Representative Carl Trujillo
BY MAIRE O”NEILL
Sexual harassment charges against three-term New Mexico state Rep. Carl Trujillo have been dismissed by the Hearing Subcommittee of the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee.
The charges originated in allegations by Laura Bonar, who was a lobbyist for Animal Protection Voters when she accused Trujillo of inappropriately touching and propositioning her when she worked with him on legislation in 2013 and 2014.
The preliminary dismissal was signed by co-chairs Rep. D. Wonda Johnson and Rep. Gail Armstrong and indicates that the charges are being dismissed “upon recommendation of the Special Counsel”. It states that all deadlines are suspended and the hearing scheduled for Dec. 3-4 is canceled. It states that the Hearing Subcommittee will issue a Final Order with reasons for and the effect of the dismissal after further consideration.
Trujillo told the Los Alamos Reporter Wednesday evening that he is thankful the Committee issued its preliminary order.
“I reserve further comment until the final order is issued on Dec. 3,” he said.
Bonar shared online an open letter to Trujillo last May accusing him of sexual harassment, asking him to resign from office and to end his election campaign. Trujillo has adamantly denied the accusations since they were first made public. Trujillo lost the Democratic primary election to Andrea Romero who defeated write-in candidate Heather Nordquist in the general election.
The allegations were investigated by Speaker of the House Brian Egolf in conjunction with majority and minority caucus leaders and outside counsel who determined that the allegations In Bonar’s letter merited a referral to the Interim Legislative Ethics Commission for investigation. A determination of probable cause was issued July 27 and a two-day formal hearing was set for Dec. 3-4 at the State Capitol.
Two of Bonar’s allegations were retained by the Committee and others were dismissed. One allegation was that on Jan. 28, 2014, Bonar asked to sit next to Trujillo at a hearing before the House Consumer and Public Affairs Commission and that he allegedly responded, “You can sit next to me anytime, Laura. At dinner, by the fire, in the pool”. The second allegation was that on Feb. 5, 2014, Trujillo “pulled” Bonar aside in the corridor outside the House Chamber and asked her, “When can we meet?”
Trujillo has fought the allegations and since July has sought discovery and the right to depose Bonar. He has complained that Thomas Hnasko and Theresa Parrish, attorneys appointed to independently investigate the complaint made by Bonar were later appointed to advocate for her as the charging party which he considers a serious conflict of interest. Through his attorney, Travis Jackson, he asked for an independent hearing officer suggesting that retired District Court judges be considered, claiming that the same counsel should not be performing the investigations, prosecution and assisting the Committee.
In his motion to dismiss, Trujillo said by publicizing an open letter to the media, Bonar “knowingly and intentionally violated the rules intended to protect legislators from abuse of the Anti-Harassment Policy for political purposes”.
Trujillo complained that the Anti-Harassment Policy was adopted Jan. 15, that Bonar alleges she was harassed in 2013-2014 and that the Committee can’t fairly apply a 2018 policy to conduct that allegedly happened four or five years before the policy even existed. He claimed the new policy “being used to punish alleged past behavior is unlawful and unfair”.
In the response to the motion to dismiss, the Special Counsel pointed out that the Anti-Harassment Policy “did not make sexual harassment repugnant and unethical for the first time”. The response said the No Harassment Policy was enacted in 2008 forbidding sexual harassment and defining verbal sexual harassment.
Trujillo claimed that his ability to defend himself was materially impaired by Bonar’s significant delay in making the sexual harassment complaint, that if she had raised the issues in 2013-2014 at the time she claimed the harassment had happened, he could have “better sought and secured witnesses and evidence to contradict her story”. He said federal and state law require a complaint to be formally filed within a year or the complaint is forever barred. Special Counsel responded that there is no statute of limitations under the Legislature’s process, and that the process is not a civil lawsuit but an ethics investigation “for the sake of maintain the integrity of the chamber”.
Trujillo’s motion criticized Bonar for disseminating her allegations by an open letter saying she did not follow the procedure mandated under the statute authorizing the investigation of legislators which he said requires that complaints are verified under oath and are to remain confidential until there is a finding of probable cause.
The Special Counsel’s response was that if an investigation could only be opened with a sworn statement, it would be “contrary to the independent duty all members of the Legislature have to police the conduct of their colleagues”.
