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Witness a no-show in Filner sexual harassment trial

Witness a no-show in Filner sexual harassment trial

SAN DIEGO — The last witness scheduled to testify for the plaintiff in the civil sexual harassment case involving former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner did not come to court Thursday, prompting the judge to dismiss the jury through the weekend.

The witness, Benelia Santos-Hunter, is the ex-mayor’s former executive assistant. She has been ordered to appear at a Friday afternoon hearing, when she will be asked to give her reasons for not complying with the subpoena. If she fails to appear, or to provide a good reason why she didn’t show up, she could be held in contempt.

Stacy McKenzie, a city employee, is suing Filner, alleging he touched her inappropriately at an event at a park near Mission Bay.

Dan Gilleon, one of her lawyers, said Thursday that the witness has not been in contact with the plaintiff’s attorneys and therefore he doesn’t know why she has not shown up to testify. Gilleon would not reveal the name of the witness, but it has been mentioned repeatedly in Superior Court since the presentation of evidence began Tuesday.

Josh Gruenberg, who represented Santos-Hunter in her sexual harassment lawsuit against Filner and the city, said in a phone interview that she is dealing with a “complicated medical issue.” The attorney did not discuss the details of the medical condition, but said city officials are well aware of it.

“She is not physically able to appear in court,” said Gruenberg, who explained that he has not been in contact with Santos-Hunter for at least 10 days, but has spoken with her family.

He also said Santos-Hunter was not asked to give a deposition in McKenzie’s case. If she had, that information could have been used in trial.

Gruenberg said he went to court Thursday “as a courtesy” to explain the situation to Judge Timothy Taylor. “The judge would like her to appear,” Gruenberg said.

Santos-Hunter is one of several people who sued Filner and the city, citing sexual battery and sexual harassment, and has been identified in news reports about her lawsuit. In February, the city agreed to a $667,000 settlement in the case, the largest payout among the five Filner scandal-related lawsuits that have settled so far.

Two suits, including McKenzie’s, are still pending.

Filner, who testified Wednesday, was asked about his interactions with her, including allegations that he tried to hug and kiss her several times without her consent.

Filner denied the allegations. He resigned as mayor in August 2013 after more than a dozen women accused him of inappropriate behavior.

Irene McCormack Jackson, Filner’s former communications director, was the first to come forward. She testified Wednesday afternoon in the McKenzie case.

“I can’t speak for (Santos-Hunter), but what I can tell you is that it was not a very pleasant experience for Ms. McKenzie to be in that same room with Mr. Filner,” Gilleon said outside the courtroom. “When I saw McCormack Jackson on the stand, I don’t think it was very pleasant for her to be in that courtroom with Mr. Filner, but I can’t say why this other witness is not appearing.”

Attorneys representing Filner and the city chose not to start presenting their own witness until the plaintiff’s case is concluded.

Before he dismissed the jurors for the day, the judge explained to the panel that there was “witness problem” that neither he nor the attorneys wanted to happen. He called it disruptive.

“This is the hand we’ve been dealt,” the judge said, before ordering the jurors to return to court Monday morning. “I don’t know what the resolution’s going to be yet, but we will have a resolution on Monday.”

Author: Dana Littlefield


Source: San Diego Union Tribune

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