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San Diego mayor accused of harassment reaches proposed settlement

San Diego mayor Bob Filner speaks at a news conference in San Diego, California July 26, 2013. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
San Diego mayor Bob Filner speaks at a news conference in San Diego, California July 26, 2013. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and the city reached a proposed settlement on Wednesday in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by his former press secretary, the city attorney told reporters.

The disclosure of the settlement on the third day of negotiations came on the same day a former star of a reality television show became the 18th woman to publicly accuse Filner of groping or other inappropriate behavior, in a scandal that has rocked California's second largest city.

Filner has come under mounting pressure to resign amid a torrent of sexual harassment allegations leveled at him, starting with his former press secretary, Irene McCormack Jackson, who sued the mayor and the city on July 22.

The San Diego City Council in July filed a cross-complaint against Filner seeking to recover from him any damages the city might face in the lawsuit.

"We have reached a proposed resolution," City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, who was flanked by two City Council members and attorneys for Filner, told reporters gathered outside the downtown office building where talks were held.

Goldsmith did not disclose the scope of the proposed settlement, but he said that it will be presented to the San Diego City Council in closed session on Friday. "We won't have more to discuss until Friday afternoon," he said.

High-profile attorney Gloria Allred, who is representing the former press secretary, has called for Filner to resign. Goldsmith, who is acting on behalf of the City Council and not the mayor in the case, told local television station KNSD earlier this month that settlement talks would give the mayor a potential "out" to litigation, although Goldsmith stopped short of saying that had to involve the mayor's resignation.

A source close to an individual involved in the talks, when asked whether the proposed settlement would require Filner to resign, said, "I think it's fair to say that looks like it's in the cards."

Filner, meanwhile, was spotted inside City Hall on Wednesday in what was believed to be the first sighting of him there since he took a brief leave of absence to enter behavioral modification therapy early this month.

But neither his office nor his lawyers have replied to repeated queries this week about whether the 70-year-old Democrat and former U.S. congressman has fully resumed his duties as the city's top elected official.

Negotiations aimed at reaching a settlement began on Monday at a downtown office building near City Hall. No talks were planned for Thursday, Goldsmith said.

The sessions were presided over by a retired federal judge, J. Lawrence Irving, a respected mediator, who has asked all parties to refrain from discussing the talks publicly, Goldsmith said.

'ADDICTED TO BEAUTY'

Since Jackson filed her suit last month, 17 more women have come forward to accuse Filner of making unwanted advances, the latest being Dianne York, 50, who starred in a short-lived reality show about cosmetic surgery on the Oxygen Channel cable network called "Addicted to Beauty."

York, who has acknowledged on the show's website that she has undergone "more than five and less than 10" cosmetic surgical procedures herself, was depicted on the series as launching a business partnership with a prominent plastic surgeon to open a day spa in San Diego.

At a news conference on Wednesday, York said the mayor put his hand on her buttocks when she posed with him for a photo at his office in May following a meeting to discuss what she called an illegal foreclosure on her business, the Spa of La Jolla.

"I was shocked," she said. "It was inappropriate." She gave few other details except to say she reported the incident to the county sheriff's department, which has set up a hot line to field complaints about alleged misconduct by the mayor.

County court records show York has been involved in more than a dozen lawsuits during the past three years, some of them disputes with her own attorneys.

Among the other women who have alleged sexual harassment by Filner were a retired U.S. Navy admiral, a college dean, a licensed vocational nurse, several business women and two military veterans who were victims of unrelated sexual assaults in the armed forces.

Filner has so far refused to step down but has apologized for what he acknowledged was a pattern of disrespectful and intimidating behavior toward women.

On August 5, he entered a treatment at an undisclosed behavioral counseling clinic. His lawyers said he left the clinic after several days but was taking additional time off last week before planning to return to work this week.

On Sunday, volunteers began collecting signatures for a petition seeking to oust Filner through a recall election. Organizers said that as of Tuesday night they had collected 11,000 of the 102,000 signatures needed by September 26 to qualify a recall for the ballot.

(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Philip Barbara)

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