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Accuser Offered to Drop Holden From Suit : Trial: Councilman rejected settlement in harassment case. He denies charges in third day of testimony.

October 26, 1995|JODI WILGOREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two months before the trial began in her sexual harassment and discrimination suit against Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden, his former receptionist offered to drop him from the case and pursue only a gender-discrimination complaint against the city, according to documents obtained Wednesday.

The confidential settlement offer from an attorney for former council aide Marlee M. Beyda would have rendered a judgment in favor of the 66-year-old lawmaker and required him to give Beyda no money. Holden turned down the settlement, which would have prevented him from suing for malicious prosecution costs and left the city to enter mediation with Beyda for a separate settlement.

"The city, in my mind, is the real villain here anyway," Jack O'Donnell, Beyda's attorney, said Wednesday. "The city allowed him to act as he did. The city is going to be ultimately responsible for Holden's acts, regardless of the outcome."

O'Donnell said his Aug. 15 letter followed a meeting with lawyers for Holden and the city and was intended simply to take politics out of the case.

"This was a way between me and Holden's lawyers and the city's lawyers to get around Nate Holden's insistence on taking the case to trial. It was a way to get him out and save him the embarrassment," O'Donnell said. "This was an idea that was concocted by Nate's lawyers to save him from having to back down . . . to cool out Holden and get his ego out of the matter."

Holden's lawyer at the time, Tim Agajanian, could not be reached for comment late Wednesday, but his new attorney, Skip Miller, said the settlement offer only bolsters his client's claim that he "did absolutely nothing wrong in this case."

Miller said Holden rejected the offer because he did not want the city to have to pay money for allegations he believes are unfounded.

"Nate would not sell out the city to save himself. That's not his way," Miller said. "Nate Holden, as a member of the council, is the city, represents the city, is duty-bound to do what he thinks is in the best interests of the city."

Ted Goldstein, a spokesman for the city attorney's office, refused to comment on the settlement offer.

Revelations about the settlement proposal came during the second week of the trial, in which the 30-year-old Beyda contends that her former boss touched her thigh, waist, buttocks and chest, forced her to touch his chest and penis and to kiss him, and offered to advance her career in exchange for sex. Beyda is one of three women who filed formal claims alleging that Holden harassed them, and hers is the first case to go to trial.

Spending hours on the stand for the third day in a row, Holden on Wednesday detailed three evening visits Beyda made to his apartment in Marina del Rey, and repeated his insistence that there was no romantic relationship between them. He said they never dated or had sexual interaction.

Holden said Beyda once came over to watch a videotape about Jerusalem and shared a fish dinner he had cooked. Another time, she brought him self-help videotapes by John Bradshaw titled "Wounded Child," he testified. And on the third occasion, she showed him her art portfolio, he said.

"Have you ever, Councilman Holden, had any sexual contact with Marlee Beyda?" Miller asked in court.

"I have not," Holden replied, adding later: "I didn't want anything from Marlee Beyda. I wanted to get to know her. I wanted to be friendly with her."

Holden recalled one occasion in which Beyda visited his City Hall office and approached him behind his desk.

"She began to smile and grin and say how are you and start moving around my desk with her arms extended," Holden testified. "I said, 'Marlee, do not come around the desk.' It was inappropriate for her to be on my side of the desk."

But a close friend of Beyda testified Wednesday that contact with Holden often upset the young woman, recalling one late-night phone call in which Beyda was in tears after having just returned from Holden's apartment.

"She said that Nate Holden had blocked her way out when she tried to leave, he had rubbed himself up against her, and she was disgusted," said the friend, Sharon Candler. "Marlee was crying uncontrollably, she could hardly stop crying and sobbing."

Also Wednesday, a retired Holden deputy rebutted earlier testimony that the field office in which Beyda worked had an atmosphere akin to a singles bar.

"I would not have allowed that," Geneva Cox, who ran the field office, testified when asked about previous witnesses' allegations that male staffers made guttural sounds and leered at female colleagues. "We had gentlemen in the field office. Men who respected people."

Asked whether men would tell women to stop and turn around so they could better survey their bodies--as two witnesses had stated on the stand earlier--Cox said: "Why would they do that? They could watch them as they went by."

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