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Lobbyist Says LA Assemblyman Masturbated In Front Of Her

Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, D-Woodland Hills, is shown in this undated screens...

Credit: Assembly Access via KQED

Above: Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, D-Woodland Hills, is shown in this undated screenshot.

At an emotional press conference in Sacramento Monday morning, lobbyist Pamela Lopez named Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, D-Woodland Hills, as the legislator she said pushed her into a bar restroom and masturbated in front of her. Lopez said they were at a party in Las Vegas to celebrate two mutual friends’ wedding, not in Sacramento as previously reported.

Lopez, who testified about the incident at an Assembly hearing last week without naming the legislator, said at the time she feared retaliation for speaking out. She was also afraid that revealing the episode took place in Las Vegas would reveal Dababneh’s identity before she was ready.

At a press conference in the office of her Sacramento lobbying firm, Lopez said she believes she is not the only woman assaulted or harassed by Dababneh.

“I can’t have it on my conscience that this may happen again,” she said. “I’ve heard from enough women that I am fearful and I am worried that this will happen to others.”

Jessica Yas Barker confirmed that Lopez is not alone. She said Dababneh sexually harassed her while working at a congressional office in 2008. His behavior ranged from making fun of her clothes to making overtly sexual comments, she said.

“On more than one occasion I had to listen to him regale me with stories of his sexual prowess,” she said. “At events or fundraisers he would eye up women in the room and talk about his conquests, who he’d slept with, who wanted to sleep with him.”

Yas Barker said she left her job after a year and a half because of Dababneh’s behavior.

Lopez has sent a letter to the Assembly Rules Committee outlining her accusations against Dababneh. In a statement, Rules Committee chair Ken Cooley said he was grateful Lopez came forward.

“Pursuant to the Assembly’s Policy Against Sexual Harassment, an outside investigator will be hired to investigate this allegation,” he said. “Since the allegation is criminal in nature, Ms. Lopez is encouraged to contact law enforcement as well.”

Lopez said she does not plan to file a police report at this time. She has not filed a lawsuit either, although her attorney said that remains a possibility. Lopez’s attorney said Dababneh’s lawyer sent her a cease and desist letter last Friday in an effort to stop her complaint. The response from Lopez’s attorney is here.

In a written statement Dababneh denied the allegation and said he was “saddened by this lobbyist’s effort to create this falsehood and make these inflammatory statements.” His office referred KQED to his attorney, Stephen Kaufman, who was not immediately available.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said Dababneh is temporarily stepping down as chair of the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee while the incident is investigated.

“While it is not my place to prejudge any investigation, as I stated when Ms. Lopez first shared her story, if it is found that Assemblymember Dababneh committed this assault I will ask for his immediate resignation and move for his expulsion if he refuses to resign,” Rendon said in a statement. “While the investigation moves forward, I am also asking Assembly Human Resources to reach out to Assemblymember Dababneh’s staff to ensure they feel safe in their work environment.”

Dababneh was first elected to the state Assembly in 2013 after serving as chief of staff to Los Angeles congressman Brad Sherman.

In 2014 Dababneh was appointed as an assistant majority whip for the Democratic Caucus, and in January 2015 he began serving as the chairman of the Banking and Finance Committee.

Dababneh is the latest in a series of California lawmakers caught up in the sexual harassment scandal sweeping Sacramento. Since 140 women in politics released a letter in mid-October describing a pervasive climate of harassment, one assemblyman has resigned and a state senator has been stripped of his committee assignments.

Raul Bocanegra, D-Pacoima, resigned last month after a female Senate staff member accused him of groping her at a Sacramento nightclub in 2009 before he was elected to the Legislature. Bocanegra denied he had broken the law and criticized what he said was the loss of due process for men accused of sexual misbehavior.

After he was accused of unwelcome sexual behavior, state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, was stripped of his leadership positions.

At that hearing last week in Sacramento, Christine Pelosi, chair of the California Democratic Party Women’s Caucus, told the panel that legislators have too long protected members’ bad behavior.

“We have rapists in the house, we have molesters in the house,” Pelosi said last week. Her mother, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, is the minority leader in the House of Representatives. “The house is on fire, we need help,” she added.

Since the accusations about the climate in and around the state Capitol, the state Assembly and Senate have announced changes in the way complaints will be handled. Until now the policy has discouraged victims from coming forward.

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