Defeated lawmaker in a fight for his political life
State Rep. Carl Trujillo’s political career might be dead. Still alive is his insistence that a phony charge of sexual harassment caused his defeat last spring in the Democratic primary election.
He soon will have the chance to make his case. The Interim Legislative Ethics Committee will hold a hearing starting Dec. 3 on whether Trujillo sexually harassed lobbyist Laura Bonar more than four years ago.
Trujillo, who represents House District 46 in Santa Fe, sees this proceeding as the best chance to clear his name and open the way for a political comeback.
Already, though, Trujillo claims he is at a disadvantage. He says his opportunity to call witnesses in an impartial setting is being restricted by those controlling the hearing.
“Special counsel Thomas Hnasko would not agree to subpoena power … nor an independent hearing officer,” Trujillo wrote to me in an email.
Trujillo would have a legitimate complaint if he cannot call witnesses he considers important. But House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, says even an impenetrable legal barrier will not prevent Trujillo from receiving a fair hearing.
Under state law, the Legislature cannot issue subpoenas unless it’s in session, Egolf said. This means Trujillo won’t be able to compel anyone to appear at the December hearing.
Even so, Egolf said, Trujillo will be able to present his case unencumbered.
“He should not be jumping to the conclusion that he will not have access to his accuser,” Egolf said. “I can’t envision a situation where that would happen.”
Egolf said the committee can act on the sexual harassment allegation only if Bonar testifies under oath and is subjected to cross-examination.
Eight House members, an even mix of Democrats and Republicans, are to hear Bonar’s allegations and Trujillo’s rebuttal. Some were members of the subcommittee that decided in July there was credible evidence to bring an ethics charge against Trujillo.
If the committee concludes Trujillo sexually harassed Bonar, it probably would not bother asking the full 70-member House of Representatives to sanction him. That’s because Trujillo leaves office at the end of the year. Egolf said the House probably would just read into the record its finding against Trujillo.
But if the committee rejects Bonar’s claims, Trujillo could run for office again without a cloud over him.
At Trujillo’s request, I met with him at length and listened to his defense. He said Bonar lied about him for reasons he does not understand.
Trujillo offered circumstantial evidence that was interesting but ultimately might not sway anyone.
He says Bonar’s allegation that he propositioned her in a cramped committee room at the state Capitol cannot be true. Bonar said Trujillo’s unwanted advance occurred on Jan. 28, 2014, after she asked if she could take the seat next to him.
Trujillo said he was seated in a row of chairs reserved for legislators who were waiting to present bills. He said Bonar did not approach him or sit next to him. More important, he said, he never made a sexually suggestive comment to her at any time.
Bonar also belatedly claimed Trujillo touched her thigh after telling her she could sit by him. The subcommittee found no probable cause that any touching occurred.
Video of that committee hearing does not exist. If it did, both Bonar’s account and Trujillo’s could be tested. Without it, this part of the case probably remains a she-said, he-said story.
Bonar said Trujillo propositioned her again on Feb. 5, 2014, pulling her close to him in a corridor outside the House Chamber and asking when they could meet.
Gene Grant, who was living with Bonar at the time, said she was so shaken by Trujillo’s advance that she recounted details of it that same night.
Trujillo denies that he touched Bonar in the corridor or spoke to her about having an affair.
The committee’s proposed procedures call for depositions to be taken under oath of any witness designated by the other party. A witness who fails to appear or cooperate would be barred from testifying at the hearing itself.
This would seem to protect Trujillo’s interest in bringing his accusers to the witness stand. But he has not agreed to all of the proposed procedures and might still challenge them.
In truth, Trujillo will never be happy with any investigative process. He simply does not trust Egolf, speaker of the House.
Trujillo said Egolf allowed Bonar to try him in the media by dawdling instead of promptly organizing an investigation of her allegations.
It’s Trujillo who is being unfair on this point.
Bonar waited until a month before the primary election before releasing a public statement accusing Trujillo of sexual harassment. It would have been nearly impossible for Egolf to organize part-time, unpaid legislators for an investigation before her accusations gained traction.
Bonar’s charges generated heavy publicity. They came after prominent men, such as then-U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Today show host Matt Lauer, were forced from their jobs because of sexual harassment complaints.
Trujillo lost the primary to Andrea Romero,, a featherweight ensnared in a scandal of her own. The state auditor found Romero received improper payments of nearly $27,000 while she was the executive director of a publicly funded agency.
Write-in candidate Heather Nordquist is running against Romero in November.
Trujillo is stuck on the sidelines. The hearing he already mistrusts is the only way for him to get back into the dirtiest game of all — politics.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-986-3080.