California’s State Senate announced Sunday that the investigation into complaints and allegations of inappropriate behavior against state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) with a former female employee has been handed over to an outside, independent law firm.
“This process will be designed to protect the privacy of victims and whistleblowers, transparency for the public, and adequate due process for all parties involved,” members of California’s Senate Rules Committee said in a joint statement, according to KQED.
The decision was reportedly made after consulting with Democratic women in the State Senate. It will shift some control away from the Senate Rules Committee, which previously controlled the process.
“The people who work here and the public we serve must have complete confidence that no public official is above the law or our strict zero-tolerance harassment policies,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Those who violate these policies will be held to account — swiftly and justly.” De León — Mendoza’s weekday roommate, and a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2018 — reportedly added, “These reforms are about trust, about justice and about time and I thank my colleagues, especially our women’s caucus, for making them an urgent priority.”
The investigation announcement also arrived in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and days after a group of female leaders in California signed an open letter that sought to address an alleged culture of sexual harassment in the state Capitol.
Last week, allegations reportedly surfaced that Mendoza had behaved inappropriately toward Jennifer Kwart, 28, now a staffer in the state Assembly, when she was a 19-year-old intern at his Norwalk district office in 2008. Kwart told her story to the Sacramento Bee on Saturday. The Bee noted that a spokesperson for Mendoza called her allegations “completely false.” However, Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Kwart’s current supervisor, reportedly posted on Facebook that same day that he trusts “her completely” in telling the story.
Asked why she did not report her encounter with Mendoza in the Assembly nearly 10 years ago, Kwart reportedly said, “I was very young and naive. It was my first professional setting and I just didn’t know what to do at the time.”
According to the Sacramento Bee, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s press secretary Jonathan Underland said that he has left the house he shares with Mendoza.