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Supporters Ask Filner To Resign Over Sexual Harassment Claims
July 11, 2013 11:39 a.m.
Marco Gonzalez, is a cofounder and Managing Partner of Coast Law Group LLP.
Carl Luna, political science professor, San Diego Mesa College
ST. JOHN: Accusations of arrogance, abrasiveness, and corruption have been brushed off. Now the allegation is that a number of women have suffered sexual harassment by the mayor. Here to talk about the allegation is one of the three people who wrote letters calling on the mayor to resign, attorney Marco Gonzalez.
GONZALEZ: Thanks for having me.
ST. JOHN: And Carl Luna, political science professor at Mesa College.
LUNA: Nice to see you.
ST. JOHN: And KPBS senior editor Mark Sauer.
SAUER: Hi, Alison.
ST. JOHN: So Marco, I'm going to read the letter.
GONZALEZ: Let's be clear. This was an e-mail that I sent to the mayor at his personal home e-mail.
ST. JOHN: Okay. That's an important distinction. "Hello Bob. At our recent meeting, unfortunately I, and a number of my colleagues, have reached the point where we do not believe your behavior will change. Resignation is the appropriate choice for you to minimize the damage to your constituency and your city." And yet this is no firm evidence to back those allegations up.
GONZALEZ: There is no firm evidence that we believe we're capable of putting in the public arena. There is very firm evidence. Very firm evidence that I would take to write that e-mail. I have clients who deserve a lot of respect, to even come to a lawyer, to come to someone who they know is an ally of Bob, that was huge for them, and frankly, will they come forward in the future? That depends on how Bob responds.
ST. JOHN: You said at your press conference this morning, you will be there when and if your plans are ready to come forward.
GONZALEZ: This is a play or a story with many chapters and it's going to be a script that gets written as it moves along. There are women who are contacting us every day since this story broke with their own stories. And frankly, when and how any of those stories become public, I can't really speculate. It comes down to the mayor confront the issue, deciding what his course of action will be.
ST. JOHN: The three other people who have written letters are Cory Briggs, also an attorney, and Donna Frye, who actually worked for the mayor for three months. Did you all decide mutually to release your letters together?
GONZALEZ: I want to respect my colleagues and say that we were in communication. And all of us felt similarly with respect to the gravity of the circumstances, and our commitment to the women and the circumstances that gave rise to our individual letters. We wrote the letters separately, but we did decide that it was something that needed to come out.
ST. JOHN: So the key issue here is evidence. And Mark Sauer is in the studio with us to talk about some of the investigations that inewsource has been involved in.
SAUER: Well, we have looked at this for quite a while. Amita Sharma commented on KPBS yesterday that she has been talking to many of the alleged victims regarding sexual harassment here, and as she reported, these allegations involve groping, kissing, lewd comments. And people want to know the nature of this. People understand the political ramifications, we're going to get to that in ray moment. But we have done some reporting, and these women did not wish to come forward because they fear retribution, what may personally come down on them as alleged victims.
ST. JOHN: On Twitter, there are some rumors that perhaps KPBS staffers have been involved in this issue.
SAUER: Yes, and they're mostly talking about other media people. They want to know about rumors and reports that KPBS staffers had been alleged victims of harassment. I want to be clear, KPBS staffers have not been victims of harassment, we did an internal investigation, and we determined that incidents here, and involving any staffers on KPBS, and any public officials did not rise to the level of sexual harassment. I want to be very clear on that. And that matter was put to rest sometime ago. Did it prime our pump in terms of investigation and news and being alert to some of these behaviors? Certainly.
ST. JOHN: So Carl Luna, what kind of risks are Marco, Donna Frye, and Cory Briggs taking oncoming out with these accusations?
LUNA: Those who supported the mayor may be saying conspiracy in all of this, that this is an effort to dislodge the mayor. If this was coming from a Republican camp, that might hold more water. But this is coming from intimate supporters of the mayor. That will lend more credibility to the allegations. Supporters of what they've done will point out they have done something almost on an honorable level. His opponents would be blasting it everywhere in great detail. They believe they've given him an opportunity to 2 the honorable thing. Now the ball is fully in the mayor's court.
ST. JOHN: Filner is the first democratic mayor in decades. What do you think the Republican party is going to be doing?
LUNA: Well, they're going to hope to unseat him. If this doesn't go away, it may end up in a recall. At some point though the Republicans have to face the political reality, just because you get rid of one democratic candidate doesn't mean you get rid of another one.
