Here are people who have come forward with claims of sexual harassment against local, powerful men Lori Saldaña has not supported:
All the women who publicly accused Bob Filner of sexual harassment, plus Todd Bosnich, Justin Harper, Isabel Vasquez, and Melody Godinez.
Why hasn’t Lori supported these brave individuals?
For the Filner accusers in 2013, Saldaña said she thought “due process” was important.
In a February 2018 Voice of San Diego podcast, she explains why she privately opposed Filner’s endorsement for Mayor (2011), publicly endorsed his candidacy for Mayor (2012), then called for due process when he was being accused of sexual harassment by several women (2013).
She explained: “If he leaves voluntarily and we never get to the root of how this happened, then it’s going to continue to happen. So that was why I said, ‘We need a process.’”
In that same podcast, Saldaña said she was vocal in saying Filner’s accusers
“’…needed to come forward… and eventually, they did. Because I didn’t want the same thing that happened when I spoke up and women refused to come forward out of professional fear that they would lose their contacts with his office, they would lose professional relationship with his staff, so I made it very clear: these women have to come forward. And, just like the #MeToo movement, until and unless women are willing to speak up and say, ‘This happened to me,’ … the legal system and the court of public opinion tends to disregard the allegations.’”
The legal system and court of public opinion weighed in definitively on Filner.
Did Saldaña circle back to offer care, compassion, or even lip-service support to the women who bravely stepped forward and publicly told their stories of Mayor Filner’s harassment? Has she used her influence to create new processes to help those who find themselves in the unenviable positions of publicly making claims of sexual harassment against powerful individuals?
Rather than help these women accusers, Saldaña casts doubt, speaking out of both sides of her mouth.
It’s as though she is saying: “Come forward, survivors, but don’t politicize your claims. Though I still won’t meaningfully support you unless you are calling out people I don’t like, because we need an elusive, non-existent process that I will not help create for you.”
For Saldaña also said she is concerned that claims of sexual harassment against Mickey Kasparian have become “highly politicized.” In the VOSD podcast, she claimed she supported his accusers before they filed lawsuits (which is untrue, because the letter she co-signed was prompted by and referenced the claims made in litigation).
Then, she went on to suggest Kasparian’s accusers might not be telling the truth about him by referencing Todd Bosnich, a former Carl DeMaio staff member who accused him of sexual harassment in 2014.
It is no secret that Lori Saldaña hates her former political opponent Congressman Scott Peters, who defeated DeMaio in that 2014 election. Pundits have postulated DeMaio may have lost the race due to the claims of sexual harassment that were raised just prior to the election.
“And one of the things that astonished me, just as when the allegations against Carl DeMaio came out in 2014, I was one of the only people saying, ‘Look, this does not meet the smell test. These allegations to me are so outrageous, and used in such a politically motivated way, that we have to be really careful of how we establish their veracity.’ And sure enough, after the election was over, Todd Bosnich was found guilty in Federal Court of obstruction of justice. That he had lied, that he had mislead investigators, but it was too late. The election was over” (Emphasis added.)
Todd Bosnich was an imperfect victim. The young man’s mental health and family situation were put under a microscope that summer. He was indeed found guilty for falsifying emails to bolster his claims of sexual harassment. Unlike Saldaña, whose political ambitions cause her to dismiss him, I believe him and the evidence raised in the same Federal proceedings.
Bosnich outed a traumatized straight former coworker via Twitter and falsified email evidence because this young, gay man was absolutely terrified his claims against the powerful, vindictive DeMaio would not otherwise be believed by the public.
From the Bosnich plea deal:
“In May 2014, Defendant was terminated by DeMaio’s campaign. The reason for his termination, as well as the events that occurred immediately before and after his termination, are contested.
Defendant claimed that DeMaio made a series of unwanted sexual advances towards him in the Spring of 2014, and that when he complained to DeMaio’s campaign manager, he was first marginalized and later offered a $50,000 “payment” in exchange for signing a “non-disclosure” agreement…”
“Defendant’s main purpose in sending the Threatening Email to himself was to bolster his claims that DeMaio was threatening him to remain silent about the alleged sexual harassment” (Emphasis added.)
Todd Bosnich never pursued his claims of sexual harassment in civil nor criminal court, but prior to his conviction, via Twitter he named another former DeMaio staff member, Justin Harper, who had resigned from the campaign.
This was first addressed in a Nov. 2, 2014 KPBS article.
