BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Former House District 46 Rep. Carl Trujillo has filed a defamation and civil conspiract suit in the Second Judicial District Court against Laura Bonar, Elisabeth Jennings, Jessica Johnson and Julianna Koob as well as Animal Protection Voters and Animal Protection of New Mexico alleging the publication and dissemination of disparaging and defamatory statements about him prior to the June primary election. Trujillo is seeking damages for harm caused to his reputation and family by those statements.
The suit maintains that from 2013 through the end of 2018, APVNM, Bonar, Jennings, and/or Johnson supported Trujillo’s efforts in pushing “animal-related” legislation, contributed to his campaigns, and praised him online. It states that Jennings testified that on January 2, 2018, before the 2018 legislative session started, that Bonar reported to Jennings that Trujillo had sexually harassed her.
“Rather than report to APVNM Human Resources Director, Daniel Abram, what Bonar had told her on January 2, 2018, Jennings testified that she made herself a note to speak with Planned Parenthood/ACLU lobbyist, Koob. Despite this report by Bonar on January 2, 2018, Jennings did not ask Bonar for the details or severity of the alleged harassment, and she carried on working with Trujillo through the 2018 session. Jennings testified that she made a note to talk to Planned Parenthood/ACLU lobbyist, Koob about the alleged sexual harassment, because she perceived Koob to be an expert in that area, and she could not explain why she did not simply address the alleged issue to her internal Human Resources Director,” the suit says.
Trujillo alleges he called Johnson on January 22, 2018 to ask if she had heard any rumors of people looking to help his opposition and she told him that she had been in a meeting, not as an invited guest, but because her husband, Ben Shelton (NM Legislative Director for Conservation Voters of NM) was there. Trujillo alleges she told him there were a few other lobbyists present, but she wouldn’t give him their names. He claims Johnson told him they were discussing how they would take Trujillo out in the primary election and that she also told him that when they left the meeting, she told her husband that Trujillo was “her representative,” that Trujillo had always fought hard for her legislative issues (animal protection), and that they would be on separate sides when it came to Trujillo’s reelection. Trujillo alleges Johnson warned him to be careful because “they” were getting very organized.
“At some point, (Trujillo) asked Johnson whether Koob was present at the meeting regarding strategizing to remove Trujillo from his seat, and Johnson would not say but she nodded her head in the affirmative. Upon information and belief, Koob was present at the meeting with Ben Shelton, Johnson, and others regarding how to help Trujillo’s opposition defeat him and remove him from his seat,” the suit states. It alleges Jennings testified that she ran into Koob at the Roundhouse on January 25, 2018 and introduced herself to Koob. It claims Jennings and Johnson worked with Trujillo in 2018 session on HB64 (Pet Food Fee for Animal Programs), were in constant contact with him throughout 2018 and wrote an editorial on the bill and asked him to submit it under his name which was printed in the Albuquerque Journal.
“As of January 25, 2018, Jennings had still not told the APVNM Human Resources Director, Daniel Abram, about the alleged sexual harassment; however, she told Koob about Bonar’s allegations. Nearly a month later, on February 27, 2018, Jennings testified that she asked (Abram), to contact insurance provider Poms & Associates. Daniel Abram spoke to Poms & Associates a few days later on March 2, 2018,” the suit states. “Poms & Associates did not advise that they go outside their organization. Poms & Associates suggested Jennings speak to Trujillo regarding the allegations disclosed to APVNM. Daniel Abram testified it was Jennings’s and Bonar’s decision to seek Koob.”
“Nearly three months after initially reporting sexual harassment to Jennings; and, after Jennings spoke with Koob; and, after the meeting among various lobbyists regarding taking Trujillo out of his seat; on March 16, 2018, Bonar reported her specific allegations of sexual harassment from 2013 and 2014 to (Abram) and Jennings. That same day, on or about March 16, 2018, Jennings texted Trujillo: ‘Would April 18th work for an event?’ Trujillo responded ‘yes’, and Jennings said ‘Please pencil that in at our office in Santa Fe. We’ll be in touch’, and Trujillo responded: ‘Great, thank you’. On March 19, 2018, Jennings met with Bonar and Koob regarding Bonar’s allegations. Also, on March 19, 2018, Jennings texted Trujillo: ‘Rep Trujillo I’m sorry but we’re going to have to cancel the April 18th fundraiser. (Johnson) is off until mid- April and we’ll be working on endorsements once she gets back so we’ll be in touch after then. Thank you for understanding. Lisa’,” the suit states.
