California Assemblywoman responds to misconduct allegations - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

California Assemblywoman responds to misconduct allegations

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FILE - In this June 22, 2016 file photo, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D- Bell Gardens, speaks at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File) FILE - In this June 22, 2016 file photo, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D- Bell Gardens, speaks at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (NEWS 8/ AP) -  A California assemblywoman says accusations of sexual misconduct against her are part of a political effort to discredit her.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia is on an unpaid leave of absence amid an investigation into whether she groped Denial Fierro, a former staffer to a colleague, in 2014. Another former staffer has filed a complaint alleging Garcia asked him to play a drinking game and he was fired for complaining about it.

Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat, not only denied allegations against her by four former staffers, issued in a formal complaint filed by a San Diego attorney, Dan Gilleon, but also addressed disturbing sexual assault allegations levied by Fierro. 

She alleges a private investigator has been calling her former staff members and tenants in properties she owns seeking information to discredit her. Her statement does not specify who she thinks is behind the effort.

Fierro was working in the State Capitol back in 2014, when he said Garcia cornered him a staff softball game and touched him sexually.

Accusations that Garcia, who has been a champion of the "Me Too Movement" - even featured in Time Magazine as a Silence Breaker - adamantly denies.  

Fierro said he stands by his story and is unaware of efforts by a private investigator.

She also denied allegations by a second unnamed accuser that she sexually propositioned and groped him as well. 

San Diego "Me Too" organizer Aliza Amar told News 8 she sees this focus on Garcia as a tactic to shift attention away from the cause. "Me Too" supporter Kathi Hardy, who runs a non-profit to help victims of sexual exploitation, concedes these accusations against Garcia could pose a setback to the "Me Too Movement." 

Sexual misconduct in the California Legislature has dominated the conversation since lawmakers returned in January, with the burgeoning scandal taking one surprising twist after another.

It will be the focus again when lawmakers return Tuesday and learn whether an investigation cleared Sen. Tony Mendoza of misconduct allegations or set him up for possible expulsion. Mendoza has sued the Senate, claiming he was unfairly suspended and that racism might have been a factor.

Democratic Assemblyman Mark Stone said public perception of the Legislature has been harmed by the scandal but needed changes also are coming because of it.

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