Following the story, there were several tweets in which Lori Saldaña doggedly insisted DeMaio’s second public accuser, Justin Harper, was a fake person. She was trying to erase the very existence of this reluctantly vocal survivor, and she was repeating Republican Carl DeMaio’s Campaign Director’s fake-facts talking points.
One November 19, 2014, there was a great deal of Twitter chatter about Justin Harper. “@FakeJustinHarp” and #fakejustin” were being used to mock the spurious talking points from DeMaio’s camp that Justin did not exist. Claire Trageser of KPBS, via twitter, responds to the #fakejustin claim “…despite the fact that I spoke to him multiple times and he had the same email address as the Justin Harper on DeMaio’s campaign”
“Unless you had a 3rd party you know & trust on ground w/person claiming to be Justin, a phone call is worthless”
The threads regarding Harper continue through that afternoon and evening, with Saldaña sharing a screenshot of a message exchange from November 8, 2014 in which she harangues this vulnerable survivor, a former constituent, who reached out privately, then went silent when she caustically demanded proof of his identity.
Shortly thereafter, Rachel Laing tweets:
“I think the @FakeJustinHarp account is pretty disrespectful of someone who came forward on harassment. Not cool to treat SH like a joke.”
Kelly Davis responds:
“I think it more gets to the ridiculousness of the claims DeMaio’s making, but I see your point. @FakeJustinHarp”
“@FakeJustinHarp I know what they were trying to point out. I just wanna remind folks there’s a real Justin Harper.”
Lori Saldaña, never one to cede a political point when she has dug in her heels:
“I would prefer hearing from a person in a way that is transparent/verifiable vs. hiding behind easily faked online accounts”
Laing, to Saldaña:
“Are you also convinced the Justin Harper Claire spoke to is fake?”
“I’m reacting to the strange nature of my interactions: ‘Justin’ asked me to chat. I asked him to prove who he is:he can’t/won’t
I don’t have enough information about the details of their interactions to be ‘convinced’ of anything, one way or another.”
“And today he Skyped with me. He’s real.”
“Lori owes Justin an apology.”
“1)someone reaches out to me online- I ask for proof of identity. That was 11 days ago.
Still no way of knowing who contacted me via twitter Nov. 8. Unless. #twitterCSI”
Additional tweets throughout that afternoon from Saldaña. Keep in mind, several of these are AFTER KPBS journalist Claire Trageser has expressed, multiple times, that she has spoken to him and even Skyped with him, and AFTER Kelly Davis insists Saldaña owes the survivor of DeMaio’s sexual harassment an apology:
“It only took a few Qs from me to ‘Justin” to get suspicious. They went quiet when I asked for proof of ID.”
“‘phone interview’ Justin claimed he ‘shut down, didn’t talk to anyone’ after incident-why is he talking now?”
“I’m not arguing anything- I was contacted by a person claiming to be Justin. I have reason to doubt that was true.”
“I received messages from someone using ‘Justin’s’ Twitter account. When I asked for verification, the messages got strange”
“how did KPBS verify identity of Justin Harper? Did they ever meet him In Person?”
From the post-election Nov. 19, 2014 KPBS article:
“Harper, a 25-year-old Navy veteran, said DeMaio exposed himself to him on July 10 in the office restroom at DeMaio’s Miramar campaign headquarters.
“I was at the urinal, and (DeMaio) came from the stall that was closest to the urinal and was kind of just standing there hovering,” Harper said. “I turned around and realized that it was Carl. He had his pants up, but his fly was undone, and he had his hand over, not over, grasping his genitals.”
Harper said he then left the campaign office without speaking to anyone. He said he went home to his apartment in Oceanside and stayed in bed for the next two days.”
Of course, Lori Saldaña never apologized. It didn’t suit her interests to say she was sorry for her attempts to erase this survivor. She picks and chooses which victims/survivors will help her at any given time and those she unilaterally determines should be discredited, consistently and loudly causing re-traumatization for her personal gain.
Currently, Saldaña is motivated to support Mickey Kasparian, whose Working Families Council recently endorsed her.
Two local women she currently disparages, who litigated (and apparently reached confidential settlement agreements) against Kasparian are Isabel Vasquez and Melody Godinez.
Vasquez, his former employee, filed this Complaint on December 19, 2016.
“Vasquez became an employee of Local 135 in April 2001, but was forced to retire due to sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Kasparian that began almost immediately after she was hired.
The sexual abuse committed by Kasparian included occasional demands for oral sex in his office at Local 135, sexual intercourse in hotels paid for by Local 135, and similar sexual acts at Local 135 events (e.g., in his car outside the event).