The suit alleges Jennings lied to Trujillo regarding why she was cancelling the APVNM event for him. On April 9, 2018, it says Trujillo texted Jennings asking for a mailing address, and sent a second text later asking if APVNM was still willing to help with a campaign contribution. On April 11, 2018 it says Jennings texted Trujillo that APVNM was still reviewing endorsements, and would get back to him within about two weeks. On April 27, 2018, it states Trujillo followed up with Jennings regarding the discussed campaign contribution and that at no point from January 1, 2018 to May 1, 2018, did any of those named in the suit notify Trujillo that Bonar had any issues or allegations against him.
“Jennings and Daniel Abrams knew days before Bonar was going to release the “open letter”. On May 2, 2018, Bonar submitted an ‘open letter’ to Trujillo via a public website, BravaNM, and emailed the ‘open letter’ to numerous local, national and TV media outlets, which included: The Santa Fe New Mexican, the Santa Fe Reporter, New Mexico Political Report, Los Alamos Monitor, Los Alamos Daily Post, Albuquerque Journal North, Valley Daily Post, Taos News, Gallup Independent, Weekly Alibi, the Associated Press, KOB, KOAT, KRQE, and KUNM. Most of the media outlets listed above are widely circulated in the media market encompassing Trujillo’s legislative district,” the suit states. “Bonar referenced the new Anti-Harassment Policy enacted January 15, 2018, by the New Mexico Legislature, in her ‘open letter’. The new Anti-Harassment Policy and NMSA § 2-15-9 require confidentiality to be kept when making an allegation. On May 2, 2018, APVNM posted Bonar’s ‘open letter’ to their Facebook page, which has more than three thousand followers. In the APVNM Facebook post, they made a public request for Trujillo’s resignation and withdrawal from the race.”
The suit states that Bonar’s “open letter” and APVNM’s Facebook post were released about one month before the primary election, in which Trujillo was seeking re-election and that both demanded that he resign and end his campaign. Its states that Bonar’s letter alleged among other things that Trujillo, “propositioned her,” touched her “inappropriately,” and “held Trujillo’s power as a state legislator over her head, making it clear to her that her passion for her cause would get where unless she demonstrated passion for him.” It states that Bonar’s letter “did not contain specific details regarding when she was propositioned or touched, where she was propositioned or touched, or the circumstances around each alleged proposition or touch.” It says Bonar’s letter did not state on which specific legislation she alleged that Trujillo held his power over her.
“All of the allegations in Bonar’s ‘open letter’ and APVNM’s Facebook post are false and defamatory. (Trujillo) never propositioned Bonar. (Trujillo) never inappropriately touched Bonar. (Trujillo) never held legislation or power over Bonar’s head. Bonar and (Trujillo) had only met on one or two occasions and barely knew one another. The vast majority of APVNM’s work with (Trujillo) was between (Trujillo) and Jennings, not Bonar. (Trujillo) did not sexually harass Bonar. At the time Bonar issued her “open letter” she was employed as a lobbyist by APVNM. Bonar was acting in the course and scope of her employment when the statements in her ‘open letter’ were made, and APVNM are vicariously liable for Bonar’s actions. Bonar gave her ‘open letter’ to APVNM prior to issuing it. On or about May 3, 2018, Johnson, published a letter to numerous media outlets in (Trujillo’s) legislative district, stating that (Trujillo) stopped work and refused to communicate with any APVNM staff on 2014 legislation in retaliation for Bonar rejecting (Trujillo’s) advances. Johnson also claimed that Bonar disclosed sexual harassment to her in 2015,” the suit states.
The suit claims Trujillo never stopped communication with Johnson or APVNM regarding 2014 legislation or any legislation, that Johnson did not work for APVNM or live in New Mexico in 2014, that Trujillo never sexually harassed Bonar and that the statements in Johnson’s letter were demonstrably false and defamatory. It says that at the time Johnson issued her letter, she was employed by APVNM, was acting in the course and scope of her employment when the statements in her letter were made and that APVNM are vicariously liable for Johnson’s actions.
