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Taking His Shots: Mike Mullins answers to his accuser.

DA Takes the Stand

Mike Mullins testifies in sex harass case

By Greg Cahill

Saying he was "shocked, surprised, and saddened" by a sexual harassment complaint that surfaced in his office, Sonoma County District Attorney Mike Mullins testified last week in a civil lawsuit that has turned the tables on the community's top persecutor.

Mullins, who is accused by top investigator April Chapman of retaliating against her after she filed the complaint about a former colleague, denied that he transferred Chapman out of vindictiveness.

Longtime critics of Mullins--mostly women's rights advocates who have claimed that the DA has failed to prosecute aggressively cases of rape, spousal abuse, or sexual harassment--sat attentively in the small, seldom-used Petaluma courtroom while listening to testimony.

Chapman claims that she was sexually harassed by prosecutor Bruce Enos, with whom she shared an office and who reportedly made unwanted sexual overtures. In the complaint, Chapman further alleges that Mullins retaliated against her by demoting her to a clerical job in the front office.

At press time, the trial was expected to conclude this week.

Mullins, who is preparing to run for his third term in the March 5 election, has denied the charge. On the first day of the trial, attorney Michael Senneff, who is representing Mullins, said the DA took prompt action to protect Chapman when she reported the harassment and requested a transfer.

"[Mullins] made the decision that he immediately needed to transfer her to protect her," Senneff told the jury.

Chapman and her attorney, Gary Moss, contend that the transfer was tantamount to a demotion and constituted undue retaliation for blowing the whistle on Enos. As a result of the transfer, Chapman--a former sheriff's deputy with a reputation as a top criminal-fraud investigator--was sent back to the front office to handle case-prep work, maintaining her salary but exposing her, she said, to humiliation in an entry-level position handling paperwork and serving subpoenas.

In a published report, Enos' attorney Gail Flatt admitted that her client made "stupid off-the-cuff remarks" about killing his wife, but denied that her client had harassed Chapman.

This is not the first time Mullins has been on the firing line over his terse management style and his handling of women's issues. His 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 attorney 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.

AIDS Agency Announces Cutbacks

The harsh economic climate is taking its toll on another victim: Face to Face: Sonoma County AIDS Network. Confronted with decreased funding, the 16-year-old Santa Rosa-based nonprofit agency announced this week that it will scale back administrative, volunteer, and education staff. "The critical economic downturn has already negatively affected charitable donations; appreciated stock contributions have ceased; foundation funding assets, heavily invested in the stock market, have plummeted; the events of Sept. 11 have diverted significant dollars to New York rescue operations; and government spending on the war effort bodes ill for future federal and state funding," the agency noted in a statement released this week. "With looming uncertainty in so many fiscal arenas, this tact of economic prudence is critical for the health of the agency."

Despite the cutbacks, the agency will continue to provide services to clients from its Santa Rosa and Guerneville offices.

For information about Face-to-Face programs or to make a donation, call 707/544-1581.

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From the November 8-14, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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