Claiming that he lost his $108,000-a-year job because of malpractice by the city attorney’s office, former San Diego Planning Director Robert Spaulding filed a claim Thursday seeking $2.75 million in damages from the city.
In the latest twist in the City Hall sex-and-hush-money scandal, Spaulding attorney Michael Aguirre filed the multimillion-dollar claim with the city’s Risk Management Department. If the city rejects Spaulding’s request--and previously, City Council members have said they would look unfavorably on any such claim--Aguirre then could file a lawsuit.
Spaulding’s claim, which follows his earlier request for reinstatement, largely restates facts and charges that surfaced earlier in the controversy over the nearly $100,000 payment made to a former city planner who filed a sexual-harassment claim against the city after her affair with Spaulding.
The claim charges that malpractice by the city attorney’s office, which was involved in the $98,531 secret payment to former Gaslamp Quarter planner Susan M. Bray, resulted in Spaulding’s wrongful dismissal. City officials’ disclosure of the confidential settlement further damaged Spaulding’s professional reputation and led to emotional distress, the suit claims.
Spaulding has been unable to find work in the month since he left City Hall, and “his future job prospects don’t look all the promising,” Aguirre said.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to dispute that Bob’s been substantially damaged, and damaged for a long, long time,” Aguirre said. “This could ruin him for life. The only question is who’s responsible for that damage.”
Seven current or former city officials--City Atty. John Witt, former City Manager John Lockwood, Personnel Director Rich Snapper, then-Labor Relations Manager Bruce Herring, Risk Management Director D. Cruz Gonzalez, City Manager Jack McGrory and Larry Gardner, who at the time of the settlement was the city’s equal employment investigative officer--were named as the persons responsible for the harm to Spaulding.
In addition, the “unknown person who leaked information (about the secret settlement) to the media and others” also was listed as contributing to Spaulding’s dismissal, which came via the council’s acceptance of his forced resignation offer.
Thursday’s two-page document reasserts Spaulding’s claim that Witt at first had agreed to represent him in Bray’s harassment suit--a contention that Witt has consistently denied.
In a letter sent earlier this week to the State Bar of California, Aguirre argues that Witt, by failing to notify the City Council that he was representing both the council, and the city--Spaulding’s employer--may have violated rules of professional conduct by not disclosing a conflict of interest.
Witt, though, contends that he never pledged to represent Spaulding, saying that he informed him that a decision on that question would be premature until a suit is actually filed--which, because of the secret settlement, never occurred.
“They’re sadly misinformed about the facts, as they have been throughout this thing,” Witt said in an interview Thursday. Witt added that he is “absolutely confident” that any investigation will uphold the propriety of his office’s performance in the case.
Though Witt’s own behavior is a central issue in Spaulding’s claim, McGrory said Thursday that he will look to the city attorney’s office to “make the call on how we proceed on this.”
“They’re in the best position to evaluate the merits of the case, which I think they can separate from the other issues raised,” McGrory said. The final decision on Spaulding’s claim probably will be made by the council, McGrory said.
Former City Manager Lockwood has acknowledged that he orchestrated the secret payment to Bray to settle her sexual harassment claim, which he feared could have led to a far more expensive loss for the city if the case had reached court.
Although other officials were aware of portions of the deal, Lockwood also has accepted responsibility for failing to notify the council in order to prevent the information from becoming public.