Due process lost in harassment policy’s trial run
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Legislative Council Service supplemented the Legislature’s ethics rules with an anti-harassment policy. The Salem witch trials and the attempted prosecution of former Democratic state Rep. Carl Trujillo using the new policy had much in common. Both entailed unverifiable accusations; in both, there were beneficiaries willing to ignore rights of the accused to achieve a political benefit; and in both, there were officials who manipulated procedure to facilitate the demise of the accused.
In 1692, several women claimed to have been assaulted by devil-guided spirits. The “witches” making spectral appearances were identified as members of the community. Behind the accusers were beneficiaries — leaders — who had an interest in transferring from themselves to the devil (and his witch assistants) blame for the colony’s bad fortune on military and economic fronts. The defendants were religious dissenters and a few Puritan ministers who were several steps short of the required orthodoxy. Under duress, many of the accused admitted to witchcraft. Only those who failed to confess were executed.
Trujillo is several steps short of progressive orthodoxy. When environmentalists attempted to impose a methane rule, he asked uncomfortable questions. And, he discussed with some Democrats the possibility of creating a coalition with Republicans to support a Democrat — other than Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe — for speaker of the House. Retribution came during the 2018 primary. The new anti-harassment policy was a handy tool.
A candidate was chosen to run against Trujillo; then a lobbyist named Laura Bonar wrote a widely publicized letter claiming that Trujillo had harassed her — four years earlier. Progressive tongues began to suggest that Bonar should be believed because she is a woman.
The law and the rules require that an action begin with a sworn complaint. This requirement was dropped. House leaders could move the matter forward without a sworn complaint. Then, when two of the three leaders proved recalcitrant, House Speaker Egolf alone moved forward the unsworn allegations.
Bonar was interviewed. Trujillo asked for the transcript. It was finally delivered, but 28 pages had been redacted. The explanation was that information given by Bonar for which no “probable cause” had been found, was confidential. How remarkable — a confidentiality requirement usually is inserted to protect the accused, not the accuser. A woman wishing to harm a legislator, but who wants the lack of substance behind her public complaints to remain confidential, is covered by this policy. Make only clearly false allegations.
Bonar did not file a sworn complaint; she was not interviewed under oath; she refused to answer interrogatories. Three times she refused to be deposed. Finally, the case was dismissed, but Bonar had achieved her goal, which was to see Trujillo defeated.
The progressive orthodoxy did not expect Trujillo to continue to fight after the primary. The special prosecutor said to Trujillo, “We need to find an elegant solution out of this ordeal.” This was reminiscent of Salem. “Confess and the pain will stop.” Trujillo did not confess; instead he defended his reputation. The cost? Over $100,000.
Did Bonar’s accusations have more validity than the accusations of the women in Salem? How would we know? The purpose of the anti-harassment policy, evidently, was not to get to the truth.
The initial version of the policy contained a statement against false reporting. It was removed at the request of the ACLU/Planned Parenthood lobbyist who helped devise the rule: “Remove the ‘false reporting’ line. It serves only as a chilling effect for victim reporting.”
The result was a warm accuser, temporary success for the progressive orthodoxy and a chilling experience for due process (“Panel scraps harassment case against Trujillo,” Nov. 29, 2018).
Harvey Yates is national committeeman for the Republican Party of New Mexico and a former chairman of the party. He occasionally writes about state politics. He has lived in Albuquerque since 1968.