Politics

Cárdenas, Member of Democratic Leadership, Denies Allegations of Child Sex Abuse

California congressman admits he’s unnamed defendant in lawsuit

Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., has denied allegations of child sex abuse raised in a lawsuit filed last week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

California Rep. Tony Cárdenas, a junior member of Democratic leadership, is denying through a lawyer allegations of child sex abuse raised in a lawsuit filed last week in Los Angeles County. 

The lawsuit did not name Cárdenas, describing the defendant, John Doe, as “an elected politician in Los Angeles County.” California law prevents the naming of the defendant in court filings for civil cases involving child sex abuse “until there has been a showing of corroborative fact as to the charging allegations against that defendant.”

But for reasons not explained in the statement his lawyer Patricia Glaser provided reporters, Cárdenas has decided to pre-emptively disclose himself as John Doe and publicly deny the allegations. 

“My client is sickened and distraught by these horrific allegations, which are 100%, categorically untrue,” Glaser said. “We respect victims who have found the strength to come forward and call out misconduct when it has actually occurred, but the type of baseless and reckless allegations that are contained in the complaint against my client can ruin the lives and careers of innocent people.”

As a member of House Democratic leadership, Cárdenas is the highest-ranking lawmaker to be accused of sexual misconduct to date. Democrats created his position in 2016 for a member serving for five terms or less to have a seat at the leadership table. 

The lawsuit alleges that in 2007 the politician sexually abused a 16-year-old girl whom he had first met two years prior at a golf tournament. He “became an integral part of Ms. Doe’s and her family’s life’s lives” and would play golf with the girl, the lawsuit alleges. 

Several hours into one such outing at Hillcrest Country Club on Jan. 29, 2007, the man handed the girl a cup of ice water that she said “tasted distinctly different from both tap and filtered water” and from water he had given to her on prior golf outings, according to the complaint.

“Because of its peculiar taste, she ceased to drink it after a few sips,” the lawsuit states. “The two had played golf for approximately four to five hours when Ms. Doe suddenly collapsed to the ground but did not lose consciousness.”

The politician drove the girl to the emergency room and while she had her eyes closed with her head resting on the passenger window he allegedly “reached his hands inside [her] shirt and rubbed her breasts” and “then reached down her shorts and fondled her vagina,” doing so “intermittently throughout the drive to the hospital,” according to the lawsuit. 

The girl was “frozen from shock” and “remained motionless and speechless throughout the entire incident in fear of what he might do if she did not feign sleep,” court documents allege. 

Immediately after dropping the girl off at the hospital, the politician left, the lawsuit states. 

The girl never confronted the man or reported the incident for fear of retaliation against her or her family, the court filing states. On one occasion after the incident, the girl was alone with the politician “at her father’s workplace” and when she did not laugh at a joke of his, he allegedly said, “Remember where your dad works,” which she perceived as a threat, according to the lawsuit.

Glaser called Ms. Doe “the daughter of a disgruntled former employee” and said she “may be the victim of manipulation.”

Ms. Doe’s lawyer Lisa Bloom declined to comment for the time being because the court has not yet authorized the naming of the defendant.  

“I represent the young woman who, carefully following California law, filed this action against the defendant named only as John Doe,” she said in a statement. “Once the court grants us leave to name the defendant, we will do so.”

The lawsuit describes emotional trauma the girl went through in the years following the incident that led her to withdraw from college and stop playing golf. She started to relive the incident and regret her subsequent inaction last year when she got married and became pregnant. 

“Being pregnant with a baby girl and encouraged by the brave women coming forward in the #MeToo movement, Ms. Doe realized that she could no longer hide or bury the truth of the sexual abuse she had suffered,” the lawsuit says, noting that she decided to speak up in hopes it would prevent future occurrences of sexual abuse for girls like her daughter. 

The lawsuit requests a jury trial and seeks civil damages for alleged sexual battery and assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

Glaser said in her statement that Cárdenas has an “exemplary record” in his more than 20 years of public service. 

“To reiterate, these claims against the Congressman are absolutely false and are utterly inconsistent with who he is — in the workplace, in the community, and at home,” she said. 

“We ask that his constituents, the public generally, and his Congressional colleagues do the right thing and appropriately withhold judgment until there has been a full vetting of the facts,” Glaser added. “The Congressman expects complete exoneration, as he is 100% innocent.”

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