When I decided to come forward with what happened to me in 2011 as a newly-elected California Assemblymember, I didn’t expect a universally positive response.
I knew that some would criticize me for not reporting it sooner (actually, I did report it in 2011– see below). Others would condemn me for reporting it at all because what was done to me was not rape or the type of violent crime other women have suffered.
In early 2011, Robert Hertzberg was a paid consultant for the California State Assembly and I was a just-elected Assemblymember. He was also a former Speaker of the Assembly and considered a Sacramento “powerhouse” political broker.
From the first day I met him, I found his habit of wrapping his arms around my torso and rubbing his chest and lower body against mine in a prolonged embrace to be uncomfortable and unprofessional in a work environment.
I was physically accosted by Hertzberg multiple times. I repeatedly asked him not to hug me. He refused.
The last time Hertzberg approached me was in a hallway of the State Capitol. I told him, “Don’t touch me.” He responded by grabbing me, pinning my arms by my side and thrusting his groin against my pelvis. He restricted me from moving away, forcing prolonged torso-to- torso contact despite my shouting at him to let me go.
Like any reasonable adult, I can recognize a friendly hug. Hertzberg’s sexually aggressive groping wasn’t that.
I didn’t expect perfection from professional colleagues while working in Sacramento. I did expect to be able to work without having to tolerate some creepy guy’s hands on me.
After numerous gropings and repeated (ignored) demands that Hertzberg keep his hands to himself, I went to the chief administrative officer of the Assembly, an attorney named Jon Waldie.
He laughed and excused Hertzberg’s actions: “That’s just how Bob is.”
My complaint was dismissed by the top-ranking administrator in the Assembly, making it obvious that Hertzberg wouldn’t have to answer for his unprofessional, obnoxious behavior.
He was subsequently elected to the California Senate.
What I didn’t know then was that in 2003, there was a payment of $540,000 made by the Legislature to a female employee to secretly settle a sexual harassment complaint – against Assembly Chief Administrative Officer Jon Waldie.
Just before Thanksgiving, in the wake of the attention now being paid to harassment in the workplace, I came forward to again report what had happened to me. Investigation by The Sacramento Bee revealed that two women currently serving in the Legislature have had somewhat similar experiences with Sen. Robert Hertzberg.
Between the two serving Legislators and myself, women in both the Democratic and the Republican parties are represented. Further, the allegations come from both the Senate and the Assembly.
These two women are not the only ones who were pawed. I spoke with a senator currently serving on the Senate committee tasked with hiring independent investigators into sexual harassment allegations against legislators.
He admitted to me, “Bob has been counseled before.”
Despite this admission, the Senate committee subsequently chose two law firms to investigate the complaints, one of which donated nearly $17,000 to six members of the Legislature – including Sen. Robert Hertzberg.
The firms are under a two-year, taxpayer-funded contract.
Along with the senator who admitted to me that there were previous victims, Hertzberg continues to sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, responsible for overseeing all legislation related to practicing attorneys in California.
Putting aside the question of conflict of interests, the results of the investigation will be given exclusively to five members of the California Senate. According to one of the attorneys conducting the investigation, any report findings will be subject to attorney-client privilege.
I will have no more access to the final report than any other member of the public.
In retrospect, it would have been easier to keep quiet about what happened. I’ve been threatened by lobbyists and denigrated by Hertzberg’s political supporters and those financially dependent on his professional favor.
With no interest in pursuing a lawsuit or seeking compensation, I have nothing to gain by doing this publicly. I could have chosen to stay anonymous by cooperating with the press and investigating attorneys off the record.
But my keeping quiet about Hertzberg hasn’t prevented him from using the pretense of friendliness to provocatively touch women who ask him to keep his hands to himself.
I hope that my decision to come forward will spare other women from dealing with this unnecessary distraction from important work.
Linda Halderman, M.D., is a former Republican Assembly member from Fresno who served one term from 2010 to 2012.