Former state representative files defamation lawsuit

February 23, 2019

Copyright ? 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE ? Former state Rep. Carl Trujillo, who lost his District 46 seat in the 2018 Democratic primary amid allegations that he sexually harassed a lobbyist four years earlier, filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging defamation and conspiracy against his accuser, as well as Animal Protection Voters New Mexico and others affiliated with the non-profit group.

Trujillo was the first legislator to be investigated under the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy adopted last year.

A bipartisan panel found probable cause for two of the five allegations made by Laura Bonar, who was serving as a lobbyist for Animal Protection Voters during the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions. The case was dismissed in November after Bonar decided not to testify before a House ethics subcommittee.

The lawsuit, filed in state District Court in Albuquerque, claims that Bonar was unwilling to testify before the panel because she didn’t want to perjure herself. At the time, Bonar said she declined to testify to protect other women and her own privacy.

“Bonar knew that her allegations were all false, and she published them with malicious intent, to obtain her ‘goal’ of Plaintiff resigning or losing his seat,” the lawsuit says.

“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,” Trujillo’s attorney, Luke Ragsdale, said in a news release. “It is also disturbing the voters in District 46 were intentionally manipulated by these false statements.”

New Rep. Andrea Romero defeated Trujillo in the Democratic primary and then beat a write-in candidate in the general election to capture the House seat in District 46, which includes part of the city of Santa Fe and much of northern Santa Fe County.

Also named as defendants in Trujillo’s suit are Elisabeth Jennings, Animal Protection Voters’ executive director; Jessica Johnson, chief legislative officer for the organization; and Julianna Koob, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.

None of the defendants returned phone calls or emails from the Journal late Thursday afternoon.

The lawsuit says that Animal Protection Voters, Bonar, Jennings, Johnson and Koob conspired to defame Trujillo, attempted to force him to resign and caused him to lose his legislative seat.

Bonar made the allegations in an open letter that was posted on the Animal Protection Voters’ Facebook page and another website the same day it was distributed to the media, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says Koob made false statements that Trujillo had refused to cooperate with the investigation at a Continuing Legal Education event in December and arranged for Planned Parenthood to make hundreds of phone calls to voters of District 46 saying the same thing in the weeks before the primary election. Phone call recipients were asked to sign a petition calling for Trujillo to resign and not seek re-election, the complaint says.

In May, about a month before the election, Jennings distributed a letter to the media claiming that Trujillo stopped supporting legislation for a spay-neuter pilot program in retaliation against Animal Protection Voters after Bonar rejected his advances, the lawsuit says.

Trujillo was later cleared of the retaliation charge by the ethics panel.

The lawsuit says that Johnson of Animal Protection Voters ? who according to the lawsuit confirmed rumors to Trujillo that there was a movement to oust him from his seat ? also distributed a letter “with reckless disregard for the truth and with malice intent to wrongfully harm Plaintiff’s (Trujillo’s) public and professional reputation.”

“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, Plaintiff has suffered diminished reputation in his community, loss of an election, mental anguish, emotional distress, damage to his good name, damage to this good standing in the community, incurred attorney fees in his defense, and other damages,” the complaint says.