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Jury Backs Ex-Assemblyman, Rejects Sex Harassment Suit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A civil jury Monday found in favor of former Assemblyman Tom Connolly in a sexual harassment suit filed against him by his onetime chief of staff and political consultant.

The jury, after deliberating for two hours, voted 10 to 2 to reject the claim of Dena Holman that Connolly harassed her by making lewd comments and gestures. Holman was seeking unspecified damages in the Superior Court suit.

“I didn’t win anything,” said Connolly outside court. “The truth won. My life will never be the same. My wife and I listened to lies about us for four years.”

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Connolly, 50, a lawyer, Vietnam veteran and Democrat, represented a blue-collar district east of San Diego for one term before disclosures about his past--including cocaine addiction, multiple marriages, bankruptcy and delinquent child support payments--led to his defeat in 1994.

Connolly’s legal troubles are not over. He faces a criminal trial next month on charges of having sex with a 14-year-old girl whom he allegedly encouraged to run away from home.

In November 1995, the Assembly Rules Committee authorized a $200,000 out-of-court settlement with two former Connolly staffers who said he had harassed them with frequent and vulgar outbursts. A third employee backed up their assertions, but others said the allegations were lies.

Barbara Draughon, forewoman of the jury in the Holman case, said the panel agreed with Connolly’s contention that Holman filed a sexual harassment claim against him in 1994 to block his attempt to fire her. Holman had engineered Connolly’s upset victory in 1992 against a heavily favored Republican but the two later had a falling out.

“Good judgment did not prevail,” Draughon said of Connolly’s conduct toward his staff. “But it was not sexual harassment.”

A psychologist who interviewed Holman testified that she displayed an “adjustment disorder” and has trouble controlling anger and adjusting to workplace stress.

During the trial, just as San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was to testify, Holman was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital. Brown testified that as Assembly speaker he was aware of the charges made against his fellow Democrat but did not attempt to influence a legislative investigation.

Holman was released from the hospital but did not return to the trial. Michael Crosby, Holman’s attorney, said her absence may have contributed to the verdict.

“It was unusually difficult because my client has not been there,” Crosby said. “She’s not well, and this certainly will not help.”

Times correspondent Paul Levikow contributed to this story.


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