Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Filner Takes Stand In Civil Trial, Denies Harassment Of Women

Mayor Bob Filner addresses allegations of sexual harassment in a video.
City of San Diego
Mayor Bob Filner addresses allegations of sexual harassment in a video.

Filner Takes Stand In Civil Trial, Denies Harassment Of Women
GUEST: Dana Littlefield, crime and courts reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune

Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner does not remember the woman who is suing him for sexual harassment and would never act in the way she describes. He took the stand Wednesday in the civil trial in addition to the ex-Mayor, or familiar faces testified about their role in the scandal back in 2013. That's when allegations from more than one doesn't women forced Filner to do -- resign. Dana Littlefield is covering the trial. Dana welcome to the program. Hi Maureen. What is happening in court today? It is my understanding that the plaintiff attorneys will put on their final witnesses today. This morning there was testimony from a psychologist who talked a bit about his meeting with Ms. McKenzie and some additional medical records that he had looked over. When and where does Stacy McKenzie say she was sexually harassed by former mayor filmer. April 2013. It was on a Sunday. It was at a park near Mission Bay. She had been invited to the event by a colleague and was hosting an event called Clairmont days at the park. She went to support that person and ran into Mr. Filner. She had not previously met him so wanted to take the opportunity according to her testimony to introduce herself that day. And what issues they happen? I really must mention that what she says Hampshire happened was also shown in court in a video animated version. Tell us what she says took place. She says that she had first went up to Mr. Filner, she started to introduce herself but he was speaking to a high school student and so he told her to wait just a moment and gestured to the side. She went to that spot and waited for him to finish speaking to the high school student who was reporting for his school newspaper. As she waited, she says that she so Filner leering at her. When he did come over and talk to her a few minutes later, he made comments to the effect of whenever I see a beautiful woman I've always got to come over and talk to her. He asked her to lunch. He said something like, would you ever go to lunch with your boss? She said she did not see why not. He then grabbed her by the wrist and said I want to make this clear, I am not -- I am asking you on a date this is not a business lunch. That was the first part of the encounter. We saw as I said animated depictions of the Filner headlock which it she also alleges. She said she got away from his grip agreed that he had on her hands or wrist, walked away from him and ran into a couple of park rangers. She began recounting the incident to them saying something like you will never believe what just happened to me. As she is talking to them, Filner comes up behind her and puts his arm around her neck and shoulders. She said that he pressed his body against her from behind. At some point during this interaction he drops his arm and his elbow touches or grazes or rubs her breast area. This again, made her uncomfortable. The former mayor yesterday took the stand and completely denied the incident. He said he does not remember the incident that she described. He also said that he does not remember meeting her at all. He said, quote I don't recall the incident but there are certain things I would never do. How did he appear on the stand? Very calm and very matter of fact as he answered the questions. He was called as a witness by the plaintiffs attorney. Under direct examination he repeatedly said he did not remember the incident and did not remember this person, the plaintiff specifically. His demeanor changed a little later on in the testimony during cross examination by the attorneys representing him and the city. When he talked about the charges that he pled guilty to in Superior Court, he lowered his head and expressed how -- what a disappointment this was for him to go through that sort of thing. A number of people that we remember from the scandal in 2013 have been called to the stand. Donna Frye who was the first who called for Filner to step down was asked to testify. What was she asked about? She was asked about specifically about her resignation. She resigned, she worked in Filner's office as director of open government. She was asked about the resignation letter she submitted in early April 2013 April 2 I believe is the specific date. In that letter she mentioned not being able to do her job for various reasons. She testified to that yesterday in court. About how essentially she was supposed to be in charge of a unit dedicated to open government but her efforts were being forded. She was not able to talk to the people she needed to talk to to do her job well. Additionally she was asked about her concerns about Filner personally. She testified that she had been hearing information from people in the community that Filner had approached women, had behaved inappropriately with women at various events, and so she expressed her that she testified that she expressed those concerns to Filner's Chief of Staff. Irene McCormick the former chief of staff who was the first public of cues or was called for the same reason? Yes. She was the -- his communication director. She testified about the various inappropriate interaction she had with Bob Filner while working in his office. A lot of those things have been well reported because of her lawsuit. Basically she went over a lot of those incidents including a time when he asked her to work without panties on and various other things. There was an attempt to kiss her that she also mentioned. She asked him to leave her office. She went over several of those incidents in the courtroom yesterday. You said the plaintiff's case may be wrapping up soon. How long is this trial expected to last? I don't know I don't have a specific time estimate. I can't tell you the attorney said to the judge yesterday, they were going to the plaintiff's attorneys were planning to call their final witnesses today and the attorneys for the defendant did go through a list of people they had planned to call. It was not a long list. It is something to me like it could be wrapped up shortly. Perhaps not today but very soon. I have been speaking with Dana Littlefield. Dana thank you.

Bob Filner repeatedly denied inappropriate conduct toward women, physically or verbally, when he took the stand Wednesday in trial of a civil lawsuit filed against the ex-mayor and the city of San Diego.

Asked by a lawyer about alleged sexually oriented contacts he had with a variety of female employees, Filner responded with "That's not true, sir" or "That never happened, sir" or "No, sir."

His statements came on the second day of testimony in the trial stemming from a lawsuit filed by Stacy McKenzie, who alleges that the former congressman grabbed her from behind at an April 2013 event at De Anza Cove Park, pressed against her buttocks and grazed her breasts with his arm.

McKenzie, a parks district manager for the city, testified Tuesday that the touching came several minutes after she extricated herself from a conversation in which the then-mayor inquired about whether she was married or had a boyfriend, and asked her out on a lunch date.

Her lawsuit is one of two involving Filner — who resigned under fire four months later — that have not been settled. Four other similar cases were settled for more than $1 million total.

Filner, 73, called the day of his resignation "the saddest day of my life."

"I felt like I had let a lot of people down," said Filner, who earlier told jurors that he met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the age of 13 and pledged to the civil rights leader that he would lead a life of non-violence.

Opposition within the city to his policies made it impossible for him to govern, according to Filner.

"The whole experience was incredibly devastating," Filner said. "I didn't think I was guilty of many of the allegations."

He later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and felony false imprisonment. He was sentenced to three months on house arrest and three years probation.

On Tuesday, McKenzie testified that she felt "doomed" after her encounter with Filner. She alleges sexual battery by Filner, and sexual harassment and negligent failure by Filner and the city to prevent the attack.

She said she knew Filner had a temper and she didn't want to get demoted. She said she stopped answering phone calls and avoided going downtown.

"I'm still anxious by it," McKenzie said. "I still worry about my job. I feel like politicians have long-reaching arms. I don't know if he still has friends with the city of San Diego."

In his testimony Wednesday, Filner said he didn't recall the incident because he attended thousands of such events.

"I don't recall meeting Ms. McKenzie at all," he said. Asked about grabbing her, Filner responded, "I would never do such a thing, sir."

He conceded that it was possible he might ask out women he met at such events, but wouldn't do so with a city employee.

In his opening statement in the courtroom of Judge Timothy Taylor, Deputy City Attorney George Schaefer said the eight-man, four-woman jury will have to decide whether there was sexually oriented contact with the plaintiff's breast, and whether Filner's actions met the provisions of state sexual harassment law.

He pointed out that McKenzie's interviews with law enforcement in the months following the incident differ with her current account.

The lawsuit was filed after the city denied a $500,000 claim by McKenzie. Her lawyers will decide how much in damages to ask for when they make their closing argument.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.