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San Diego mayor never got harassment training, city may be liable

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. (25979)
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — A lawyer for San Diego Mayor Bob Filner criticized the city for not providing sexual harassment training to the mayor, saying its failure to do so violated the law.

In a letter to the city attorney, Harvey Berger wrote that Filner might never have been sued for sexual harassment had he been properly trained.

“If there is any liability at all, the city will almost certainly be liable for ‘failing to prevent harassment,’ “ Berger wrote in a letter dated Monday and obtained Wednesday by CNN from City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.

An intent of Berger’s letter was to urge the city to pay Filner’s legal fees associated with a sexual harassment filed against him by his former spokeswoman, Irene McCormack Jackson. The city is named as a co-defendant in that lawsuit.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted 9-0 to deny the mayor’s request for taxpayers to pay his legal fees, according to Matt Awbrey, spokesman for council member Kevin Faulconer.

Filner never received sexual harassment training while serving in Congress from 1993 to December 2012, Berger wrote. He was set to get such training — which is required within six months of one’s start date — after becoming mayor, but the trainer canceled the session and never rescheduled, according to the lawyer.

“There is very, very good reason for mandatory sexual harassment training,” Berger said. “If nothing else, it makes people think about the subject and how they interact with fellow employees.”

While the mayor has admitted unspecified inappropriate behavior in the past, he denies the allegations against him by Jackson.

“This is not a request for the city to agree to pay any verdict; it is simply a request for defense against unverified claims being brought against the mayor — claims which are denied,” Berger said.

Jackson isn’t alone. Seven other women have said they were subjected to “crude and disgusting” comments and inappropriate touching — including groping and kissing — by Filner. Many of the alleged incidents of which he’s being accused took place during his five terms in a U.S. representative, before he was elected mayor last year.

Berger contended that those alleged incidents took place so long ago that the accusers likely wouldn’t be allowed to testify as part of Jackson’s lawsuit or in their own lawsuits.

Nonetheless, the wave of accusations has put tremendous pressure on Filner. His chief of staff quit, the Democratic Party of San Diego voted to call for his resignation and even his fiancee left his side.

Earlier this month, Filner admitted “I need help,” adding, “I’m clearly doing something wrong.” The 70-year-old later announced he would take a two-week hiatus for “intensive counseling.”

Still, he has fought Jackson’s lawsuit and for the city to pay his legal fees.

The City Council believes San Diego shouldn’t be part of the Jackson lawsuit in the first place because it had no role in the mayor’s behavior and because of the city’s zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment.

In fact, the council decided Tuesday to file suit against Filner and seek from paying any damages should Jackson win her lawsuit.

“Bob Filner can’t pay back San Diegans for the damage he’s done to our city’s reputation, but he can and should repay the city if there are any taxpayer costs as a result of this lawsuit,” Faulconer said in a statement.

Amanda Watts and Greg Botelho | CNN