New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham's campaign has reportedly paid a whopping $62,500 to settle a sexual mistreatment claim with a former male staffer who accused her of pouring water on his crotch and then grabbing it. James Hallinan, a former spokesman for Grisham's campaign, had accused the governor of assaulting him at the home of state Rep. Deborah Armstrong during a meeting, months before the 2018 election.
Both Grisham's office and Armstrong have denied any such event occurred. A campaign spokesperson said that while they have reached an agreement settling numerous dubious and disputed potential claims, they did so only to avoid continued distractions and allow them to continue to work for the people of New Mexico during the pandemic.
Clearing Her Name
According to campaign finance reports filed Monday with the Secretary of State's Office, the governor's campaign, New Mexicans for Michelle, made five payments of $12,500 every month from November 2020 through March 2021 to an Atlanta-based law firm representing Hallinan.
"Governor Lujan Grisham and Mr. Hallinan have resolved any differences or issues to their satisfaction. I am not able to provide any further information," Hallinan's attorney Rachel Berlin Benjamin told Fox News in a statement. Hallinan served as Grisham's communications director during her candidacy for governor.
Hallinan had first accused the Grisham in late 2019 of pouring a bottle of water on his crotch while laughing. She then grabbed his crotch through his clothes in front of other campaign staffers. The incident happened in 2018 during a meeting when Grisham was running for governor and Hallinan was working as her campaign spokesman.
Hallinan at that time had described the incident as a "slap and grab" that haunted him daily. Hallinan said he'd been assaulted in front of Armstrong, Grisham's campaign adviseer Dominick Cabello and two staffers. The governor's spokeswoman, Nora Meyers Sackett, said: "We're a rambunctious bunch. I think they were playing around with water."
"It's eaten away at me every single day, all the time. And I'm not the only one, like I tweeted," he had said at the time. "They can try to defame me and say I'm horrible, that I'm this or that. No one is perfect, and they can criticize me all they want, but that doesn't change what happened."
Winning the Fight
The settlement involved Hallinan, the governor and her gubernatorial campaign, and Dominic Gabello, who worked as her campaign adviser and now works in the Governor's Office. That said, it is not clear when the settlement was reached, with the payout only coming to light as part of a campaign finance report filed Monday with the Secretary of State's Office.
It is also not clear if further payments will be made in upcoming months, as the five monthly payments are listed as legal expenses in the report. Jared Leopold, a spokesman for Grisham, told Albuquerque Journal that the payments were part of a settlement agreement.
However, her campaign continues to vehemently deny all the allegations of sexual misconduct. Leopold said that the decision to pay Hallinan was in a bid to resolve "numerous dubious and disputed potential claims made by Mr. Hallinan arising from his employment in 2018 with the campaign organization and his subsequent search for employment."
Interestingly, the news of the settlement comes one year after the governor signed a bill into state law limiting the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in sexual misconduct cases. The law, signed in March and going into effect in May 2020, bans employers from requiring employees to sign NDAs about sexual harassment, assault, discrimination or retaliation claims.
Hallinan, who now runs his own communications firm, worked for Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas prior to joining Lujan Grisham's campaign.