Assemblyman Matt Dababneh said Friday he is resigning from office at the end of the month, a decision that comes four days after he was publicly accused of masturbating in front of a lobbyist and other inappropriate behavior.
In a resignation letter, Dababneh said the allegations against him are untrue and said he expected a legislative investigation would "bring to light and into focus the significant and persuasive evidence of my innocence."
"As we battle for change, we must remember that due process exists for a reason," he wrote. "We should never fight injustice with injustice."
Dababneh, a Democrat from Woodland Hills, told The Times that his resignation should not be construed as a tacit admission of wrongdoing.
"My stepping down isn't out of guilt or out of fear. It's out of an idea that I think it's time for me to move on to new opportunities," Dababneh said in an interview. He said that in the current environment, "it'd be very hard for me to represent my district and be able to pass the type of legislation that would be meaningful."
Dababneh is the second legislator in two weeks to resign due to allegations of sexual misconduct. Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima) stepped down last month after multiple women accused him of making unwanted sexual advances. Meanwhile, state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) has been stripped of leadership posts as he faces an investigation into alleged improper behavior with female staffers.
"Assemblymember Dababneh's resignation is yet another sign that the culture is changing," Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) said in a statement. "The Assembly will continue our work to hasten that change, to make the Legislature an institution where people are safe, survivors are helped, and perpetrators are held accountable."
Dababneh, 36, was first elected to the Assembly in 2013, representing a strongly Democratic district in the west San Fernando Valley that includes Encino, Tarzana and Calabasas. Before running for office, he worked for U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Porter Ranch) in the congressman's district office for eight years.
As a legislator, he occupied an influential perch as chairman of the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee. He temporarily stepped down from that position on Monday, hours after Sacramento-based lobbyist Pamela Lopez publicly alleged Dababneh followed her into a bathroom, masturbated in front of her and urged her to touch him during a January 2016 party in Las Vegas.
Another woman, Jessica Yas Barker, alleged that Dababneh routinely spoke of his sexual exploits and made disparaging comments about women while she worked as his subordinate in Sherman's office from June 2009 until December 2010.
Dababneh said both allegations are false. He said he would participate in an ongoing Assembly investigation into Lopez's allegation that will be conducted by an outside firm.
"I look forward to a report coming out," Dababneh said. "I was not the one that engaged in that type of activity."
Dababneh's attorney sent Lopez a cease-and-desist letter prior to her public accusation. The lawmaker said he has not decided if he will sue Lopez for damages as stated in the letter, saying he first wants to see the results of the investigation.
Following Dababneh's announcement, Lopez told The Times that his resignation was "not an apology."
"It does nothing to restore the women that he's hurt. It's also an example that without institutional intervention and without consequences, people like Matt Dababneh will go somewhere else and take their power and take their resources somewhere else," she said. "I'm scared he will continue to treat women in the same way and abuse them wherever else he goes professionally."
Lopez said she is looking ahead to the Assembly investigation into her complaint.
"I have felt very hopeful about the dialogue that has begun with the Assembly Rules committee about opening the box that is our process to deal with sexual harassment and sexual assault," she said. "Those conversations still need to continue. He's only one example of a man who abuses his power in the political community to victimize people who are more powerless than he is."
The assemblyman faced mounting political pressure on the heels of the women's public accusations. The local Democratic Party in the San Fernando Valley called for Dababneh's immediate resignation earlier this week, as did Kelly Gonez, a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education.
Samantha Stevens, a political consultant and former legislative staffer, said Thursday she would challenge Dababneh in the 2018 election and included a dig in a statement announcing her run at the "frat-house reputation" of the Capitol. Andra Hoffman, a Los Angeles Community College trustee, is also eyeing the seat.
"We recognize the bravery of the silence breakers who came forward," said the organizers of We Said Enough, a nonprofit group that has been raising awareness of sexual harassment in the California Capitol. "This second resignation in a matter of weeks further demonstrates the pervasiveness of the problem and the continued need for confidential reporting, whistleblower protections and appropriate due process so that victims no longer have to litigate their issues in the press."
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4:20 p.m. This article was updated with additional details from Dababneh's resignation letter, and comments from We Said Enough.