Several state legislatures whose members are facing allegations of sexual misconduct similar to those brought against film industry moguls, TV news anchors, and politicians have launched official investigations with the help of outside law firms, including Jackson Lewis, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and Hogan Lovells.
Allegations of sexual misconduct have implicated state-level lawmakers in states across the U.S., including California, Florida, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. While numerous states, such as Illinois, have announced investigations and vowed to revisit their legislatures’ sexual harassment policies, some have gone further, tapping outside lawyers at big firms to come in and investigate.
One of the most recent outside law firm hires came in Massachusetts, where the state Senate’s committee on ethics hired Hogan Lovells to conduct an inquiry into whether Senate President Stanley Rosenberg violated the legislative body’s rules.
Rosenberg took heat in light of allegations that his husband, Bryon Hefner, sexually assaulted or harassed four men while also touting his political influence as Rosenberg’s spouse. Those allegations were first reported in November by the Boston Globe. Rosenberg stepped down from his leadership position in the state Senate and has since confirmed that he has separated from Hefner in light of the scandal. The Globe reported on Thursday that Rosenberg’s political allies see a path toward the politician returning to a high level of influence in the state government, although the paper noted that support is largely contingent on the results of the Hogan Lovells-led ethics probe.
The firm’s team includes partners Anthony Fuller and Jody Newman and counsel Natashia Tidwell, all of whom are based in the state’s capital, Boston, according to an announcement from Hogan Lovells in December.
“Getting to the truth of this matter is our highest priority,” Fuller said in the firm’s statement. “Hogan Lovells is committed to conducting a full, fair and independent investigation and we encourage any witnesses and potential victims to contact us as soon as possible.”
The Golden State’s capital of Sacramento has also not been immune to sexual misconduct allegations. There, the state Legislature has tapped Gibson Dunn, joined by Sacramento firm Van Dermyden Maddux, to investigate misconduct allegations made against Democratic state Sen. Tony Mendoza.
Mendoza, who has taken a leave of absence from his government position amid the investigation, has been accused of making inappropriate advances toward three female staff members in his offices over the past decade. He has denied wrongdoing.
The Gibson Dunn team investigating Mendoza is led by Benjamin Wagner, partner-in-charge of the firm’s Palo Alto office and a former federal prosecutor in California’s eastern district. A Gibson Dunn spokeswoman declined to comment.
Labor and employment firm Jackson Lewis, which a few years ago reportedly investigated an allegation of crass language used by a New Hampshire senator as part of an effort to update the legislative body’s sexual harassment policies, was tapped for an investigation into a single state senator in Florida.
That now-completed probe, which also generated work for GrayRobinson, aimed to look at allegations against Clearwater, Florida-based Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala. The accusations against him, which included unwanted touching, groping and inappropriate language, were first raised in a Politico Florida article that cited several unnamed staffers and lobbyists. Latvala denied the claims. In December, he submitted a resignation letter while still insisting on his innocence.
Initially, Florida’s state senate president, Joe Negron, asked the senate’s general counsel, Dawn Roberts, to look into the allegations against Latvala, but Roberts quickly recused herself amid criticism that she had ties to Latvala, according to local news reports. So Negron hired Jackson Lewis to conduct an independent investigation into Latvala, while the Senate, itself, also hired GrayRobinson to advise in light of Roberts’ recusal.
In November, the Miami Herald reported that the lead Jackson Lewis lawyer on the investigation, Tampa-based principal Gail Golman Holtzman, had signed a contract to charge $395 per hour for her work, while associate Matthew Klein would charge $320 per hour. GrayRobinson’s contract called for hourly rates of $600 for Miami-based shareholder Brian Bieber and $345 for shareholder Allison Mawhinney.
A Jackson Lewis spokeswoman said the firm couldn’t comment on its role beyond noting that its report after completing the investigation was made public by Florida’s legislative services office. The report, dated Dec. 20, drew from interviews with 54 witnesses, several who described what they viewed as inappropriate comments and unwanted touching by Latvala. But the report also noted that several witnesses reported no knowledge of any inappropriate behavior on Latvala’s part and that they had only seen the state lawmaker act in a respectful, professional fashion.