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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Old case raised anew in fight for attorney general

October 27, 2006|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — With the Republican foe of Jerry Brown providing the platform, a 37-year-old mother of three came forward Thursday to charge that the Oakland mayor and Democratic attorney general candidate mishandled her sexual harassment allegations against Jacques Barzaghi, Brown's longtime aide-de-camp and confidant.

Nereyda Lopez-Bowden, who received a $50,000 settlement in the case in January 2001 after leaving her post as Oakland's chief of international trade, said she decided to contact the attorney general campaign of state Sen. Chuck Poochigian (R-Fresno) after learning from a media report that Brown's campaign spokesman said her complaint had been handled professionally.

Barzaghi, the beret-wearing former French commando who had served Brown as a trusted sidekick since his days as California governor in the 1970s, was suspended for three weeks without pay after a city investigation of Lopez-Bowden's allegations. He retained his job as a mayoral aide until he was fired in 2004 amid allegations he pushed his 30-year-old wife down the stairs during a domestic dispute.

"This is something I'm doing out of my own free will," Lopez-Bowden said during a news conference at the California Republican Party's offices in Sacramento. She said Brown had "enabled Jacques Barzaghi for many years to continue his predatory harassment."

Ace Smith, a Brown spokesman, said the news conference was an act of desperation by Poochigian, who trails by 15 points among likely voters in the most recent polls in the race to become California's top lawman.

"Chuck Poochigian has finally crossed the line from desperate to undignified," he said, adding that Brown and other Oakland officials handled the sexual harassment allegations "with the highest integrity."

Smith noted that the GOP filed a lawsuit last week seeking to have Brown removed from the ballot, "and now they're trying to recklessly smear Jerry Brown's good name."

Poochigian countered that Lopez-Bowden's testimonial about Brown's alleged disregard of her complaints stands in stark contrast to the "blanket claims" the Democrat has made about wanting to fight on behalf of oppressed workers as attorney general.

"For someone who has sought to portray himself as a defender of women, he has shown over and over he misses the mark," Poochigian said. "It's just another reflection of Jerry Brown's sense of entitlement and immunity. He thinks he can get away with anything."

Barzaghi moved to Morocco after his firing and could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Lopez-Bowden, who now runs a public relations firm in Arizona and held a job with the state's Republican governor, said the sexual harassment began her first day on the job.

She said she had begun to grow callous to it until a trip to Mexico with Brown and Barzaghi for the inauguration of President Vicente Fox. She said she roomed with Brown's secretary but alleged that Barzaghi repeatedly came knocking on the door and ultimately threatened to have her fired if she didn't have sex with him.

She returned to Oakland and filed a formal complaint, which ultimately led to sanctions against Barzaghi. After she filed a suit, a city inquiry found that she had lied on her resume, falsely stating that she had graduated from law school in Mexico.

Brown later suggested in news accounts that Lopez-Bowden had credibility problems and that Barzaghi had been railroaded. But Lopez-Bowden said the resume allegations were "a diverting issue" meant to undercut legitimate sexual harassment claims.

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eric.bailey@latimes.com

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