Trujillo also pointed out that Special Counsel investigating Bonar’s claims did not disclose the specific allegations made by Bonar until July, two months after she published her open letter and that he had no idea what specific charges she had made against him. He said Bonar was not supposed to disclose information about the complaint including the identity of the complainant or the respondent until a finding of probable cause had been made that a violation had occurred. On May 8, he said the Legislative Council Service immediately issued a press release. He said the allegations should be dismissed because the proceeding “has never been or did Ms Bonar ever intend it to be held confidential as required by law”.
The Special Counsel motion said the press release in the investigation was only issued after multiple media outlets reported in the substance of Bonar’s allegations. He said it was Bonar who chose to make her allegations public which is beyond the control of the Committee or Special Counsel.
Trujillo earlier requested subpoena power which he said would have prevented Bonar from refusing to appear for deposition and refusing to produce relevant records. He complained that she waited until the Friday afternoon before a Monday morning deposition to raise any objection. He claims Bonar has disqualified herself as a witness because of her failure to appear for a deposition or timely respond to or cooperate with written discovery.
“Bonar should not be allowed to level serious accusations like this and then evade being cross-examined under oath about them,” his motion said.
His motion said the ultimate question is whether Trujillo engaged in sexual harassment that was sufficiently severe and pervasive to constitute a hostile work environment.
On Nov. 9, just days after the general election, Bonar wrote to Special Counsel saying that she had made a very public accusation against Trujillo May 2 to stand up for herself after years of feeling powerless and “to protect other women at the Legislature experiencing the same harassment” she experienced.
“As things stand, I believe that I have achieved both of those objectives,” the letter states.
Bonar said the report adopted by the Investigation Subcommittee July 27 was “fact-oriented”.
“While I do not agree with every conclusion drawn in that report, it is the end result of a meticulous process, the collection of evidence from both sides, the weighing of evidence from both sides, and the drawing of conclusions based on the assessed weight of evidence all by experiences legal professionals. Based on the assessed weight of evidence the report – which is analytical rather than personal or political – found probable cause that Mr. Trujillo violated our Legislature’s anti-harassment policy on multiple occasions,” Bonar said.
She said the truth of her account has been corroborated by multiple credible witnesses with nothing to gain and a great deal to lose by standing with her.
“Furthermore I was not the only woman to accuse Mr. Trujillo of sexual harassment; at least two other women have accused Mr. Trujillo of sexual harassment as well. That they felt compelled to do so anonymously is a testament to the intense public pressure, scrutiny and attempts at humiliation and attack that women face in these circumstances for telling the truth,” Bonar said. “Perhaps one day these other women who have accused Mr. Trujillo will feel that it is safe for them to tell their story publicly as I have done but that is entirely up to them. I respect them and stand with them no matter what.”
Bonar said Trujillo has made it clear from the outset that he wants all the names of the women who contacted her regarding the allegations she made on Feb. 2.
“I have refused to divulge the names of these women or any other victims of sexual harassment knowing in my heart that it was not my place to do so. Now after months of fighting to protect those names I have been ordered to disclose them and to submit to a deposition where I am forced to disclose the contents of conversations of the most personal and painful nature, conversations that were unfolded in strictest confidence due to fear of retaliation that I believe to be well-justified,” she said. “To disclose those names and to submit to such a deposition would inevitably require me either to violate my commitment to women who had placed their trust in me or to perjure myself. I refuse to do either. To betray the trust between women – the trust these women placed in me – and to expose them to the attacks that I have experienced from Mr. Trujillo supporters inside and outside of this process would be an unacceptable violation of my own personal integrity.”
Bonar said knowing the approach that Trujillo has taken with his discovery and the approach he intends to take with my deposition, she respectfully declines to produce the required documents or to be deposed by Trujillo’s attorneys.
“If the Special Master’s discovery is revisited, I may reconsider this position but as things stand, I cannot move forward,” she said. “If this means that this process must end then so be it.”
Bonar told Hnasko and Parrish that she appreciates the manner in which they approached their task.
“Moving forward I believe that the utilization of trauma-informed Special Counsel should play a major part in legislative investigations under any anti-harassment policies that the Legislature may formulate or reformulate. I cannot violate the trust of other victims; my integrity and the safety, security and privacy of victims takes precedence,” she said.