City Council Won’t Pay Filner’s Legal Fees
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Aired 7/31/13 on KPBS News.
Who is going to pay for the sexual harassment lawsuit against the city of San Diego and Mayor Bob Filner?
The turn out was small at Tuesday night's city council meeting — just a handful of people were present in the council chambers — but the issues were big. The nine-member council not only voted against covering the legal fees for Mayor Bob Filner's sexual harassment lawsuit filed last week by Irene McCormack Jackson, but it also voted to sue the mayor.
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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.
Council President Todd Gloria told reporters after the meeting that "the mayor has no right to expect a blank check from San Diegans to defend his outrageous behavior."
Gloria said the counter lawsuit against the mayor is meant to protect taxpayers.
Gloria said if the city "has to pay out any damages to plaintiffs related to the mayor’s bad actions, we will require the mayor to pay us back, and we will seek our own attorney's fees and other costs be paid by Mr. Filner."
However, that view wasn't shared by all members of the public who spoke at the meeting. Richard Thompson said he believes plaintiff McCormack Jackson is in it for the money.
"The woman suing the mayor is already being paid by the city," Thompson said to the council. "She was paid $125,000 before she refused the mayor's advances — if he did."
Thompson said it is routine for companies to cover the cost of a lawsuit against an employee, and he said this should be no different.
To hammer his point home he paraphrased what he says are the oft repeated words of yet another victim who has come forward.
"As retired rear admiral Ronne Froman, Mrs. Lydon Blue, often says, 'Put your big girl panties on," he said. "In other words, suck it up and don't whine."
However, others spoke in support of the women who have accused Filner of unwanted sexual advances; Part of Irene McCormack Jackson's complaint against the mayor is that the mayor told her she would do a better job if she wasn't wearing panties. It was hearing stories like that that prompted Julie Adams to speak at the meeting. Adams said she was outraged when she heard the mayor had asked for the city to foot his legal bills, but not surprised.
"Nothing that that man does would surprise me." Adams said, pointing to a personal interaction she had with the mayor. "I’ve ran into him one time on an elevator, and you know he’s creepy, he’s just creepy and I couldn’t get off the elevator quick enough."
"Nothing that that man does would surprise me," she said. "I've ran into him one time on an elevator, and you know, he's creepy — he's just creepy and I couldn't get off the elevator quick enough."
Elevator rides with the mayor were mentioned more than once in public comment. Ezihim Rim, a regular at city council meetings, said if he was traveling up to the 12th floor city council chambers and acted with a woman the way Filner is being accused of, he would be treated very differently.
"If I decided to say, 'Hey baby you look good in that blouse,' then on the way out I hit her on the butt, by the time I get on the 12th floor, I would be arrested," Rim said. But, he added "Bob Filner gets away with this."
The councils votes, both to refuse to cover the mayor’s legal fees and to sue the mayor to pay the city's legal fees, were unanimous.
So what does it mean when the city council and the mayor are facing off in legal battle? Gloria says it could mean gridlock.
"The city is run by two branches; by a mayor and a council. We have a council that's doing it's work, we have a mayor that is not able to do his work. We cannot get back to the business of the city until both branches of the government are functioning effectively," he said.
When asked what the solution to all this was, Gloria was straightforward.
"My personal position?" he said. "I believe that the mayor should resign."
Resigning, it seems, is the one thing the mayor is not willing to do. He has admitted he needs help and said he has intimidated women, but he said he will seek two weeks of intensive in-patient therapy to deal with the problem.
As to the problem of just who will pay for the legal fees? The city council has sent a clear message — it shouldn't be taxpayers.
Now the ball is in the mayor's court.