Originally published July 22, 2013 at 10:40 a.m., updated July 22, 2013 at 5:55 p.m.
Mark Sauer, Senior Editor, KPBS News
Amita Sharma, KPBS Investigative Reporter
Sandhya Dirks, KPBS Metro Reporter
Claire Trageser, KPBS News Reporter
Irene McCormack Jackson, former communications director for San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, sues mayor for sexual harassment.
Citing specific examples of lewd behavior by the mayor, Irene McCormack Jackson -- former communications director for San Diego Mayor Bob Filner -- has filed a suit against the mayor and the city for sexual harassment.
McCormack Jackson is represented by noted women's-rights attorney Gloria Allred. Together they described repeated specific instances of sexual harassment and possible criminal behavior by Filner since McCormack Jackson went to work at City Hall in January.
All of the accusations, statements and apologies from the key players in the developing story about allegations of sexual harassment in Mayor Bob Filner's office and calls from former mayoral supporters for his resignation.
Reading in a clear and powerful voice from a prepared text, McCormack Jackson said the day she was named Filner's communications director -- a job for which she took a $50,000 per year pay cut -- was one of the proudest of her career. But the past six months proved to be the worst period of her working life, she said. (She earned $125,000 annually at the city.)
The mayor treated women working for him as either sexual objects or idiots, said McCormack Jackson, who did not take reporters' questions.
She described Filner's penchant for putting her into a headlock and pulling her about, while whispering sexually explicit comments in her ear. She said the mayor often told her he loved her, wanted to kiss her, told her he wanted to see her naked and that she should work without panties at City Hall; and that he wanted to "consummate their relationship."
"I saw him place his hands where they did not belong on numerous women,'' she said.
McCormack Jackson said the only relationship she ever had with Filner was a working relationship, and that she never gave the mayor any reason to believe otherwise.
Filner responded in a statement Monday evening, saying he was saddened by the charges.
"Once due process is allowed to unfold, I am certain there will be a better understanding of this situation," the statement said. “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.”
Filner initially apologized and acknowledged he had a problem, but later demanded an investigation and his due process rights.
Allred, who has represented several women in high-profile cases, is well-known nationally for her many TV appearances commenting on notable legal cases and issues, most often involving women's rights issues.
She said the suit filed today in Superior Court seeks unspecified damages for the anguish suffered by McCormack Jackson. But she seemed to suggest that if Filner agrees to resign, the lawsuit may be dropped.
Allred, true to her bare-knuckles style, cited Filner's video-taped apology after the scandal broke in which he said he was "clearly doing something wrong" and "I need help." Allred then directed a series of mocking rhetorical questions at the mayor, including:
Do you need help to know that putting a woman in a headlock and make vile, disgusting comments is wrong? Are you so out of control you don't realize how your behavior affects women? Sitting on the Veterans' Affairs Committee in Congress, were you awake during the years of hearings regarding sexual abuse of women in the military?
Allred said she and her client await word from the mayor and his personal attorney regarding their lawsuit and allegations.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said this afternoon that Filner's office has been cooperative since the scandal broke nearly two weeks ago and that the mayor has agreed not to meet with women on city business.
Goldsmith also said that since the city is being sued along with Filner, the City Council may hold a hearing seeking to counter-sue the mayor, and thus indemnify taxpayers against any legal fees that might accrue. In any case, Goldsmith said, his office has a conflict of interest representing the city in this matter and outside counsel would need to be hired.
The City Attorney also said the city charter should be revisited since a mayor can only be removed from office through an onerous recall process led by citizens.
Several of Filner's top staffers have resigned recently. Walt Ekard, a well-regarded former county of San Diego chief administrative officer, took over as the city's chief operating officer on an interim basis last week.
KPBS' Maureen Cavanaugh, Patty Lane and Peggy Pico contributed to this Midday and Evening Edition segment