo case, and more bills may be outstanding. Trujillo says he’s launching an online fundraiser to help him pay more than $100,000 in attorney’s fees he racked up defending himself.

A final report by the eight-member House ethics subcommittee defended the Legislature’s authority to launch an investigation of one of its own members without a sworn complaint – Bonar posted a public letter in May with the allegations against Trujillo – but said the accused member has the right to cross-examine his accuser under oath.

That’s a problem here. Trujillo never got that chance.

It’s a difficult choice for any woman to come forward, and talk about the experience and pain of sexual abuse and harassment. Trujillo’s lawyers were clearly mounting an aggressive defense. The Legislature’s new process was supposed to be a step forward in dealing with such complaints against lawmakers. It didn’t work here. Maybe a problem was too many lawyers and not enough commitment from all sides to arrive at a reasonable exposition of the evidence.

This ending just doesn’t feel right.