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Harassment Lawsuit Takes a Lurid Turn

Courts: San Bernardino County files a graphic response to a fired worker's charges. Her side calls it a ploy to embarrass her.

April 13, 2002|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

San Bernardino County supervisors know a thing or two about scandal. After all, this is the place where four county executives have been prosecuted for accepting kickbacks and a sitting supervisor is fighting a federal indictment for fraud.

So when office worker Theresa Bushey sued Dist. Atty. Dennis Stout in October, charging that she was fired for threatening a sexual harassment complaint, supervisors didn't mind firing back with lurid accusations of their own.

Bushey, 44, charges that Stout often asked about her sex life and frequently talked about women and their breasts. Her suit charges that she was fired in August after rebuffing his advances and threatening a sexual harassment complaint.

In an unusual response to the suit filed March 20, the county charges that it was Bushey, not Stout, who couldn't stop talking in the office about sex.

A mild summary of the accusations: She talked about her boyfriend's inadequate anatomy; she talked about her inability to be sexually satisfied; she talked about voyeurism and other forms of sexual activity.

It was such behavior that led to her firing, county spokesman David Wert said, and not any sexual misconduct on the part of the district attorney.

"Although the language in the answer might seem shocking to some, the county used considerable restraint," Wert said. "The language could have been much more explicit and shocking had the county used all it had gathered during its investigation."

County supervisors "agonized over taking this approach," Wert said. "But they felt they could not back down because of how the county might look. Their only concern was protecting the taxpayers."

Hogwash, said Bushey's outraged attorney, Vincent Nolan. County attorneys, he said, went out of their way to create a court document so embarrassing to his client and her boyfriend--identified by those familiar with the case as a high-ranking county official--that Bushey would be too ashamed to continue.

"I have never seen in my 23 years of law something like this occur in any other case," said Nolan. "This was designed to humiliate her and drive her out of the case. But I can tell you, that's not going to happen."

County Supervisor Dennis Hansberger said Bushey simply needs to know what she's up against. "It's our responsibility to say to Theresa, 'This is the story we will tell in court and you need to know that,'" Hansberger said.

Neither Stout nor his attorney, Geoffrey Hopper, would discuss the case. But some employees within the district attorney's office question the county's motives.

"My understanding was that the attitude from the county was, 'Fight fire with fire,'" said Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Lough--who is embroiled in an unrelated lawsuit against the district attorney's office. But "people have a hard time believing conduct like this occurs in the executive offices in the D.A.'s office."

Like every other scandal that has rocked the county in recent years, the talk will become old news soon enough--especially now that Stout has decided to abandon his bid for reelection after he garnered 35% of the vote in the March primary.

It didn't help that at the time of the election, Stout was trying to overcome a scandal of his own: Court documents revealed that Stout and his aides secretly helped a candidate challenging incumbent Supervisor Jerry Eaves in 2000. At the time, Stout's office was investigating Eaves--who won reelection but since has been indicted by federal prosecutors--in connection to an alleged bribery scheme.

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