SACRAMENTO — Two Assembly sergeants-at-arms were suspended without pay last week after they allowed a top aide to Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale to wander at night through the state Capitol offices of two high-ranking Democrats who are leaving office.
Ken Bell, a $4,538-a-month Nolan aide, reportedly told authorities that he was merely surveying soon-to-be available office space when he went into the offices of Richard Robinson of Garden Grove and Frank Vicencia of Bellflower, the Assembly speaker pro tempore.
But some Democrats doubted the explanation.
"That sounds like a little dreaming, since I was one of the senior members," Robinson said. "They have no one in the Republican caucus who even approaches the seniority to demand an office like this, except Bill Lancaster (of Covina). And I understand Bill is quite happy where he is."
Office space is assigned by the Assembly Rules Committee, and senior Democrats generally get the more spacious offices in the Democrat-controlled Assembly.
Rules Committee officials, who conducted an informal inquiry after the incident last Wednesday, said there is no indication anything was taken. But Sam Walton, the Assembly's chief personnel officer, said Bell did not have permission from Robinson and Vicencia to be in the offices at night and should not have entered without it.
Brent Ishida, the sergeant-at-arms who let Bell into the offices, and Mike Martinez, the sergeant-at-arms who was serving as dispatcher the night of the incident and thus authorized the entry, have been given two-week suspensions without pay, Walton said. Ishida earns $2,022 a month, and Martinez makes $1,623 a month.
"As soon as I brought it to their attention, they recognized immediately that it shouldn't have happened," Walton said.
Robinson's chief of staff, Anne Kelly, said she was working late at her office last Wednesday, conferring with another aide, when she heard the outer door to Robinson's fifth-floor suite of offices open. Kelly said Bell "was rather belligerent" when she questioned him about the propriety of being there.
Walton said Bell had pressured Ishida and Martinez, demanding entry as a high-level assistant to the Assembly's top Republican.
Bell apparently faces no repercussions from the incident.
"We'll talk it over so something like that doesn't happen again," said Mike Pottage, Nolan's press secretary. " . . . It really was pretty innocent except that we got a couple of sergeants on the hook."
The duties of Assembly sergeants-at-arms, who are primarily responsible for maintaining order during legislative sessions, range from minor security functions to acting as drivers and messengers for elected Assembly members.
Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), who is out of town, was told about the incident by telephone Friday and was "not happy or particularly pleased" with Bell's actions or the severe punishment given the sergeants-at-arms, his press secretary, Susan Jetton, said. Robinson, who said the suspension already had been meted out when he learned about the incident, said he, too, feels "a little bad about it."
But Robinson, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress this year instead of seeking reelection and is leaving the Assembly after 12 years, said the decision to allow a top Republican aide into his office "goes against policy for as long as I've been here."
Kelly said that, with Robinson preparing to leave office, she had been concerned that personal correspondence or sensitive political documents might be lying around in boxes or out in the open.
"Why was he (Bell) coming in after hours?" she asked. "The first thing I wondered was why he didn't come in here between 9 and 5."
Bell, a former planning commissioner and unsuccessful City Council candidate from Redondo Beach, was out of town on vacation and unavailable for comment.