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Hill's Friend Had a Role in 2nd Harassment Case : Judges: Susan Hoerchner was a corroborative witness in California.

October 14, 1991|TRACY WOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Susan Jane Hoerchner, the college friend who testified Sunday in support of Anita Faye Hill, was a key corroborative witness earlier this year in a California sex harassment case that resulted in the presiding judge of the Norwalk Workers' Compensation Appeals Board stepping aside, state officials said.

During her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee into allegations of sex harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, Hoerchner acknowledged playing a role in the case of Donald H. Foster, presiding judge of the workers' compensation board before he retired.

John Duncan, deputy communications director of the state Department of Industrial Relations, which runs the workers' compensation system, said records indicate that a sex harassment investigation of Foster was begun in February after a complaint from a woman probationary workers' compensation judge.

Hoerchner, 47, was a supporting witness to the probationary judge's claim that she had been harassed, Duncan said.

A department affirmative action officer subsequently determined that there were "a number of allegations from a series of present and prior subordinates of the judge that seemed to demonstrate a pattern of behavior."

The department determined that Foster should be removed from office pending a formal investigation, Duncan said, but "soon thereafter Judge Foster's attorney . . . indicated the judge wanted to retire and requested that any investigation be postponed. Agreement was reached and the judge retired on July 2" without returning to the bench.

"We are very concerned about sexual harassment in the workplace and tried to do something about it," Duncan added.

Foster subsequently filed a workers' compensation injury claim "alleging cumulative injury to various body parts including his psyche and cardiovascular system," which is pending before the state, Duncan said.

Foster on Sunday termed the case a "tempest in a teapot . . . a minor incident," and denied that it had any connection with his retirement.

He claimed that the woman "withdrew her allegation, and I want to forget about it. I'm 70 years old. I wanted to retire and I retired." He added that he retired because of health problems brought on by his 18 years as a workers' compensation judge, eight of them as presiding judge, and for financial reasons.

Changes in state pay policies would have reduced his retirement benefits if he had stayed longer, Foster said.

In her testimony, Hoerchner, a Democrat, said she was reluctant at first to have her name made public as a witness on behalf of Hill, in part because, "The state court system that I work in is part of the executive branch under a Republican Administration. I feared retaliation."

Bill Livingstone, press secretary to California Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, responded that in "no way would she have to fear any retaliation. We would never be vindictive against anyone."

Workers' compensation judges are not political appointees. They are lawyers who qualify for their positions by passing oral and written exams and are protected by civil service statutes, Duncan said.

Hoerchner was a staff counsel with the state compensation insurance fund from May, 1987, until she became a workers' compensation judge in August, 1990. Her husband, Frederick W. Bray, 43, also is a workers' compensation judge.

"As a judge, she should be aware of the procedures there to protect against retaliation," Duncan said.

Before going to work for the state, Hoerchner was employed by the law firm of Littler, Mendelson, Fastiff & Tichy which represents only management on labor issues. The firm paid Wilson $2,000 in speaking fees in 1988 while Wilson still was a member of the U.S. Senate.

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