SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Embattled San Diego Mayor Bob Filner dropped out of sight on Tuesday as settlement talks mediated by a former federal judge continued for a second day in the sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him and the city by his one-time press secretary.
Discussions aimed at reaching a settlement of the litigation began on Monday at a downtown San Diego office building several blocks away from City Hall, according to Gloria Allred, the attorney representing the plaintiff in the case, Irene McCormack Jackson.
Allred said the sessions were presided over by retired U.S. District Judge J. Lawrence Irving, a respected private mediator, who she said had asked that all parties refrain from discussing the talks publicly.
Some local media outlets characterized the negotiations as aimed at reaching a “global settlement,” suggesting an intended outcome resolving a range of sexual harassment allegations that have led to widespread and persistent calls for Filner’s resignation.
Sixteen women have come forward since last month to publicly accuse Filner, a 70-year-old Democrat and former congressman, of groping or making other unwanted advances toward them. Jackson is the only one to have sued the mayor.
Filner, who took office in January as mayor of California’s second-largest city, has so far refused to step down.
Allred was absent from the settlement talks on Tuesday, because she was in court on another case, her office said.
At least two members of the City Council were present on both days - Council President Todd Gloria, a Democrat, and Republican Kevin Faulconer, chairman of the city audit committee, representatives for their offices said.
Officials from the city attorney’s office and Filner’s lawyers also were believed to be taking part in the sessions.
“The fact that there are that many elected officials not saying anything tells you they’re pretty focused on a positive outcome,” said Katie Keach, a spokeswoman for Councilman Gloria. She said she was not privy to details of the talks.
Earlier this month, Filner began behavior modification therapy at an undisclosed clinic to address what he has acknowledged was a pattern of disrespectful and intimidating treatment of women. His lawyers said he left the clinic after several days but was taking additional time off last week before planning to resume his duties this week.
Filner was spotted early on Monday entering the office building where the negotiations were held, but his whereabouts on Tuesday remained murky. Neither his office nor his lawyers immediately answered queries about whether he was back at work.
The receptionist at the mayor’s City Hall office told a reporter that he was “not available” but refused to say whether he was in the building.
On Sunday, volunteers began collecting signatures for a petition seeking a recall election for Filner, who also has come under growing scrutiny for his use of city-issued credit cards for paying what opponents describe as questionable expenses.
The city already has sued the mayor to recover any damages the municipal government might incur from the sexual harassment litigation.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith plans to ask the City Council next week for permission to bring another lawsuit under a City Charter provision that allows for the removal of any city official found to have made unauthorized expenditures of municipal funds, his office confirmed several days ago.
Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb