The California Democratic Party has spent more than $800,000 on legal costs stemming from three lawsuits alleging discrimination and sexual misconduct by former chair Eric Bauman.
The sum includes more than $430,000 in attorney’s fees alone, including payments to law firms representing Bauman.
According to a Times review of state and federal campaign finance filings, the state party has paid $378,348 in legal settlements to Alton Wang, William Rodriguez-Kennedy and Kate Earley. The trio originally filed suit in January, alleging a culture of harassment and sexual misconduct that was “well-known and apparently tolerated” by top officials.
“Our party is at its best when it lives up to our values. One of those values is treating people fairly,” the current party chair Rusty Hicks said in a statement to The Times. “We have reached an equitable settlement that begins the process of getting back to the work 9 million California Democrats expect from us.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy had alleged that Bauman speculated out loud about his sex life during discussions about a job opening with the party. He and Wang also alleged unwanted touching by Bauman, including instances when the former chair massaged Rodriguez-Kennedy’s back and neck in front of others and placed his arm around Wang’s waist.
Bauman has repeatedly declined to comment on the case through his attorney, who said at the time he “will not be trying this case in the media.”
Two other cases against Bauman and the party remain active, meaning the financial burden of the party’s legal woes could still grow ahead of an election year in which it hopes to defend seven vulnerable House seats, maintain Democratic supermajorities in the state Legislature and host one of the earliest Democratic presidential primaries on the map.
Bauman resigned last November following claims of misconduct toward staff members and activists and said at the time that he planned to seek treatment for alcohol use. The scandal prompted soul-searching and calls for a culture change among party activists, who voted Hicks in as chair in June.
Court records show that an attorney representing Wang and Rodriguez-Kennedy filed a notice of settlement on Aug. 14, followed by a request that the case be dismissed on Sept. 10.
A campaign finance report filed by the state party late last month shows two payments of $150,000 — one to Wang and another to Rodriguez-Kennedy — both described as a “legal settlement.” Neither Wang nor Rodriguez-Kennedy are still employed by the party.
Wang, Rodriguez-Kennedy and their attorney, Esperanza Cervantes Anderson, did not respond to requests for comment. Neal Zaslavsky, an attorney for Bauman, declined to comment on the matter.
The party paid a legal settlement totaling $78,348 to Earley, who withdrew her claims in March. The law firm of her attorney, Gloria Allred, was paid another $60,000 in fees, according to state campaign finance records.
In a separate case, Bauman’s former assistant alleged that Bauman repeatedly groped and sexually assaulted him. Another case filed by two other former employees and a party activist alleged that they endured sexual assault, harassment and racial discrimination by Bauman, who denied the claims through his attorney and said he “looks forward to complete vindication once the facts come out.” Both cases are still pending.
The payouts related to the party’s legal troubles could end up taking a significant bite out of its coffers. In its latest campaign finance filings, the California Democratic Party reported having nearly $11 million in cash on hand in its state account and another $983,000 in its federal account.