State Rep. Diego Hernandez filed suit today in Marion County Circuit Court seeking a preliminary injunction to halt a vote on the House floor to expel him that could be held as soon as Feb. 16.
Hernandez filed his lawsuit against the Legislature, the Oregon House, House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) and the co-chairs of the House Conduct Committee, state Reps. Julie Fahey (D-Eugene) and Ron Noble (R-McMinnville). The lawsuit was was first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Hernandez alleged a number of procedural flaws, including claims that the investigation against him took longer than was allowed; that he was given insufficient time to respond; that the House Conduct Committee never saw the exculpatory evidence Hernandez presented to investigators; and that acting Legislative Equity Officer Jackie Sandmeyer is married to a former Kotek aide, a relationship Hernandez argues should have been disclosed and was not. (Kotek reported one of the complainants' cases to Sandmeyer's office and personally called on Hernandez to resign.)
All of those flaws in the case against Hernandez, argues his attorney Kevin Lafky, made it impossible for Hernandez to get a fair hearing in front of the Conduct Committee, which voted last week to expel him, a process that requires a two-thirds vote of the 60-member House.
Lafky also argues that House Rule 27, which prohibits harassment and which the Conduct Committee found Hernandez had violated, impinged on the right of the accused party to a fair hearing.
"This Court should declare Rule 27 facially unconstitutional," the lawsuit says. "This Court should order Defendants to cease and desist in its efforts to remove Plaintiff from his duly elected position."
Hernandez is also seeking $1 million in damages for emotional distress and the potential loss of his job.
"If Plaintiff is expelled from the House of Representatives, he will lose his position as a member of the Legislature and his compensation and benefits," the lawsuit says. "Plaintiff receives approximately $5,000 per month in compensation and benefits due to his position as a member of the House of Representatives and a $151 per diem stipend while the House of Representatives is in session."
Danny Moran, a spokesman for Kotek, said the Oregon Department of Justice had advised the legislative branch not to comment.