SACRAMENTO—California’s Capitol roiled Monday as a lobbyist publicly accused a sitting legislator of sexually assaulting her at a Las Vegas party two years ago.
Pamela Lopez, flanked by lawyers from Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams at a press conference, said Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, D-Woodland Hills, followed her into a bathroom at a wedding that both were attending. Dababneh unzipped his pants and began masturbating, she said, urging her to touch him. Lopez said she refused and left the room feeling shaken.
“I was hurt and scared,” Lopez said. “I had no reason to think I was unsafe.”
In a statement, Dababneh, first elected in 2013, denied the event ever happened.
“I am saddened by this lobbyist’s effort to create this falsehood and make these inflammatory statements, apparently for her own self-promotion and without regard for the reputations of others,” he said. “I look forward to clearing my name.”
The allegations made by Lopez are just the latest to hit a Capitol community already reeling from public accusations of legislators flouting the very sexual harassment laws they help write. One week ago, Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Arieta, resigned after six women accused him of groping and harassing them. Senate leaders stripped Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, of his committee chairmanship after former employees alleged inappropriate behavior.
Lopez’s lawyers provided reporters with copies of a cease-and-desist letter that Patricia Glaser, chair of the litigation department at Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro, sent the lobbyist on Friday. Glaser wrote that Lopez’ claims against Dababneh are false and warned that, if she repeated them at the press conference or anywhere else, “you will be held fully accountable in damages.”
Glaser also leads the legal team representing Harvey Weinstein, the former Hollywood movie mogul facing numerous allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. Glaser did not immediately respond to a message Monday.
Lopez’s attorney, Leslie F. Levy, hit back with her own letter, warning that any defamation suit brought by Dababneh would lead to extensive discovery into his reputation around the Capitol.
“While we understand that many lawmakers and others who work in the Capitol might not volunteer their opinions regarding your client,” Levy wrote, “we are confident that they would testify truthfully under oath if questioned about the subject.”
Lopez on Monday filed a complaint against Dababneh with the Assembly Rules Committee, telling reporters she waited almost two years to act out of fear of retaliation and mistrust of the legislature’s system for handling sexual harassment claims. In previous weeks, Lopez had recounted what happened to her to several news outlets but did not name her alleged attacker.
Lopez is a lobbyist for K Street Consulting, a Sacramento firm that represents a number of California-based Indian gaming tribes. She said she did not really know Dababneh at the time of the encounter because her clients don’t have many issues heard by the committee he chairs, the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee.
Dababneh won his Assembly seat in a special election four years ago. He is one of the more moderate members of the Democratic caucus and a prodigious fundraiser. His most recent campaign finance report showed the assemblyman with almost $1.1 million cash on hand.
After lawmakers pledged at a hearing last week to revamp the process to help complainants, Lopez said she felt ready to come forward. She said she has not filed a report with police.
Lopez was accompanied at the press conference by Jessica Yas Barker, a Democratic club leader in the San Fernando Valley who worked in the district office of Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, in 2008 when Dababneh was Sherman’s district director. Barker said she left the job after 18 months to escape Dababneh’s sexual harassment, which she said included constant talk of his sexual exploits and his physique and a display of the many condoms in his desk. Barker said she did not meet Lopez until a campaign to change the legislature’s sexual harassment policies, called We Said Enough, formed in October.
Lopez lawyer Jean Hyams said her client’s complaint “is really a test of the legislature’s system.”
“If the state legislature is serious about ending sexual harassment, we would expect to see a full investigation,” Hyams said.
Assemblyman Ken Cooley, chair of the Rules Committee, which oversees harassment investigations, issued a statement saying he is “grateful” Lopez came forward and said the Assembly will hire an outside investigator to review the allegation.
Lopez told reporters Monday that she hopes her actions inspire other victims of sexual harassment to “lawyer up.” “There are great attorneys who will work with you and represent you.”
Glaser’s cease-and-desist letter is posted below.