A woman who is now suing Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden for sexual harassment and discrimination left several friendly telephone messages at his apartment after she quit work in his office and before she filed a claim against him, according to court testimony Thursday.
Former receptionist Marlee M. Beyda, 30, called Holden at least five times--several of them at night or from her father's house in New York--with no stated purpose, repeatedly saying, "I hope you're well," to the 66-year-old lawmaker and leaving just her first name, according to an audiotape of the messages played in court. Holden testified that the calls came between Beyda's Sept. 1, 1992, resignation and an Oct. 6 press conference in which another former employee accused Holden of sexual harassment.
A former waitress who worked in Holden's field office for about 15 months, Beyda is one of three women to file harassment claims against the councilman. A second case against him is scheduled for trial in Orange County in January.
In one of the messages, Beyda said she "just called to say hello and to see how you are," then told Holden she planned to take a shower and go to bed early. "I hope to speak to you soon," she said. "Um, I already said that I hope you were well, so, I'll speak to you soon."
But a psychologist testified that Beyda suffered depression, anxiety, fear of men and nightmares as a result of harassment by Holden.
"She often had fears that he would rape her," said Debra Borys, a sexual harassment expert who treated Beyda in 26 50-minute therapy sessions in 1993, after she filed her claim.
"He was like a mentor, fatherly figure to her, and then, as it went along, that changed [into sexual overtures]. . . . It wasn't about her as a person, it was about his own needs and she felt betrayed by that."
Borys said her former patient had feared retaliation if she complained about Holden's alleged groping, grabbing, sexual propositions and rude remarks, and that months later she remained afraid to speak up when men acted inappropriately toward her.
"She was very frightened that if she stood up for herself . . . that someone would either harshly judge her, ostracize her, or even get physically violent," the psychologist said.
Borys testified that Beyda told her about one occasion when she "cried out, 'No!' just as Councilman Holden was going to commit intercourse" and stopped him.
During Holden's fourth day on the witness stand in the non-jury trial, lawyer Skip Miller revived his previous contention that Beyda's lawsuit is part of a political conspiracy against the longtime politician, noting that Beyda filed her claim on the same day in 1993 that Holden filed papers to run for mayor.
Superior Court Judge Raymond D. Mireles kept Miller from questioning Holden about a letter Beyda's attorney, Jack O'Donnell, wrote to Holden's former attorney a month before Beyda's claim was filed. But a copy of the letter obtained by The Times shows O'Donnell said he planned to meet with a public relations consultant if Holden did not respond to Beyda's allegations with settlement negotiations.
"It is apparent to me through this delay that your client does not consider this matter to be as volatile and dangerous as I perceive," the letter says. "I must conclude that he has chosen to continue an unconscious denial regarding his despicable harassment with respect to my client."