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Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner pleads guilty to mistreating women

Under a plea deal, Bob Filner, 71, is barred from seeking or holding public office, but will not serve time behind bars.

October 15, 2013|By Tony Perry
  • Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner takes an oath before he pleads guilty Tuesday under a plea deal. The charges involve sexual harassment accusations by three unnamed women.
Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner takes an oath before he pleads guilty Tuesday… (John Gibbins, Associated…)

SAN DIEGO — A few months ago, Bob Filner was this city's most powerful political figure — a new Democratic mayor pledging to help those he said had long been ignored or mistreated by local government.

But Tuesday, less than two months after he resigned in disgrace, Filner stood meekly in San Diego County Superior Court, ready to plead guilty to mistreatment of women under a deal with prosecutors that bars him from ever seeking or holding public office again.

Once known for his forceful rhetoric, Filner looked submissive as he answered the judge's questions in a soft voice, admitting guilt to one felony count of false imprisonment and two of misdemeanor battery.

Under the plea bargain with the state attorney general's office, Filner, 71, will not serve time behind bars.

But he must serve three months of home confinement, undergo mental health counseling and give up most of his mayoral pension. During three years of probation, he cannot vote, serve on a jury or possess a firearm.

State Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris said Filner's conduct — touching women inappropriately, kissing them without permission, whispering lewd suggestions — "was not only criminal, it was also an extreme abuse of power."

Even in a city accustomed to political scandal, Filner's fall from power was quick and the accusations against him unprecedented. From the first allegation of sexual harassment to the deal with the City Council that forced his resignation was a short six weeks.

"This is a story beyond the most gifted fiction writer's imagining," said George Mitrovich, president of the City Club of San Diego.

San Diego County Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis, a rival of Filner in last year's mayoral election, said the case brought by the attorney general "sends a strong message that nobody is above the law, abuse of women won't be tolerated and victims will be treated with respect."

In court papers, Filner's victims were described only as Jane Doe 1, 2 and 3.

"Mr. Filner has a great legacy of achievement as a Freedom Rider, college professor, school board president, congressman and mayor," his lawyer, Jerry Coughlan, told reporters. "He doesn't want that legacy to be destroyed by his personal conduct."

Coughlan repeated his client's apology to the women Filner mistreated.

"And so do such things end, not with a bang but with a plea bargain," said Carl Luna, political science professor at San Diego Mesa College.

The felony count involves allegations of false imprisonment by "violence, fraud, menace and deceit." The count alleges that Filner used undue force to hold a woman against her will at a political fundraiser in March, apparently in a move known derisively as the "Filner headlock."

The battery counts involve accusations that he kissed one woman at a Meet the Mayor session at City Hall in April and grabbed another by the buttocks at an environmental cleanup at Fiesta Island in May.

Formal sentencing was set for Dec. 9 by Judge Robert Trentacosta, who ordered that Filner be booked and released. Prosecutors did not seek bail. At the sentencing hearing, Trentacosta will determine issues of restitution and court fees and conditions of probation.

Without the plea agreement, Filner could have faced three years in prison for the felony count and one year in jail for each of the two misdemeanor counts.

Under the plea bargain, Filner loses two-thirds of his mayoral pension, measured from the date of his first offense through his resignation. From serving on the City Council from 1987 to 1992, he receives an annual pension of about $10,000. City officials have not yet calculated how much his mayoral pension would be.
Despite his admission of guilt and apology, sympathy for Filner was in short supply Tuesday.

"It's accountability time for Bob," said former City Councilman Carl DeMaio, who lost November's mayoral runoff to Filner.

Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, who filed a civil lawsuit against Filner on behalf of his former director of communications, applauded prosecutors for bringing the charges, and the victims for stepping forward to tell how they had been mistreated by Filner.

The lawsuit, on behalf of Irene McCormack Jackson, is still pending. It is the only suit filed against Filner.

"His conduct as the mayor of San Diego was reprehensible, and justice demands that he be punished for the harm he has caused to countless women who trusted and believed in him," Allred said by email.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), a Filner supporter during her years as a labor leader, said, "I hope people will stop with the craziness now. He admitted it. Move on, stop with bizarre conspiracy rumors and stop blaming women."

Filner, San Diego's first Democratic mayor in 20 years, resigned Aug. 30 after cutting a deal with the City Council for the city to defend him against the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by an ex-staffer.

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