California state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D.) was admonished on Thursday for giving unwanted hugs to colleagues and staff members.
The California Senate Rules Committee officially reprimanded Hertzberg, who was nicknamed "Huggy Bear" by his colleagues, for making three current or former female legislators and a male sergeant-at-arms uncomfortable, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In December, the Senate launched an investigation into Hertzberg after a former colleague, Assemblywoman Linda Halderman (R.), came forward to allege that Hertzberg repeatedly gave her prolonged and unwanted hugs. Halderman said his behavior continued even after she voiced her objection, and she also alleged that during one such hug, Hertzberg "thrust his groin" into her. The Times reported:
The investigation, conducted by two outside law firms, found that Hertzberg likely hugged Halderman on one occasion. It said the record did not support her assertion that he hugged her on multiple occasions or that he did so after she asked him to stop.
Halderman communicated with investigators by email but declined to be interviewed in person. She did not respond to a request for comment but the Sacramento Bee reported she has criticized the investigative process. "I don't respect how they've handled it," she told the Bee.
Shortly after Halderman came forward, two other fellow lawmakers came forward to say they were uncomfortable by Hertzberg's behavior and felt he had crossed a line.
The investigation found that Hertzberg's behavior had a crossed a line but were not sexual in nature. Hertzberg was warned by Senate leadership on two previous occasions in 2015 that his behavior was causing concern amongst colleagues and staff members. The rules committee found that Hertzberg did not take those warning seriously and continued to act in a manner which many construed to be inappropriate.
The investigation also revealed that Hertzberg invaded the personal space of a male sergeant-at-arms in 2016.
"Hertzberg danced briefly with his backside against a male Sergeant-at-Arms in a manner that was unwanted and made the Sergeant uncomfortable," the report stated.
The senator apologized if his behavior had crossed any personal boundaries, saying his actions were only meant to offer his colleagues and aides "warmth and human connection."
"To the extent anyone has felt uncomfortable with any of my hugs, I apologize to them," Hertzberg said. "I've never meant anything other than just warmth and human connection, which I think has value in society."
Hertzberg, who previously served as Speaker of the California State Assembly, has been tipped as a potential replacement for Kevin de Leon as president pro tempore of the California State Senate. De Leon, who has served in the role since 2014, is term-limited and has announced plans to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (Calif.) in the Democratic senatorial primary this year. It is unclear if Hertzberg's behavior will prevent him from succeeding de Leon.