“On or about May 4, 2018, Jennings…… published a letter to numerous media outlets in (Trujillo’s) legislative district, stating that (Trujillo) stopped work on HB20 (2014) Spay Neuter Pilot Program, an appropriations bill, in retaliation for Bonar rejecting his advances, including that Jennings unilaterally went to Senator Martinez for help, and that (Trujillo) stopped returning Jennings phone calls and emails. (Trujillo) never received a phone call from Jennings or Bonar in 2014 Legislative Session. (Trujillo) never stopped communication with Jennings or APVNM regarding HB20 (2014) or any other legislation,” the suit says. “(Trujillo) proved through emails that Jennings thanked him for all of his work on HB20 (2014), and that (Trujillo) did not stop work on the pilot project or hold the legislation over any of the Defendants’ heads. The statements in Jennings’ letter were demonstrably false and defamatory. At the time Jennings issued her letter, she was employed as the Executive Director of APVNM. Jennings was acting in the course and scope of her employment when the statements in her letter were made, and APVNM are vicariously liable for Jennings’ actions.”
On May 8, 2018, the suit alleges that Bonar, through her attorney Levi Monagle, sent her “open letter” to the New Mexico Legislative Council Service requesting that it be considered a complaint pursuant to the Legislature’s Anti-Harassment Policy and that Bonar again courtesy copied numerous media outlets in Trujillo’s legislative district, despite the fact that such “complaints” are supposed to be made confidentially.
“On May 10, 2018, (Trujillo) took and passed a polygraph examination regarding Bonar’s allegations in her ‘open letter’. Beginning on or about May 18, 2018, Planned Parenthood arranged hundreds of live phone calls for two days in (Trujillo’s) legislative district accusing him of refusing to cooperate with the pending sexual harassment investigation of him. Planned Parenthood phone calls asked recipient of phone call to place their name on petition to ask (Trujillo) to resign from office and not seek reelection. Koob helped arrange these phone calls. Koob’s live calls were false and defamatory. On May 26, 2018, APVNM emailed Bonar’s “open letter” to its email list that consists of several thousands of individuals, state-wide. APVNM’s May 26, 2018, email urged a ‘NO vote’ against (Trujillo) because of his ‘past sexual harassment’ of APVNM staff, and because he retaliated by dropping work on 2014 animal related legislation. APVNM’s May 26, 2018, email was false and defamatory,” the suit states.
The suit says that on June 5, 2018, the day of the primary election, APVNM emailed its list that consists of several thousands of individuals, state-wide, and urged a “NO vote” against Trujillo because of his “past sexual harassment” of APVNM staff, and because he retaliated by dropping work on 2014 animal related legislation. It says that email was false and defamatory. It says there were more than 25 news stories between the date of Bonar’s letter and the primary election, that Trujillo lost that election and that there were several more news reports that he lost because of Bonar and APVNM’s allegations.
“On June 7, 2018, in Bonar’s investigative interview, she gave specifics to her allegations to the investigating attorney: a. On March 8, 2013, Bonar alleged that (Trujillo) said: ‘we should have dinner sometime;’ b. On January 28, 2014, Bonar alleged that (Trujillo) stated something to the effect of: ‘you can sit next to me anytime, Laura. At dinner, by the fire, in the pool’; c. On January 28, 2014, Bonar alleged that (Trujillo) touched her thigh; d. On February 5, 2014, Bonar alleged that (Trujillo) pulled her close to him, pressed her up against the wall and stated, ‘When are we meeting?’; and, e. In general, (Trujillo) retaliated against Bonar and APVNM after Bonar allegedly rejected (Trujillo),” the suit states. “All of the statements that Bonar made to the investigating attorney are false and defamatory. At the time Bonar made false statements to the investigating attorney, she was employed as a lobbyist by APVNM. Bonar was acting in the course and scope of her employment when the statements in her investigatory interview were made, and APVNM are vicariously liable for Bonar’s actions.”
