Oregon Representative Diego Hernandez’s attempt to block the House of Representatives from voting on whether to expel him from the legislature failed on Saturday when a judge refused to intervene.
Earlier this month, a panel of lawmakers determined that Hernandez had been harassed and created a hostile work environment for three women. The entire House could vote as early as Tuesday on whether to expel the Democrat from Portland.
Hernandez’s trial was aimed at securing a temporary restraining order to stop the eviction vote and prevent further punishment. But United States District Court Judge Ann Aiken made it clear that the Oregon legislature had “the power to control its own members,” and she was reluctant to allow the court to intervene.
In his opinion, delivered on Saturday afternoon, the judge noted that Hernandez’s claim was that he would face “public condemnation, a tarnished reputation and reduced financial expectations” if he was deported without having “a significant opportunity. to be heard ”.
“However, the complainant has not cited any fact that his deportation is certain or even likely to occur,” Aiken wrote. “In order to prevent the possibility of this uncertain outcome, the court should infringe upon the prerogatives of the Oregon legislature, ordering, as (Hernandez) demands, that the House of Representatives not even consider a resolution submitted by its members. own members. “
It would take a two-thirds vote or 40 House members to kick Hernandez out.
The third-term Democratic lawmaker, who represents East Portland, would be the first person kicked out of the legislature, according to available state records. The vote would not take place, however, if Hernandez decided to step down first.
During oral argument on Thursday, Hernandez’s lawyer Kevin Lafky argued that lawmakers had not had a chance to present his case. The House conduct committee, Lafky said, lacked evidence that would have added context and nuance to Hernandez’s case. When Hernandez tried to provide more evidence to support his case, his lawyer pointed out, much of it was heavily redacted.
“It would be like a jury saying, ‘Well, judge, thank you for these exhibitions. But I’m not going to consider them, ”Lafky told the judge.
Hernandez’s trial included several text messages with the women who were part of the investigation and numerous communication files that were not presented in legislative hearings examining his behavior.
Aiken, the judge, disagreed with Lafky’s interpretation in her opinion, noting that Hernandez was able to participate and respond to the investigation, to members of the House Conduct Committee. And, she noted, he will have the opportunity to speak to his colleagues in the House before they vote on whether to expel him.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, also a Democrat from Portland, has previously said normal time constraints on floor debates will be lifted, giving everyone the opportunity to speak for as long as necessary during the discussion of the vote.
During oral argument, the judge also pointed out that the vote was originally scheduled for last Tuesday and that Hernandez had not planned to attend or testify.
The vote scheduled for February 16 was canceled due to the weather, but Hernandez filed an excused absence on February 12 citing that he would not be present for the vote for “reasons of physical and mental health.”
Marc Abrams, the attorney representing the legislature, argued that the legislature had been “subjected to a full investigation and was found guilty of most of the alleged acts”. He also disagreed with Lafky’s claim that Hernandez had been denied due process.
Hernandez “received an abundant process; he just doesn’t like the outcome, ”Abrams wrote in response to the lawsuit.
In his view, Aiken also writes that Hernandez asserted that the actions against him are “primarily based on (his) race” and alleges that “many Caucasian members … have committed much more serious acts” than him but never been expelled.
But, she continued, Hernandez offered no evidence that any action taken against him was based on his ethnicity.
Hernandez has also argued extensively throughout this process that the rule against workplace harassment on Capitol Hill is flawed.
“The Legislature has been the subject of similar scandals in recent years, and it may be, as (Hernandez) claims, that some transgressors may have resigned or come to another settlement before being expelled,” Aiken wrote. “However, the public has an interest in starting to address these inequalities at the highest levels of state government and to ensure that harassment is no longer tolerated or excused.”
In addition to an injunction, Hernandez’s lawsuit seeks $ 1 million in damages, plus attorney’s fees, noting that the process of investigating the allegations against him inflicted “emotional distress in the form of anguish, embarrassment, loss of reputation, fear, worry, grief, anger, confusion, frustration, loss of sleep and interference with usual activities of life ”for him.
This part of the trial should go ahead, according to Lafky.