Mayor Bob Filner, Mayor Bob Filner grand jury
Former Mayor Bob Filner's legal problems appear to be multiplying. Aside from a civil sexual harassment suit, county grand jury proceedings that could lead to criminal charges are now in play. Gene Cubbison reports
Former Mayor Bob Filner's legal problems appear to be multiplying.
Aside from a civil sexual harassment suit, county grand jury proceedings that could lead to criminal charges are now in play.
The grand jury’s investigation was first brought to light by U-T San Diego, which anonymously quoted two attorneys as saying their clients will soon testify in what figures to be the context of sexual harassment allegations.
State attorney general’s deputies will handle the secret Q&A – with Filner’s lawyer barred from attending.
Local defense attorneys not involved in the case say grand jury probes give prosecutors a home-field advantage, as opposed to filing criminal complaints and taking defendants to preliminary hearings.
"A grand jury, because they're with a particular prosecutor for a long period of time, kind of attaches themselves to them,” says Marc Carlos, a veteran defender of grand jury targets.
"It's just direct examination, usually leading questions,” Carlos added in an interview Friday with NBC 7. “If that witness was going to testify at a preliminary hearing, they'd be subjected to direct and cross-examination …
“And most of the time, they come down with an indictment. You've heard the joke: 'A grand jury will indict a ham sandwich’."
Defense attorney Michael Crowley says prosecutors often turn to the grand jury in cases involving political figures so as to insulate themselves from second-guessing over motives.
"They can say that they took it a grand jury, they investigated it, and that the grand jury decided not to indict -- or maybe they do decide to indict,” Crowley explained. “And what they can say is, 'It was the grand jury that indicted -- not us that decided to bring charges."
Filner – who told reporters during a July news conference that, “"The behavior I have engaged in over many years is wrong" – has maintained media silence since he bitterly addressed the City Council a week before resigning on August 30th.
His lawyer did not respond Friday to NBC 7’s request for comment.
"What he's probably telling (Filner) is 'Look, there must be charges coming down’,” says Jan Ronis, another veteran defense counsel. “’ We have to prepare for it, make arrangements to surrender in the event that charges are brought, and go forward. So that's really about the thought process at this point."
A "No comment, sorry" response was offered Friday by Gloria Allred, attorney for Filner's former communications director Irene McCormack Jackson, who's brought civil accusations of sexual harassment against her ex-boss.
But in criminal proceedings, the standard of proof is 'beyond a reasonable doubt' – not the 'preponderance of evidence' in civil cases.
"From what I understand about the allegations made in the civil case regarding sexual misconduct, I haven't heard of anything that appears to me to rise to a level of felony,” says defense attorney Anthony Solare, a former city prosecutor. “ If there is a criminal charge here, it sounds like it's misdemeanor misconduct."
Solare said he doubts that physical evidence will be presented to the grand jury: “So it's all going to be word-of-mouth, and corroboration by other people's testimony. It's unlikely there's going to be 'Ah-hah!' -- you know, 'We have DNA or something like this to show that 'this kind of thing was done'."
Even when public figures escape indictment, their reputations can be left in limbo.
"Unbeknownst to the press, there's been a couple of political investigations, grand jury proceedings I've been involved in over the last five years,” says Crowley.
“Nothing's come out of them, nothing has ever been leaked, and as far as we know, there were never any charges brought,” he recalled. “But there was no bill of health saying 'You're clean'."
As for the "ham sandwich" joke, legal history demonstrates that grand juries sometimes bite off more than they can chew.
In 1999, a judge threw out civil misconduct charges filed against then-Mayor Susan Golding, aimed at removing her from office.
He declared her "factually innocent", and upbraided the grand jurors for breaking rules and lacking common sense.
And there have been times when -- challenged in defense motions -- prosecutors will drop charges, as they just did earlier this week in the South County school district bribery cases.
While the grand jury case unfolds, Filner reportedly has become a target of federal investigators, involving his role in alleged "pay to play" real estate dealings with Sunroad Enterprises.
Authorities have declined comment on that.