SAN DIEGO — In what could be the final act in a long-running drama, ex-Mayor Bob Filner is set to appear in court Monday to be sentenced on three counts of mistreating women, the kind of accusations that drove him to resign.
The judge is widely expected to approve a plea bargain that includes no jail time, three months of home confinement, a reduction in his city pension, mandatory mental health counseling and a bar against seeking public office.
A probation report will describe Filner as a hard-driving perfectionist with an abrasive manner and a patronizing, retrograde attitude toward women who, under the pressure of being a “strong mayor” and after giving up on his mood-stabilizing medication, engaged in boorish, assaultive behavior for which he is now deeply apologetic and admits he needs therapy.
None of the women listed as victims in the one felony count and two misdemeanor counts to which Filner pleaded guilty has shown interest in giving a “victim impact statement.” Supporters and his former girlfriend have written letters on his behalf.
For the 71-year-old Filner, San Diego’s first Democratic mayor in two decades, the public aspect of the case may be complete.
But for members of the City Council, and possibly the public, there remains one key piece of unfinished business from the scandal: Should the city add an impeachment clause to the City Charter?
Filner resigned Aug. 30 after six weeks of turmoil in which 20 women accused him of unwanted touching and sexual comments. If he had decided to stay, it’s a good bet that nothing in the City Charter or state law could have forced him to quit, short of a recall election or a criminal conviction.
Without an impeachment process, it took the combined pressure of a recall movement and a complicated, hardball strategy by the city attorney to force Filner to step down.
In exchange, the council agreed to pay for his legal defense against a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by attorney Gloria Allred on behalf of a former Filner staffer.
Now, City Atty. Jan Goldsmith has suggested the council consider shaping an impeachment clause for the November 2014 ballot as part of an overall cleanup of a City Charter that he describes as “ambiguous, outdated and incomplete.”
Like other officials, Goldsmith notes that there is a method to impeach the president but not the mayor of San Diego.
“We need a real healthy debate,” Goldsmith said on the “Politically Speaking” show on KNSD.
It remains unclear whether council members, weary of the Filner case, will want to prolong public discussion of it by sponsoring a civic debate about adding an impeachment process.
George Mitrovich, president of the City Club of San Diego, said that in the post-Filner era an impeachment clause must be added. He was among the authors of the “strong mayor” measure adopted by voters in 2005.
“On all the work we did on strong mayor, this was our biggest failure, not addressing this issue,” said Mitrovich, who supported Filner but later called for his resignation for “the good of the city.”
But Steve Erie, political science professor at UC San Diego and coauthor of “Paradise Plundered: Fiscal Crisis and Governance Failures in San Diego,” said impeachment is too fraught with potential problems. The City Council lacks the checks and balances of Congress, where the House can indict but only the Senate can convict, Erie said.
“Given the long tradition of the initiative, referendum and recall, would California voters want to hand over removal powers to city officials?” Erie asked. “What role would the city attorney play? Here, the proposed cure is worse than the disease.”
Michael Pallamary, a leader in the Filner recall, suggested a process that would include a public petition drive and then a panel of citizens and retired judges to consider impeachment.
“As long as we have an impartial panel, I think it is a great idea,” he said.
Acting Mayor Todd Gloria said he was “interested in pursuing” an impeachment proposal to place before voters — as long as it does not make it too easy to remove a mayor and is not a veiled attempt to undermine the strong-mayor form of government.
When he enters the courtroom of Presiding Superior Court Judge Robert Trentacosta, Filner will have an opportunity to explain why he pleaded guilty to a felony count of false imprisonment and two misdemeanor counts of battery. He offered no explanation when he pleaded guilty Oct. 15.
Regardless of what Filner does, Gloria said he does not believe the sentencing will cause much of a stir at City Hall.
“We’ve moved on,” he said. “I don’t anticipate watching anything [on television] or minding my Twitter feed.”