SANTA FE – Attorneys representing two of the women sued by former state Rep. Carl Trujillo fired back on Friday, a day after Trujillo filed a lawsuit accusing them of defamation and conspiracy.
“Frankly, it makes me think we need to have a stronger anti-SLAPP statute,” said Levi Monagle, the attorney for Laura Bonar, a lobbyist who last May went public with allegations that Trujillo had sexually harassed her during the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions.
SLAPP is an acronym for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation – a court action intended to silence or intimidate a critic that Monagle said is designed to have a chilling effect on free speech.
“That’s what this looks like to me,” he said.
Attorney Randi McGinn, who has been retained by Julianna Koob, another defendant in the lawsuit brought by Trujillo, had a similar take.
“I’m hoping this ‘hush’ lawsuit will have the opposite effect, i.e., to encourage other women who have experienced an abuse of power from Mr. Trujillo to come forward and stand with their sisters,” said McGinn in an email.
“I think this is the first time in New Mexico that a sore loser politician has sued people he blames for his defeat for activities that are protected political speech.”
Bonar, Koob, and Animal Protection Voters New Mexico’s Elisabeth Jennings and Jessica Johnson are defendants in Trujillo’s lawsuit.
Bonar was lobbying for Animal Protection Voters when she says she was harassed by Trujillo. Koob, a lobbyist with Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, is accused by Trujillo of organizing misleading anti-Trujillo calls to voters during his unsuccessful run for re-election last year.
Jennings, Animal Protection Voters’ executive director, told the Journal in an email Friday that the organization had yet to be served with the lawsuit and had no comment.
Trujillo accused the defendants of conspiring to try to force him to resign his District 46 seat or withdraw from last June’s Democratic primary election by promoting the sexual harassment allegations. He lost in the primary to political newcomer Andrea Romero, who also defeated a write-in candidate in the November general election to capture the northern Santa Fe County seat.
Trujillo staunchly denied the harassment allegations by Bonar. He claims in the lawsuit that Koob helped orchestrate the effort to oust him from his legislative seat.
McGinn suggested Trujillo was trying to bully the women.
“Bullies shouldn’t be allowed to use the legal system to silence women from reporting sexual misconduct,” she said.
Monagle called the lawsuit “completely spurious.”
“There’s no basis for this lawsuit, as far as I can tell. It looks to me he’s working out of Roy Moore’s playbook – that it’s an attempt to punish his accusers by filing a defamation suit,” he said, referring to the former U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama who sued four women who during his unsuccessful 2017 campaign accused Moore of inappropriate sexual activity years ago when they were still teenage girls.
“Mr. Moore’s lawsuit didn’t go anywhere and I don’t think this one will either,” Monagle said.
Bonar’s allegations put into play the state Legislature’s new anti-harassment policy for the first time. An interim ethics panel found two of Bonar’s five allegations against Trujillo to be credible. But the case came to an end after Bonar declined to testify before the ethics panel, saying she wanted to protect other women who could be dragged into the case and her own privacy.
Trujillo claims in his lawsuit that Bonar refused to give testimony because she didn’t want to perjure herself.