The Sacramento firm Downey Brand sued the California Senate on Thursday on behalf of a lawmaker forced to take a leave of absence after three women accused him of sexual harassment.
Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, and a constituent, Roger Bagne, contend the senator’s temporary ban leaves residents of the 32nd Senate District without representation. Mendoza is also questioning the process used to investigate and suspend him, and he has asked a judge to allow him to return to the Legislature.
The suit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, accused the senate and its rules committee of “conducting a secret and apparently unbounded investigation into the last decade of Senator Tony Mendoza’s career without notice specifying the charges against him, the scope of the investigation, or the standards against which his conduct will be judged.”
Mendoza is represented by Downey Brand partner Cassandra Ferrannini.
The Senate Rules Committee voted in January to keep Mendoza out of Legislature for up to 60 days while a legal team led by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher investigated claims that Mendoza acted inappropriately toward three former employees. Mendoza has denied all the allegations and accused Senate leaders of treating him worse than other legislators facing accusations.
“This Kafkaesque process is the Senate’s response to the #MeToo movement. It is an unconstitutional sleight-of-hand where attacks on one Senator are used to hide other more serious allegations and offenders from public view,” Ferrannini wrote in the complaint. “This misdirection gives the appearance that the Senate and its leadership are taking action by treating relatively minor allegations harshly and with zero tolerance.”
Ferrannini said the Mendoza investigation “is predicated on allegations that Defendants already formally examined, investigated, and then dismissed in 2017.”
Mendoza has also asked the court to toss out Proposition 50, the 2016 voter-approved initiative that suspends the pay and benefits of lawmakers suspended by two-thirds of their individual house’s members. Mendoza was not suspended under that constitutional provision; the rules committee acted alone. But Mendoza argues a pending Republican resolution to oust him under Proposition 50 would violate his due process rights.
The complaint is posted in full below: