After 140 female legislators, staffers and lobbyists signed a shocking letter in 2017 denouncing a California Capitol culture where men “leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they like,” the Legislature had a #MeToo reckoning.

Talk of this toxic culture — and the lackadaisical attitude toward it — had simmered for years, so the resulting actions were long overdue.

Later that year, two assemblymen and a senator resigned from their seats in the wake of sexual-harassment allegations (which they denied). The Legislature hired legal counsel to investigate harassment claims and agreed to publicize any results, the Los Angeles Times reported. The governor signed a ban on “the common legal practice at the statehouse that allowed lawmakers to reach secret settlements with people they sexually harassed,” the newspaper added.

Even though 82% of Capitol women surveyed by the Times a year later pointed to positive change following these reforms, the matter didn’t fade away. Subsequently, four women accused Assemblyman Bill Brough, R-Dana Point, of making aggressive sexual advances toward them. The Orange County Republican Party rescinded its endorsement and Brough ultimately lost his primary race.

The Legislature’s new Workplace Conduct Unit, formed in the aftermath of the #MeToo letter, investigated. It concluded that Brough “made unwanted sexual advances on two occasions, including offering political favors in exchange for sex,” according to a Register report in May. Brough denied any misbehavior and decried a “politically motivated process,” which has been his modus operandi.

Well, things have gotten worse since then. In December, former Capitol staffer Patricia Todd filed a complaint with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office accusing Brough of raping her in her car after they had dinner to discuss a job opportunity and participation in an “Irish Legislative Caucus,” which would have meant travel to the Emerald Isle. Sexual harassment allegations are terrible — but a rape allegation is horrific.

Brough should be the obvious focus of this story. How many allegations must victims make before legislators — the people who constantly chasten and regulate us — take such matters seriously? The Register reported in December that Todd “says she shared her allegation with the (oversight) unit in August and offered to provide evidence to back her claims. But, she says, she hasn’t heard from them since.” Has anything changed in the Capitol? That’s a blockbuster story.

Oddly, Todd’s most vocal advocates have instead directed most of their criticism toward a man who, by all evidence to date, has nothing to do with any of this. That’s former state Sen. John Moorlach, who — and this will emerge as a crucial point — is running in a March special election for the 2nd District Orange County supervisorial seat vacated by Michelle Steel, who in November was elected to Congress.

Todd worked in Moorlach’s Senate office when the alleged rape occurred. She reported the incident to her direct boss, Moorlach’s chief of staff. There’s a serious dispute over the chief of staff’s handling of the situation, but there’s no evidence that Moorlach knew anything about the allegations until a few months ago. Todd’s attorney, former OC political activist Mike Schroeder, ceded that latter point to the newspaper — even as he shops around the idea that John Moorlach can’t be trusted.

It’s clear what’s going on. One of Moorlach’s opponents in the supervisorial race released a statement saying that Moorlach “offers nothing but embarrassing headlines due to his covering up sexual abuse.” As of this writing, 13 of the last 15 posts from a little-known political blogger who supports one of the other candidates has ridiculed Moorlach for various things. The Orange County sheriff’s deputies union that loathes Moorlach’s drive for pension reform has posted about the allegations on social media.

Now, Schroeder is blowing smoke over a side issue. He claims Moorlach tried to smear Todd during a meeting with this newspaper. Unlike Schroeder, I was actually in that meeting. Moorlach did indeed refer to her as a “disgruntled” employee and referenced her personnel file. It was a clumsy attempt to rebut the claim that his office treated Todd poorly after she talked to her supervisor about the alleged incident.

“We both know every single thing in my file from you is complimentary and positive,” Todd wrote in a letter to Moorlach. That’s true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. What we found in the file, which Schroeder provided to us, was consistent with what Moorlach told us. In 2016, Todd filed a gender-bias and pay-inequity complaint against Moorlach’s office. The Senate strongly rejected her complaint and noted that she “recently demonstrated poor judgment on the job and insulted multiple members of the Legislature.”

Nothing in her file matters in terms of her rape allegation. But that makes me wonder why Schroeder and his allies put so much focus on that file and on Moorlach — rather than Brough and the Legislature’s handling of sexual-assault allegations. Could it be that for some people justice is taking a backseat to politics?

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