Holden Aide Admits Using Pet Names, Denies Date Attempt
The chief of staff for Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden testified Monday that he routinely used the word darling to address the receptionist now suing him, his boss and the city for sexual harassment, but denied her claim that he constantly pestered her for dates.
“It’s a terrible thing, a habit of mine, that I call most women, ‘darling,’ ” said Louis White, who met Holden in the 1960s and has been working in his council office since Holden’s 1987 election. Asked whether he meant it in a sexual way, White said: “Of course not. It’s a habit that I have, maybe a bad habit.”
Plaintiff Marlee M. Beyda contends that White constantly asked her out and called her pet names such as “sugar,” “darling” or “baby.” She said during the 14 months that she worked in Holden’s field office, she was unsure whether White even knew her name, since he only called her by it once.
But White said Monday that he never called Beyda “sugar,” “baby” or “sweetheart” and that his use of the term “darling” was strictly friendly. He said he calls men “my main man” and women “darling.”
White also denied ever asking Beyda out, agreeing with Holden’s employees who testified last week that the office had a policy prohibiting staff members from dating one another. He said, however, that he did once ask Beyda to take him to dinner.
“In a kidding sort of way,” he said. “I wouldn’t ask Marlee or any other woman to pay for dinner for me, so it really was a kidding sort of way.”
White’s brief testimony Monday morning marked the first time in the monthlong trial that a defendant other than Holden was on the stand or was the focus of the court’s attention.
Beyda, 31, is one of two women suing Holden and the city for sexual harassment and discrimination, with the second trial scheduled to start in January in Orange County. While Beyda’s claim focuses on several after-hours visits to Holden’s Marina del Rey apartment in which she alleges he masturbated by rubbing up against her body, she also claims harassment by White, part-time field deputy Ira Massey, and Cruz Nunez, a former employee of Holden’s.
Lawyers have been unable to find Nunez. Massey, his wife and White have attended court daily, sitting in the front in seats reserved by a sign saying “defendants only.”
Holden also testified briefly Monday, agreeing with other witnesses that he has a “no fraternization” rule in his office, but saying he did not violate it when Beyda came to his apartment and gave him a massage while he was lying on his bed without a shirt.
“Men and women being involved with each other emotionally or otherwise, in the office or out of the office, would not be healthy,” Holden said. “Romantic involvement, that’s what I really mean. It’s the intent. If it’s your intent to be romantically involved, that’s not OK,” Holden said in explaining his policy.
Regarding the September, 1992, occasion when he invited Beyda over about midnight to give him a massage to soothe his migraine, Holden added: “I’ve got to tell you, she helped me. I didn’t see anything wrong.”
As the case entered its fifth week of trial, Superior Court Judge Raymond D. Mireles--who is hearing the case without a jury--abruptly ended testimony after just two hours Monday morning, explaining that he must preside over a brief criminal trial. The Holden case is scheduled to resume this morning.
The surprise break was the latest in a series of oddities that have occurred because there is no jury in the case.
Witnesses have frequently been taken out of order or had testimony interrupted. Holden, for example, has been on the stand for brief periods on eight separate days.
The lawyers have also exchanged banter with one another, and the judge has frequently cracked jokes from the bench. When defense attorney Michael O’Connor complained Monday morning that opposing counsel Dan Stormer was demanding that an expert witness meet at Stormer’s Pasadena office that night for a deposition--despite living in Ventura County and working in West Los Angeles--Mireles offered a brief discourse on local traffic patterns.