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Under fire: Mike Mullens

Case Law

DA harassment trial set to start

By Greg Cahill

IN A CIVIL TRIAL that will be watched closely by local women's advocates and longtime critics of Sonoma County District Attorney Mike Mullens, a female employee of the DA's Office soon will have her day in court after charging that she was sexually harassed by a prosecutor and that Mullens retaliated against her for filing a complaint.

April Chapman, a top investigator at the DA's Office, claims that she was sexually harassed by prosecutor Bruce Enos, who reportedly made unwanted overtures. In the complaint, Chapman further alleges that Mullens retaliated against her by demoting her.

Mullens, who is preparing to run for his third term in the March 5 election, has declined to comment on the case. But in a published statement County Counsel Steven Woodside has rebutted Chapman's charges, saying that Mullens took undisclosed personnel action against Enos when the sexual harassment complaint came to light.

"The ultimate, most important part of the case is Mullens' reaction [to the allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct]," said Gary Moss, the attorney for Chapman. "Frankly, this case is not here but for Mullens' reaction. April did not want to sue Enos for his conduct and never would have if her report of the conduct, which was made in an effort to get away from Enos, had been handled the way it should have been handled under the laws and the rules, the regulations, and the procedures.

"But Mullens, for reasons he'll have to explain, through his denial acted in a way that we believe is retaliatory under the law."

According to Moss, Mullens made several "ill-conceived" moves. First, Chapman asked for a transfer and was denied that right even after she informed Mullens about Enos' allegedly inappropriate misconduct. Then Mullens sent Chapman--a former sheriff's deputy with a reputation as a top criminal fraud investigator--back to the front office to handle case-prep work, maintaining her salary but exposing her to humiliation in an entry-level position handling paperwork and serving subpoenas.

"We consider that to be an adverse business decision," said Moss, "the equivelent of a demotion."

The trial, which will be presided over by a retired Alameda County judge, will begin Oct. 22 at the Petaluma Municipal Court at the Petaluma City Hall. Jury selection started this week.

This is not the first time Mullens has been on the firing line over his terse management style and his handling of women's issues. The DA's Office has been criticized repeatedly in the past for its mishandling of cases related to women's issues, specifically the investigation and prosecution of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence cases. In 1999, a deputy district attorrney was removed from a rape case after the Women's Justice Center of Santa Rosa complained about "lying," "demeaning" behavior, and "prosecutorial misconduct" in the handling of the case. In 1996, Maria Teresa Macias, a Sonoma Valley mother, was murdered by her estranged husband after the DA's Office and Sheriff's Department failed to act on numerous complaints and botched the woman's restraining order. The family of Macias has filed a wrongful-death suit against Sonoma County law enforcement agencies that were involved in the case. That trial is scheduled to begin next spring.

MOSS, who has deposed more than two dozen witnesses in the Chapman case, said he will present evidence that shows Mullens' mishandling of the Chapman complaint is consistent with his past management decisions. "His management style is very much an issue here," Moss said. "His decision was made very impulsively, in almost a rash manner. And we have other evidence that it is not unusual for him to make ill-considered decisons without conferring with staff.

"He's a strong-willed person, and that serves him well as a DA in the types of decisions he has to make, but it certainly worked against him and my client in this instance."

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From the October 4-10, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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