On July 2, 2018, the suit states thatTrujillo was finally informed of the more specific allegations made during the investigative interview. It says Bonar did not immediately inform her employer of the alleged sexual harassment after it allegedly occurred back in 2013 and 2014 and did not inform an APVNM employee of the alleged harassment for at least 15 months after the 2014 occurrences, that she did not inform APVNM management of the alleged 2014 occurrences until more than four and a half years later. It states that APVNM waited almost three months to take any action on Bonar’s initial report of sexual harassment, and only took action after speaking with Planned Parenthood/ACLU lobbyist Koob, and after a meeting amongst lobbyists regarding how to remove Trujillo from his legislative seat.
After Bonar’s letter was issued to the press and the Legislative Council on May 8, 2018, the suit says the Legislative Council began an ethics investigation. It says Speaker Brian Egolf was the only House leader who felt the “open letter” warranted investigation and that Trujillo fully cooperated with the Legislative Council investigation and made himself available for interviews, submitted two sworn affidavits, and submitted large amounts of evidence to prove his innocence. It says on July 27, 2018, the Legislative Ethics Subcommittee dismissed three of the five specific charges of sexual harassment that Bonar made against Trujillo including the most serious allegations of sexual harassment, and including the quid pro quo harassment that Bonar, Johnson, and Jennings all included in their public letters.
“On November 27, 2018, the Legislative Ethics Subcommittee dismissed the remaining two charges of sexual harassment against (Trujillo). The two remaining charges were dropped because Bonar refused to cooperate with the Legislative Counsel’s investigation, refused to be cross-examined under oath, and willfully withheld records from the Legislative Council. The subcommittee granted evidentiary authority to Special Master, Wendy York. Judge York ruled and reassured Bonar that she would view her health records evidence in camera and only release evidence relevant to her allegations against Trujillo. Judge York also ruled and reassured Bonar that she was not being asked to disclose the identities of other women that told Bonar that they had been harassed. Despite Judge York’s reassurances, Bonar still refused to be deposed and refused to give discovery. Bonar was provided with three chances to attend a deposition and submit discovery, and she refused to do so three times. In a statement from Bonar, she said she was unwilling to testify because she was unwilling ‘to perjure herself’. Bonar knew that her allegations were all false, and she published them with malicious intent, to obtain her ‘goal’ of (Trujillo) resigning or losing his seat. Johnson knew that her statements were all false, and she published them with malicious intent, to assist Bonar in her ‘goal’ of Trujillo resigning or losing his seat. Jennings knew that her statements were all false, and she published them with malicious intent, to assist Bonar in her ‘goal’ of (Trujillo) resigning or losing his seat,” the suit states.
“As a result of Bonar’s “open letter,” Jennings’ letter, Johnson’s letter, APVNM’s Facebook post, APVNM’s emails, and published false statements to multiple media outlets, (Trujillo) has suffered a diminished reputation in his community, loss of an election, mental anguish, emotional distress, damage to his good name, damage to his good standing in the community, incurred attorney fees in his defense, and other damages. Bonar’s statements about (Trujillo) were made with reckless disregard, when she knew the statements were false, therefore punitive damages should be issued against Bonar. Johnson’s and Jennings’ statements about Trujillo were made with reckless disregard, when she knew the statements were false, therefore punitive damages should be issued against Johnson, Jennings, and APVNM. APVNM’s statements about Trujillo were made with reckless disregard, when it knew the statements were false, therefore punitive damages should be issued against APVNM,” the suit continues.
On December 6, 2018, the suit claims Koob falsely stated at a Continuing Legal Education that Trujillo refused to be deposed and that he placed other barriers into the investigation. It says Koob’s statements about Trujillo at the Continuing Legal Education event were demonstrably false and defamatory and were made with malicious intent and to prevent him from clearing his name, that they were made with a reckless regard when she knew they were false.
In a press release Thursday announcing the suit, Trujillo’s attorney Luke Ragsdale said that while sexual harassment is a very serious matter, false allegations aimed at destroying the career and reputation of a good man and public servant cannot stand.
“It is also disturbing the voters in District 46 were intentionally manipulated by these false statements,” he said. “The lawsuit speaks for itself.”