ST. JOHN: You see Fletcher waiting in the wings?
LUNA: Fortune plays its games. If Bob Filner were to disappear, I would see him as the clear frontrunner to replace him. It doesn't help the Republicans to do this right now. They don't have the groundwork to get the mayorship.
ST. JOHN: And what about Carl DeMaio?
LUNA: I would be surprised. If he ran for mayor and lost, say to Nathan Fletcher, it's harder to win in Congress. I would not be surprised if he decides to focus on his congressional campaign.
ST. JOHN: There's a lot more to be said about the politics of this. And we'll be talking about it more tomorrow on the roundtable. But Marco, I want to say that the press conference this morning, Cory Briggs said he was looking into this issue because he was looking into the $1,000 check in relation to the Sunroad developer. And he says he sees that corruption in City Hall is systemic. Are you making these allegations as part of a bigger picture?
GONZALEZ: No. I'm not. And I want to be clear about that. Cory and I, we've brought cases together, we have a number of cases we do separately. And Cory has always been a guy who focuses on good government. And it's not a partisan issue. It doesn't matter who's in office, he's going to focus on those standards of good governance that we all believe in. But for me, this is a different more personal issue, and in some ways professionally as an attorney, this is about power and this is about the impact to women, and frankly, with the number of story, the number of rumors, the number of women out there, and the power and balance between their position and the mayor's, and the fact that it's been so hard for this issue to come to light, it was deeply personal to both myself and Donna Frye, and the other stuff didn't play into our decisions to come forward
ST. JOHN: On the other hand, you say in your letter you say if you resign it would minimize the damage to your constituency and the city. Do you feel like this damage might leave him open to blackmail?
GONZALEZ: I never thought about that. If there were folks on the other side of Tit would be a much different discussion. That's Bob's constituency. We are part of a community that needs to believe in a democratic mayor that holds in both public and private are and in the work place certain values that we espouse to as a community. And when that doesn't happen, we all suffer. And it's time for that to end.
ST. JOHN: Do you have political aspirations?
ST. JOHN: You're an environmental attorney. Are you in a position to file a sexual harassment suit?
GONZALEZ: I have a law firm with 13 attorneys and an associate with significant experience in employment workplace harassment matters. If this goes to litigation, we will likely be handling it.
ST. JOHN: What's the distinction between sexual harassment and sexual abuse?
GONZALEZ: Sexual harassment has a very explicit definition in state law. It has a lot to do with the perceptions of the person who is being harassed. The relationship in the workplace. And because I want to respect my clients, I'm not going into detail what types of activities, maybe some of the ones that Mark brought up, but in the end of the day, we're very clearly tracking the definition of harassment under state law.
ST. JOHN: So if the mayor were to come out and apologize, what would your next step be?
GONZALEZ: We have no strategy. We have a goal. Our goal is to end this discussion gracefully. And to protect the women who have been subjected to this behavior, period. And as I said, we will respond. Donna and I will talk to each other about how we respond. I will talk with my clients about how they respond depending on how Bob responds.
ST. JOHN: And would anything satisfy you how you would drop these charges?
GONZALEZ: These are not charges. This is a circumstance that we have brought to light. And as I said, I represent people. There's a human element here. We can talk about politics all day long. But at the end of the day, folks need to put themselves in the shoes of people who are under the mayor's direction, and the pains that he might go through having to tell their people what's going on and being ostracized in public when they do so. That's what it's about for us.
ST. JOHN: Are there people who would come forward that you are aware of if the mayor makes certain responses?
ST. JOHN: What can the mayor do to limit the --
GONZALEZ: Republicans are going to after him, this will be fodder for a recall campaign going down the fight. If he goes gracefully and resign, the party could pull together by winning the special election and move forward. You said earlier you can't convict ahead of time, but this is not a legal process, this is a political process. At this level, it's a very personal process too. But if the public becomes convinced that the mayor has lost their faith and confidence, I don't see how he can easily restore that.
ST. JOHN: And you are somebody, Carl, who watches San Diego politics carefully. What was your reaction when you first heard this?
LUNA: I'm wondering if we can get our own reality television show finally. San Diego politics is incredibly involved, and the levels of corruption and allegations. I think the only upside out of this would be that it results in a greater airing of what goes on in City Hall.
ST. JOHN: Okay. Thank you for raising some of the mean questions that are swirling around the city.