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Legislative investigation substantiates sexual misconduct complaint against ex-Assemblyman Matt Dababneh

Legislative investigation substantiates sexual misconduct complaint against ex-Assemblyman Matt Dababneh
Former Assemblyman Matt Dababneh (D-Woodland Hills) at a legislative hearing in Calabasas in 2016. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

An Assembly committee has rejected former Assemblyman Matt Dababneh’s appeal of a legislative investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, upholding the probe’s original findings that he “more likely than not” exposed himself to a lobbyist in a hotel bathroom.

Sacramento lobbyist Pamela Lopez said in December that Dababneh forced her into a Las Vegas hotel suite bathroom during a party in 2016, masturbated in front of her and urged her to touch him. Dababneh denied the allegation but resigned days later, saying the accusation damaged his ability to work effectively in the Legislature.

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Preliminary findings by an independent investigator hired by the Assembly Rules Committee substantiated Lopez’s allegation in June. The conclusion was based on interviews with Lopez and more than 50 witnesses. Dababneh also participated in the investigation.

Dababneh appealed the conclusion days later, according to documents reviewed by The Times. He argued that he had been “denied a fair evaluation of the complaint made against him.” The appeal lodged a number of objections to the investigation and its findings, including that Dababneh did not have the chance to respond to evidence against him, and that witnesses who could attest to his character had not been contacted.

The Assembly Rules Committee denied Dababneh’s appeal Friday, according to documents released Monday.

“So far, it seems like the process has worked as it should,” Lopez said. “I was sexually harassed by Dababneh. The Legislature substantiated that claim and then denied his appeal. The Legislature has opined twice that my claim is substantiated.”

A spokeswoman for Dababneh, Elana Weiss of public relations firm the Rose Group, said the Assembly investigation lacked transparency.

“We received a one-sentence explanation as to why the appeal was denied,” Weiss said. “We are completely perplexed why the investigation report will not be publicly shared. Mr. Dababneh calls on the Assembly to release the full report because he has nothing to hide. From the beginning, he has always said he welcomed a transparent and open investigation, and that's why he wants the report released immediately."

Two weeks ago, Dababneh filed a defamation suit against Lopez in Sacramento County Superior Court, accusing the lobbyist of making false allegations and intentionally inflicting emotional harm.

Dababneh was one of several lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct last fall, as the #MeToo movement propelled complaints of harassment in California politics into the limelight.

Two other legislators, Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima) and state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), stepped down after public allegations of inappropriate behavior. A third lawmaker, Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) had been the subject of two sexual harassment complaints when he stepped down in December, citing health reasons.

4:45 p.m. This article was updated with comments from Lopez and Dababneh.

This article was originally published at 3:45 p.m.

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