The San Diego City Council voted Tuesday to sue Mayor Bob Filner over any costs the city must pay from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by his former communications director, dealing another setback to the leader of the nation's eighth-largest city amid mounting calls that he resign.
The Council voted unanimously to ask that a court require the mayor to pay the city for any damages and attorney fees if the city is found liable. The decision behind closed doors came hours before the Council was to consider a request by the mayor's attorney to have the city pay his legal expenses.
"This is part of due process," said City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. "If Bob Filner engaged in unlawful conduct and the city is held liable, he will have to reimburse us every penny the city pays and its attorney fees."
Irene McCormack Jackson sued the mayor and the city July 22, alleging the mayor 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. Since then, six other women have offered detailed accounts of Filner's advances, including touching and forcible kisses.
Seven of nine City Council members have urged the city's first Democratic leader in 20 years to resign, ensuring stiff opposition to paying his legal expenses even before Filner's attorney asked that the city pay his bills.
Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, said an official cannot accept more than $440 a year in donated services. Campaign money can be used only to defend against alleged violations of the state's campaign finance law.
An official can, however, create a legal defense fund under state law, Ravel said, leaving a possible avenue if the City Council rebuffs Filner.
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 as mayor.
Land-use surveyor Michael Pallamary published a newspaper notice Sunday to begin a recall bid, two days after gay rights activist and newspaper publisher Stampp Corbin did so. Pallamary accused Corbin of being a stealth supporter of the mayor and threatened to file a complaint with the San Diego County district attorney's office alleging election law violations.
Pallamary said Corbin would make little effort to collect the more than 100,000 signatures needed to get a recall measure on the ballot, setting it up to fail and preventing another recall drive for six months.
Corbin denied the accusation Tuesday, saying Pallamary or anyone else was welcome to join the recall drive. He said he wouldn't pay anyone to collect signatures — a common practice in California — but that anyone could visit his office to sign the petition or pick up blank forms to circulate.
Corbin, who was appointed chairman of a city commission under Filner, declined to say if he voted for Filner or how he would cast his ballot in a recall. He said his motive was to bring swift resolution to the controversy.
"What I'm saying is, let the people of San Diego decide," he said. "There's nothing going on in the city, in City Hall. Everyone is focused on this scandal. That is not good for this city."
Confusion over whether recall petitions can circulate concurrently isn't the only procedural flaw uncovered since the mayor came under pressure to resign. The city attorney's office says a rule that voters must cast a ballot on a recall to be eligible to pick a replacement should be repealed because a federal judge struck down a nearly identical law during the successful 2003 recall of California Gov. Gray Davis.
Tony Krvaric, chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party, said Friday that he didn't expect big GOP donors or business leaders to make significant donations to a recall.
"The Democrats made this mess and they have to fix it," he said.