02:39 - Source: CNN
Governor settles with former campaign staffer who accused her of sexual mistreatment
(CNN) —  

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her gubernatorial campaign have settled with a former staffer who accused the Democrat of sexually mistreating him during a meeting, paying out at least $62,500 as part of the agreement.

A spokesman for Lujan Grisham said they “strenuously deny that there is any merit or truth” to the allegations made by James Hallinan, who worked as spokesman for the governor’s 2018 campaign, adding that they “reached a settlement in order to avoid the continuing distraction and significant expense of possible litigation” with the former aide. No lawsuit was filed.

The settlement on the claims stems from allegations Hallinan initially made in 2019, telling New Mexico state media at the time that during a staff meeting in 2018 the governor had dumped water on his crotch and then grabbed his crotch through his clothes.

“A governor @GovMLG is not above the law for her sexual and physical abuse of employees including (me!!!) I’ll talk more when I return to the country,” he wrote in a 2019 tweet.

Jared Leopold, spokesman for the governor, told CNN on Wednesday, “Governor Lujan Grisham, the campaign organization and (senior adviser Dominic) Gabello strenuously deny that there is any merit or truth to Mr. Hallinan’s claims.”

Leopold went on to say they settled to “allow them to concentrate on working for the people of New Mexico during this pandemic.”

The payments, which were made to the law firm representing Hallinan, were made public in campaign finance filings that were released on Tuesday. A total of five payments of $12,500 were made from November 2020 to March 2021, the filings show.

It is unclear whether the monthly payments will continue.

Rachel Berlin Benjamin, Hallinan’s lawyer, said the governor and Hallinan “have resolved any differences or issues to their satisfaction.” She declined to provide any further information.

Lujan Grisham, after serving as the secretary of health under New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, was elected to represent the state in Congress in 2012 before she opted to run for governor in 2018. She easily defeated Republican Steve Pearce in the general election and is now eligible to run for reelection in 2022.

The Republican Governors Association quickly jumped on the allegations against Lujan Grisham and the settlement.

“After years of vehement denial, Governor Lujan Grisham’s now revealed sexual harassment settlement certainly raises questions of why she tried to discredit her alleged victim,” said Will Reinert, spokesman for the association. “Where there is smoke there is usually fire, and Lujan Grisham just wrote a check for $62,500 worth of kindling.”