Senate to begin interviewing law firms to probe sexual harassment

A California Senate panel charged with hiring a legal firm to investigate sexual harassment allegations will interview lawyers for the job in closed door meetings beginning Monday.

“The panel will have broad discretion, and we anticipate this process will produce a highly-qualified firm of statewide stature that is among the best in its profession, expert in the field of workplace harassment, and completely independent from this Senate,” said Senate President Kevin de León’s office in a statement on Friday.

De León’s staff said the panel will ultimately determine the criteria for the law firm and previously said it “should have no prior existing professional or political relationship with the State Senate or individual Senators.”

There is no specific timeline for the panel, but the pro tem’s office had said it hoped a firm would be selected by mid-December. De León is not on the panel.

The pro tem’s office said the firm will be paid with “existing funds” likely through a one- or two-year contract. The pro tem’s office did not answer a question about the source of the existing funds.

De León announced changes to the Senate’s process for investigating sexual harassment three weeks ago in response to misconduct allegations against Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia.

Allegations from Senate employees were previously directed to staff members of the Senate Rules Committee. Workers for the committee were also tasked with leading subsequent investigations, although the upper house has declined to provide details about its policy for conducting probes.

De León and the Rules Committee said an outside firm would handle all allegations and investigations going forward. Until the firm is selected, which is expected by mid-December, the Senate has directed all initial complaints to Amy Oppenheimer, an employment law attorney previously hired to investigate allegations raised in the “We Said Enough” letter signed by women in the Capitol community.

Shortly after The Bee published a story about the Assembly establishing a confidential hotline for victims to report harassment last week, the pro tem’s office said it set up a hotline as well. The pro tem’s office provided a memo that Secretary of the Senate Daniel Alvarez sent Senate staff members that included Oppenheimer’s email and cellphone number.

De León’s office previously said the pro tem worked in coordination with the Women’s Caucus and Senate Rules Committee to select a six-member panel to interview firms. Democratic Sens. Toni Atkins, Connie Leyva and Bill Monning will serve on the panel alongside Republican Senate Leader Patricia Bates. Lobbyist Christy Bouma, Legislative Counsel of California Diane Boyer Vine and Secretary of the Senate Daniel Alvarez were also appointed to the panel.

Welcome to the AM Alert, your morning rundown on California policy and politics. To receive it regularly, please sign up here.

WORTH REPEATING: “This shows a Trump associate negotiating with the Russians against U.S. policy and interests before Donald Trump took office and after it was announced that Russia had interfered in our election.” – Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Michael Flynn’s guilty plea

AFTER THE FIRES: The California Legislature is holding the first of two hearings related to wildfires that devastated wine country and other parts of the state in October. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, will lead a hearing Monday to probe the performance of the state’s emergency warning systems. The hearing, which begins at 1:30 p.m. in room 4202 of the State Capitol, will include testimony from the Department of Forestry & Fire Protection, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and supervisors in Napa and Lake Counties.

FAKE NEWS: The Sacramento Press Club is hosting its holiday mixer Monday night at the Stanley Mosk Library and Courts Building on Capitol Mall. At $12 for press club members and $15 for others, the group promises to deliver holiday cheer with light hors d’oeuvres and a panel discussion on “the decline of the country’s major dailies as the traditional arbiter of valid news,” featuring Dan Morain of The Sacramento Bee, emeritus Sacramento State communications professor Barbara O’Connor and Tom Chorneau, a former Capitol reporter and editor of Cabinet Report. The party begins at 5:30 p.m.

CELEBRATE: Happy birthday to Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk, who turns 81 today.

Go to Source