Ex-San Diego mayor sentenced to home confinement, probation for harassing women

12/9/2013
ASSOCIATED PRESS

SAN DIEGO — Bob Filner was sentenced Monday to three months of home confinement and three years of probation for harassing women while he was mayor of San Diego, completing the fall of the former 10-term congressman who barely a year ago achieved his long dream of being elected leader of the nation’s eighth-largest city.

Filner, who resigned amid widespread allegations of sexual harassment, pleaded guilty in October to one felony and two misdemeanors for placing a woman in a headlock, kissing another woman and grabbing the buttocks of a third.

Superior Court Judge Robert Trentacosta’s sentence was the same as what prosecutors recommended in a plea agreement with Filner. The 71-year-old former mayor faced a maximum penalty of three years in prison for the felony and one year in jail for each misdemeanor.

Filner apologized to victims and told the judge that he would work to earn back the trust of those he betrayed and recover his integrity — a sharp contrast to his defiant resignation speech nearly four months ago in which he said he was the victim of “a lynch mob.”

“I want to apologize to my family, who have stood by me through this ordeal, to my loyal staff and supporters, the citizens of San Diego and most sincerely to the women I have hurt and offended. ... Certainly the behaviors before this court today will never be repeated,” he said in a brief statement.

In a defense memorandum written for the judge to consider in sentencing, attorney Jerry Coughlan said that as mayor, Filner ended his exercise routine and stopped therapy that congressional doctors prescribed “to help stabilize his mood and safeguard mental health.”

The disruption in his medications and stress associated with his new job “substantially contributed” to his misconduct, the attorney wrote.

Among sentencing terms, Filner cannot seek or hold elected office while on probation and will be monitored by GPS during his home confinement, which begins Jan. 1. Exceptions to home confinement include medical, mental health and therapy appointments as well as travel to religious services.

Melissa Mandel, supervising state deputy attorney general, said victims in the criminal complaint did not want to address the court. She said Filner had demeaned, humiliated and embarrassed them.

“Today is the day that Bob Filner begins to pay his debt to the citizens of San Diego,” she said.

Filner sold himself to voters as a champion of civil rights, she said, but his behavior revealed a “very different person.”

“Only time will tell if Filner is the changed man he claims to be,” she said.

Filner, who is twice divorced, was convicted of felony false imprisonment for what a probation officer’s report described as putting a woman in a headlock after a dinner party on March 6 and attempting to kiss her on the lips. The woman, identified in the probation report as a longtime Filner acquaintance in the tourism and hospitality business, told authorities that he kissed her eye and “slobbered” on her cheek as she turned away. She elbowed him to get free.

The misdemeanor counts of battery were for kissing a woman on the lips without permission at a “Meet the Mayor” on April 6 and grabbing another woman’s buttocks at a May 25 rally to clean up Fiesta Island in Mission Bay. None of the victims have been identified.

Nearly 20 women have publicly identified themselves as targets of Filner’s unwanted advances, including kissing, groping and requests for dates. His accusers include a retired Navy rear admiral, a San Diego State University dean and a great-grandmother who volunteers answering senior citizens’ questions at City Hall.

The charges do not involve Filner’s former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, who expedited the mayor’s downfall by becoming the first to go public with sexual harassment allegations in July. She has filed a lawsuit against Filner and the city, claiming her 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.

Gloria Allred, McCormack Jackson’s attorney, told reporters that Filner was “one lucky man” for being spared jail time. She and McCormack Jackson sat in the front row during sentencing.

“Mr. Filner, count your blessings. Your freedom is a gift which you do not deserve,” Allred said outside the courthouse.

Filner disappeared from public view after leaving office Aug. 30, less than nine months into a four-year term. His attorney said Filner has been jogging daily, seeing a therapist twice a week and relying on family for moral support. He said Filner hoped to write about his experiences as a 1960s civil rights activist and member of Congress.

Filner received letters of support from two ex-wives, a son, his first wife’s current partner, a Baptist pastor and a former fiancee who ended their engagement while he was mayor. The authors do not offer any theories on what motivated Filner’s behavior toward women.

“Although he has more work to complete on his journey of recovery, I believe he has already made significant strides in a short time and I expect that he will continue to do so until he achieves his goals,” wrote Bronwyn Ingram, the former fiancee who said previously that she ended the engagement after he sent sexually explicit emails to other women and set up dates in her presence.

Filner was elected San Diego’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years, promising to put neglected neighborhoods ahead of entrenched downtown business interests. Two city councilmen seeking to replace him in a special election runoff — Republican Kevin Faulconer and Democrat David Alvarez — have embraced Filner’s neighborhoods-first mantra while scarcely mentioning the former mayor by name.