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Filner "saddened" by sex harassment lawsuit

July 22, 2013|By Tony Perry
  • Attorney Gloria Allred, left, with her client, Irene McCormack Jackson, former communications director for San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, at a news conference where they revealed details regarding their accusations of sexual misconduct against the mayor.
Attorney Gloria Allred, left, with her client, Irene McCormack Jackson,… (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated…)

SAN DIEGO -- Mayor Bob Filner said Monday that he is "saddened" by the sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by a former top aide but that he remains confident that he has not sexually harassed anyone and that he will prevail.

"Once due process is allowed to unfold, I am certain there will be a better understanding of this situation," Filner said in a statement. "I remain committed to the people of San Diego and the work that needs to be done. 

"My dreams and plans for moving this City to new heights are continuing. I humbly ask that through this vicious storm of controversy, people take a moment and temper their rush to judgment.

"I do not believe these claims are valid. That is why due process is so important. I intend to defend myself vigorously and I know that justice will prevail.”

His statement came just hours after a former top aide filed a lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court against Filner and the city seeking unspecified damages for sexual harassment. 

The lawsuit was filed by famed attorney Gloria Allred on behalf of Irene McCormack Jackson, a longtime journalist and employee of the San Diego Port District who became the Democratic mayor's director of communications because "she believed in him.”

Jackson, 57, known professionally as Irene McCormack, is the first alleged victim of the 70-year-old Filner to go public with accusations. Jackson now works in a different job at City Hall, not on the mayor’s staff.

Jackson said Filner created an “intimidating and hostile” work environment for other women as well.

"I saw him place his hands where they did not belong on numerous women," Jackson said.

Meanwhile, City Atty. Jan Goldsmith said that since his office represents the city, it would be a conflict for it to represent the mayor. The mayor will need to hire his own attorney, Goldsmith said.

Whether the City Council decides to pay for that lawyer remains to be seen, Goldsmith said. Filner last week hired San Diego employment attorney Harvey Berger to represent him, using his own money, although the possibility remains that he could ask the city to pay for his legal defense.

Goldsmith also said that, at his request, the mayor has agreed not to be alone with any woman while on city property.

He said that the mayor's chief of staff and deputy chief of staff have agreed to make sure that mayor abides by the rule; in the wake of the scandal, Filner has asked his longtime chief of staff while he was in Congress to assume the same job on his mayoral staff.

Three ex-supporters two weeks ago accused the mayor of sexual harassment of staffers and constituents but declined to provide names. Jackson and Allred called on Filner to resign.

“A man who lacks character makes a mockery of his ideas,” said Jackson, who took a $50,000 pay cut to go from the Port District to a $125,000-a-year job with Filner.

Allred said Filner needs to stop “treating women as pieces of meat.” She said his video apology was inadequate and that his statement that “I need help” is not sufficient.

“Do you need help to know that making vile and disgusting sexual comments is wrong,” Allred said. Jackson did not take questions.

Allred said Filner often asked Jackson when they could be alone and consummate their relationship and asked her to come to work without panties.

Filner has refused to resign and has said that his behavior toward women, while wrong, does not qualify as sexual harassment.

At a separate news conference, City Council President Todd Gloria and Councilman Kevin Faulconer repeated their call for Filner to resign.

Gloria, a Democrat,  announced that the council is undertaking investigations into Filner’s use of a credit card during a trip to Paris, his dealings with a land developer, and his absence during a key vote about the city’s pension plan.

The developer contributed $100,000 to two pet civic programs of the mayor’s before receiving approval for a project planned by the developer. The mayor later ordered the money returned and denied there was a quid pro quo.

Gloria and Faulconer said important issues -- such as developing a plan to keep police officers and firefighters from leaving for other jobs -- are looming before the city and that a lack of leadership in the mayor’s office is a detriment.

“We will get through this,” said Faulconer, a Republican. “We've done it before.”

Said Gloria: “We cannot effectively, efficiently run America’s finest city with this mayor in office.”

Asked about Filner’s selection of Walt Ekard as interim chief operating officer, Gloria said he respects Ekard but that, “the city doesn’t have a Walt Ekard problem, it has a Mayor Filner problem.”

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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