The attorney for San Diego's embattled mayor says the city failed to provide Bob Filner state-required sexual harassment training and therefore should pay to defend him against a lawsuit by his former communications director, who alleges he asked her to work without wearing panties.
Filner's lawyer Harvey Berger made the argument in a letter to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith one day before the City Council voted unanimously to deny Filner funds for his legal defense. Local media published parts of the letter Wednesday.
Berger said the training was scheduled but the city trainer canceled and did not reschedule.
"While, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, many might argue that 'you don't need a weatherperson to tell you which way the wind blows,' and an adult male should not need sexual harassment training," Filner may not be facing a lawsuit today if he had undergone the classes, Berger wrote.
"This is not an excuse for any inappropriate behavior which may have occurred, but having conducted sexual harassment training many times over the years, I have learned that many — if not most — people do not know what is and what is not illegal sexual harassment under California law. There is a very, very good reason for mandatory sexual harassment training; if nothing else it makes people think about the subject, and how they interact with their fellow employees," Berger wrote.
Filner is facing allegations of unwanted advances from at least eight women, including his former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, who filed a lawsuit July 22 against the mayor and the city. In the lawsuit, McCormack alleges Filner asked Jackson to work without panties, demanded kisses, told her he wanted to see her naked, and dragged her in a headlock while whispering in her ear.
The accusations have prompted a recall effort and a chorus of calls for Filner to resign, including from seven of nine City Council members.
Dealing a double rebuke to its mayor, the council voted unanimously Tuesday to sue Filner to require the mayor pay for any damages or attorney fees out of his own pocket if the city is held liable. It also moved to deny Filner funds for his legal defense.
"His employers, San Diego taxpayers, did not have to bail him out for the mess he created," City Councilman Kevin Faulconer said.
Under state law, Filner cannot accept more than $440 a year in donated services from his attorney, and campaign money can be used only to defend against alleged violations of the state's campaign finance law, said Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
He can, however, create a legal defense fund, Ravel said.
Filner, who is 70 and divorced, said Friday he would enter two weeks of "intensive" therapy Aug. 5, defying calls from his own party leaders to resign. The former 10-term congressman is less than eight months into a four-year term. He is San Diego's first Democratic mayor in 20 years.
Besides the sexual harassment allegations, Filner faces questions over a June trip to Paris that was sponsored by the Organization of Iranian-American Communities. On Wednesday, he said he would reimburse the group for his expenses, claiming it told him incorrectly that it had nonprofit status under Internal Revenue Service rules.
Filner could have accepted the trip if the group were a nonprofit.
The mayor has said the group paid $9,839 in airfare, lodging and meals, which is well above the $440 he could accept each year as a gift under state law.