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California Assembly Reopens Investigation into Groping Claim

SACRAMENTO (AP) — The California Legislature is resuming an investigation into groping allegations against Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia after her accuser appealed a finding that didn’t substantiate his claim.

Earlier this year, former legislative staffer Daniel Fierro accused Garcia of groping him in 2014. Garcia, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, denies the allegation and the Assembly said in May an outside investigator found no evidence substantiating it.

Fierro complained the investigator didn’t interview at least one witness he reported. Based on his appeal, the top Democrat and Republican on the Assembly Rules Committee authorized “further investigation,” they told Fierro’s lawyer in a Monday letter first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

“We are cautiously optimistic that this investigation will be more thorough and fair, and that all witnesses with relevant information will be interviewed,” attorney Robin Dal Soglio said in an email.

In his appeal, Fierro said the initial investigator did not interview a person whom he told about the alleged groping “shortly after it occurred.” Fierro also said the investigator didn’t interview lawmakers he said could confirm Garcia was drunk at the legislative softball game where the alleged misconduct took place.

A new investigator will contact Fierro as part of the appeal process, according to the Monday letter.

Garcia said the investigation’s initial finding is accurate and said her attorneys were not given notice of the investigation resuming before it appeared in the news.

“I have constantly asked that the independent investigatory process remain independent from politicization,” she said in a statement. “In that regard, it is unacceptable that the letter updating parties was leaked to the news media before it was received by my legal counsel.”

Garcia was once a leader of the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct. She took a three-month leave of absence after the groping allegation surfaced and returned to work last month after some of the initial investigation’s findings became public. Although she was cleared of groping Fierro, the investigator found she used vulgar language in violation of the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy.

In light of that finding, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, also a Los Angeles-area Democrat, stripped Garcia of her committee assignments and is requiring her to attend sensitivity training and a session about sexual harassment policy.

Garcia is running for re-election. Her opponent in the race to represent her heavily Democratic district is a Republican.