Ex-San Diego mayor pleads guilty to felony

AP News
Posted: Oct 16, 2013 3:03 AM
Ex-San Diego mayor pleads guilty to felony

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner was subdued from the moment he strode into the courtroom alone to answer charges that he put a woman in a headlock, kissed another against her will and grabbed the buttocks of a third.

"Guilty," he told a judge three times during a brief hearing before making a quiet exit and avoiding a throng of reporters.

It was a sharp contrast to a fiery resignation speech less than two months ago in which the city's first Democratic mayor in 20 years said he was the victim of a lynch mob and denied that his actions amounted to harassment.

Filner blamed his own shortcomings then but also said those failures were "ammunition" for city power brokers who pointed the gun and the news media that "pulled the trigger."

Filner, 71, did not comment on his behavior after pleading guilty Tuesday to one felony and two misdemeanors, but his attorney said the former mayor "profusely apologizes."

"I think he wants to redeem his original legacy, which was a wonderful one, and put this behind him," attorney Jerry Coughlan said.

Under a plea agreement, the state attorney general's office will recommend Filner be sentenced to three months of home confinement and three years of probation. The maximum possible sentence for the felony count of false imprisonment is three years in prison and one year for each misdemeanor count of battery.

The plea came as a grand jury prepared to begin hearing weeks of testimony about Filner's behavior. It avoids the prospect of a long, expensive trial that University of San Diego law professor Shaun Martin said would be risky for both sides.

"You basically had a trade-off — no time served in return for a felony plea. Both sides got something, and both sides left something on the table, which is how most plea deals work out," Martin said.

Nearly 20 women have publicly identified themselves as targets of the former 10-term congressman's unwanted advances, including a retired Navy admiral, a university dean and a great-grandmother. The criminal charges mentioned three women, identified only as Jane Does.

Filner restrained a woman against her will at a fundraiser on March 6, applying additional force after she resisted, according to the plea agreement. Coughlan told reporters that he put her in a headlock.

He also kissed a woman without permission at a "Meet the Mayor" event on April 6 and groped another victim at a May 25 rally to clean up Fiesta Island in Mission Bay.

The criminal charges do not involve Filner's former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, who was the first to go public with sexual harassment allegations in July. She has filed a lawsuit against the mayor and the city, claiming her former boss asked her 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.

In exchange for Filner's resignation, the city agreed to pay his legal fees in a joint defense of the McCormack Jackson lawsuit, and to cover any settlement costs assessed against the mayor, except punitive damages. The city did not represent him in the criminal case.

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Gloria Allred, an attorney for McCormack Jackson, applauded the outcome of the criminal case.

"It is long overdue for him to be accountable in both the civil and criminal justice system and today is an important step forward in bringing Bob Filner to justice," she said.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department began an investigation in July with a hotline for complaints about Filner, fielding more than 200 calls. The department delivered its findings to the state attorney general's office, which confirmed its own investigation in August.

"This conduct was not only criminal, it was also an extreme abuse of power," California Attorney General Kamala Harris said. "This prosecution is about consequence and accountability. No one is above the law."

Filner forfeits his right to vote and, as part of his plea agreement, will not seek public office again. Coughlan said his pension will not accrue from the time of the first offense in March.

Coughlan acknowledged his client's demeanor in court had changed from his defiant resignation speech, calling him "a much more humbled man."

"He's been jogging, he's been getting therapy, talking to friends, trying to come to terms with how to deal with these kinds of problems. It's a full-time job," he said.