This abuse was sporadic. Sometimes the abuse would occur upwards of three or four times per year. At other times, Kasparian would not call her into his office, or somewhere else, for a year or two. However, his sexual interest would always return, and he would call her on the phone, demand she come to his office, and when she arrived, she knew she might be required to submit to his sexual demands.
After each act of sexual relations, Kasparian would summarily dismiss Vasquez and tell her to get back to work. He would even comment that she must have low self-esteem.
This pattern abuse continued such that each day Vasquez came to work, her workday would be filled with constant fear and anxiety that today would be the day she would be called into his office for oral sex. At the end of the day, Vasquez could not find relief, even if she had not been called into his office, because she knew the next day might be different.
Vasquez worked each day, every hour, with this fear and anxiety hanging over her, until she decided she could not take it anymore and retired early in July 2016.”
Melody Godinez was deposed by Isabel’s attorneys related to her litigation on December 7, 2017.
From the December 14, 2017 Union Tribune story, which references the deposition and litigation filed that week by Godinez:
“In her deposition, Godinez said Kasparian used his friendship, mentorship and his power as leverage to try to get women to have sex with him, and when they refused, to shut them up. Godinez said she felt uncomfortable when Kasparian touched her and told him she didn’t want to become physical with him because he’s married, but worried her life would be ruined if she confronted him or spoke up, she said in her deposition.
‘I feared not only for myself, not only for my career, for my family, but for the community and for my friends that are doing good things in the community such as running for office and have good ethics. Because if you cross him, he’s going to attack. He already has,’ Godinez said in her deposition.”
When you hear Lori Saldaña speak in platitudes about survivors, either supporting them or dismissing them, please: check the ties to her interests.
While we are all entitled to use our voices to lift others up however we see fit, Saldaña is not permitted to use the mantle of ‘supporter of women who are survivors of sexual harassment and assault’ when she discredits those who have suffered so much because their stories don’t bolster her political goals and self-serving narratives.
Lori Saldaña is currently running for a powerful County of San Diego political office. She will say whatever she needs in order to advance this effort at any given time. She contradicts herself constantly in one important area for which she claims to be a champion.
Saldaña tokenizes some survivors, then sides with the men who have wreaked havoc on the lives of several of their subordinates and members of our community when it suits her. She must be held to the same kind of accountability she selectively holds others to.
Filner terrorized women. Todd Bosnich endured several sexual harassment encounters with his boss and became a criminal rather than see others harassed as he had been. Justin Harper was so traumatized by his boss exposing himself and holding his genitals, he stayed in bed for two days, resigned from his job, did not return to college, and moved across the country.
Isabel Vasquez kept her shameful secret for more than a decade, and only made her claims public to stand in solidarity with a wrongfully terminated young woman whose claims would otherwise be disregarded by the public. Melody Godinez kept her secret for years, threatened and afraid of professional retaliation, until it was clear to her that those influential in San Diego politics were unwilling to stand with her sisters against the powerful man that had hurt them all.
I was reminded after I originally posted this piece, that Saldaña silenced me, too, the first time I tried to speak to a room of fellow Dem Club members about surviving sexual harassment at the hand of former Mayor Bob Filner. We were discussing the divisive Working Families Council, whose endorsement Saldaña would later seek, and Mickey Kasparian’s negative impact on the local Democratic Party. I was saying how destructive it is to our community and shared goals not to hold these men accountable, and she interrupted and raised a point of order, saying my story was irrelevant.
My friend and fellow justice activist Mark Lane commented regarding the exchange:
“I was at that meeting. I also watched that exchange and was shocked at the callousness of Lori’s words. I also watched as Melody Marleny Godinez cried, while trying to speak about her victimization, Sara get up, walk across the room and hold Melody. Lori was triggering pain, without batting an eye. I had lunch with melody that day, and she told me the specifics of what mickey did to her, through tears. I also watched the exchange between lori and Sara after the meeting and how cold lori was to sara, who was being conciliatory. It was shameful, hateful behavior.”
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Be aware of the brave survivors Saldaña carelessly minimizes when she vaguely references ‘due process.’ For some, there have been legal processes. Saldaña and her supporters still disparage them. These individuals have endured more than their fair share of bullying by the politically powerful.
It is time to hold Lori Saldaña accountable for her destructive behaviors.
San Diegans expect and deserve better, especially from a woman who claims to be a standard bearer on the issue.
Vulnerable survivors reclaiming their lives deserve better than Lori Saldaña.