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City Staffer Cries Foul

A Mission Viejo secretary's claim accuses the mayor of defamation and harassment. The mayor's lawyer says it's politically motivated.

October 22, 2004|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

A Mission Viejo City Hall secretary filed a legal claim against the city Thursday, alleging that her reputation was damaged when the mayor accused her of having an affair with her boss, then-City Manager Dan Joseph.

In the claim, typically a precursor to a lawsuit, Kathy Rios alleges that Mayor Gail Reavis "engaged in a long-term, continuous course of intentional misconduct toward her, including creation of a hostile work environment, personal harassment, defamation and invasion of privacy."

The claim asks for $15,000 in damages for "mental and physical pain and anguish, loss of sleep, fear, depression and loss of self-esteem." It also lists hospital care. In addition, Rios is requesting a public apology from Reavis and an agreement to cease further misconduct.

Steven Pingel, Rios' attorney, said he believed his client could sue the city for as much as $100,000, but he maintained she would ask for only $15,000.

"I trust that the people of Mission Viejo see the bottom line," said Pingel, a Cerritos attorney who has been representing government employees in labor relations for 30 years. "She's not trying to get big money; she's trying to get compensated for the expenses."

Phillip Greer, Reavis' Newport Beach attorney, said the timing of the legal action against his client, who is running for reelection, was suspicious.

"With less than two weeks until the election," Greer said, "it's obviously politically motivated."

Pingel denied Greer's charges.

"It's not a political deal," he said. "The most recent event occurred in July and August this year. I've got a lot of clients. This just happens to be when I got it done and filed."

Reavis' critics have accused her of lapses in judgment before. A retiree first elected in 2000, Reavis acquired some notoriety last year by charging a lunch tab to City Hall without noting that her husband was among the guests. She refunded the city $10 for his share.

She was also in the middle of the drama that eventually led to Joseph leaving his job last November.

In a letter to the city attorney, Reavis said Joseph was having an inappropriate relationship with a staffer but never specifically named Rios. Joseph denied the allegation. In exchange for not suing the city and Reavis over comments about him, the city settled with Joseph and his wife, Ivy, then the city clerk, for almost $400,000.

At the time, Reavis defended her allegation against Joseph in a letter, saying her "concern is not the state of Mr. Joseph's morality, but the implications and ramifications for the city of Mission Viejo."

Lance MacLean, Reavis' harshest critic on the council, said he was taking Rios' claim seriously.

"I can assure you that we as a council will do a thorough investigation to determine the veracity of this claim," he said.

One of the allegations listed in Rios' claim involved a July incident at Rios' house. "[Reavis] pulled out a camera and began taking photos at Ms. Rios' house," the claim stated.

Reavis' attorney said his client was not "stalking" Rios.

"There is an ongoing dispute between Mrs. Rios and her neighbor across the street about various code violations by Kathy Rios," Greer said. "The individual had not received any satisfaction from the city. Gail was contacted by the neighbor, and she took some pictures of Kathy's house."

Pingel was amused by Greer's explanation. "That's a hoot," he said. "I don't think it's appropriate for a mayor to be doing something like that."

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