New Mexico governor pays $62,500 to former staffer in sexual harassment settlement

New Mexico governor pays $62,500 to former staffer in sexual harassment settlement

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has reached an at least $62,500 settlement with a former campaign staffer who accused her of sexual harassment, according to public campaign financial filings and a spokesman for the governor.

A campaign financial report filed with the New Mexico Secretary of State Tuesday shows five payments of $12,500 paid to Buckley Beal LLP for “legal expenses.” The monthly payments began in November 2020 and continue to the end of the report in March. No payment to the firm was made in October, or before then in 2020, according to filings seen by NBC News.

Buckley Beal LLP is representing James Hallinan, who worked as a campaign communications director for Lujan Grisham and about a year after the campaign ended, accused her of sexual misconduct.

On Christmas 2019, Hallinan wrote on Twitter, “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.”

A couple days later, Hallinan told local media that Lujan Grisham, 61, had poured a bottle of water on his crotch and then slapped and grabbed his crotch through his pants. He said the incident happened “in front of everybody.”

Hallinan had previously worked as a communications director for Attorney General Hector Balderas, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy and Connecticut Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman. He now runs his own public relations company.

His lawyer, Rachel Berlin Benjamin with Buckley Beal LLP, told NBC News that “Governor Lujan Grisham and Mr. Hallinan have resolved any differences or issues to their satisfaction.”

She said she could not provide any further information, and did not answer a question as to whether there would be further payments.

Jared Leopold, a campaign spokesperson for Lujan Grisham, confirmed the payments were part of “an agreement settling numerous dubious and disputed potential claims made by Mr. Hallinan arising from his employment in 2018 with the campaign organization.”

Governor Lujan Grisham, her senior advisor Dominic Gabello and her campaign “strenuously deny that there is any merit or truth to Mr. Hallinan’s claims,” Leopold said in a statement.

“The settlement agreement fully resolves the disputed potential claims,” Leopold said. “They reached a settlement in order to avoid the continuing distraction and significant expense of possible litigation and allow them to concentrate on working for the people of New Mexico during this pandemic.”

Lujan Grisham’s press secretary, Nora Meyers Sackett, declined to comment, saying the issue was “not official state business.”

Neither she or Leopold would say if more payments were due to be paid out in the settlement.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, served as a U.S. Representative for the state, beginning in 2013 before she was elected governor in 2018. She is eligible to run for reelection in 2022.