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Judge rules that L.A. politician accused of sexually assaulting teenage girl can be named in lawsuit

Judge rules that L.A. politician accused of sexually assaulting teenage girl can be named in lawsuit
Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Los Angeles) has identified himself as the target of a lawsuit that alleges an unnamed elected official sexually assaulted a teenager more than a decade ago. He has denied the allegations through his attorney. (Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

A judge has ruled that attorneys can name a Los Angeles politician accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in a recent lawsuit.

The decision by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Sotelo also allows attorneys to serve the suit against the politician, who has been identified in court papers only as John Doe.

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U.S. Rep Tony Cárdenas (D-Los Angeles) identified himself as the target of the lawsuit earlier this month. His attorney called the allegations "100%, categorically untrue."

The lawsuit, filed last month, alleges that in January 2007, an elected official gave the teenage girl a cup of water with a "peculiar taste" while they were golfing at a Los Angeles country club, then later sexually assaulted her in a car after she had collapsed.

Cárdenas attorney Patricia Glaser has described Cárdenas' accuser as the daughter of a "disgruntled former employee" who "may be the victim of manipulation."

In a court filing Wednesday, attorney Lynne Brennan argued that her client, identified solely as Jane Doe, had suffered "an intolerable atmosphere" after someone came forward claiming to be John Doe and denied the allegations through his attorney.

The woman "must refrain from making any substantive statements in response to allegations maligning her motives, lest she publicly name the defendant," Brennan wrote, arguing that the situation "raises issues of equity."

Judge Sotelo said in his order that "there is a reasonable and meritorious basis" to serve the defendant. He also permitted attorneys to amend the lawsuit to identify John Doe by his real name.

Attorneys are required to go through specific steps before naming and serving the defendant in California civil cases that seek damages for childhood sexual abuse.

Under the law that applies to this case, a defendant cannot be served until the court has privately reviewed required documents and determined there is a "reasonable and meritorious cause" for filing the suit. The defendant must remain unnamed until there is "a showing of corroborative fact" on the allegations against him.

Brennan, who works with the Bloom Firm headed by attorney Lisa Bloom, requested this week that the court review several documents, including a "certificate of corroborative fact," in order to allow the defendant to be named.

Under state law, that document is supposed to declare that the attorney has discovered "one or more facts" that confirm or support the allegation against the defendant.

Brennan urged the court to act quickly to make sure the case is "litigated in a court of law and not the court of public opinion."

Bloom said Thursday after the ruling that she will be amending the complaint to add the defendant's real name. "We look forward to my client getting her day in court. We will aggressively protect her rights," Bloom said.

Glaser, the attorney representing Cárdenas, said Thursday that "these falsehoods appear to be the work of dirty politics, timed weeks before voting in a congressional campaign."

The attorney said that although the alleged victim can remain anonymous, during the litigation the parent, "the daughter, and the congressman will testify under oath."

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"In that process, the congressman expects to be fully exonerated," Glaser said.

Days before Cárdenas identified himself as the target of the lawsuit, reporters and political insiders quickly focused on the congressman because of key details in the suit, including his approximate age at the time of the incident, the time period in which he had served as an elected official and his interest in golf.

Cárdenas contacted fellow members of Congress to assert his innocence in connection with the lawsuit. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for an ethics investigation earlier this month, but noted that Cárdenas had asked his colleagues to "withhold judgment until there is a full investigation of the facts." The reaction so far among Cárdenas' colleagues on Capitol Hill has been muted.

Former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon said in a recent interview that he had a meeting in 2016 with a former Cárdenas employee who he now believes is the accuser's father. The meeting occurred, Alarcon said, not long after he had announced plans to run against Cárdenas for Congress.

Alarcon said that during the meeting, the man said he had negative information on Cárdenas and would provide it to The Times if Alarcon gave him a job on his congressional campaign. At no point during that conversation did the man say that Cárdenas had committed sexual assault against anyone, Alarcon said.

Times reporters have made repeated unsuccessful attempts to contact the man and his daughter for comment. The Times typically does not disclose the identities of alleged victims of sexual crimes.

The Los Angeles Police Department has no active investigation into Cárdenas, a spokesman said Thursday.

Cárdenas is running for reelection in the June 5 primary. He faces four opponents: Benito Bernal, a Republican and former union leader; Angelica Maria Duenas, a human resources manager and Green Party member; Juan Rey, a mechanic who's registered as an independent; and Joe Shammas, a Democrat who ran for the seat in 2016.

Shammas and Los Angeles Unified school board member Kelly Gonez have said that Cárdenas should step down.

Twitter:@AlpertReyes

Twitter:@Dakotacdsmith

Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.

UPDATES:

6:30 p.m.: This article was updated with a response from Cárdenas' attorney.

This article was originally published at 5:20 p.m.

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