Deadline Arrives for Filner Probe

Posted September 18, 2007 at 6:34pm

The House ethics committee faces a chamber-imposed deadline today to either create an investigative subcommittee to probe Rep. Bob Filner’s (D-Calif.) mid-August run-in with a baggage claim attendant at Dulles International Airport, or inform the House why it hasn’t done so.

Sources said the ethics panel met Tuesday afternoon to discuss Filner. The lawmaker was charged with assault in the Dulles incident on Aug. 19, exactly one month ago today. He is due in a Virginia court early next month.

Under a House resolution sponsored by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and agreed to in June, if a Member is indicted or otherwise “formally charged with criminal conduct in a court,” then the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct has 30 days to either empanel an investigative subcommittee to review the allegation or submit a report to the House describing the reason for not undertaking an investigation. If the panel chooses not to investigate, its report to the House also should include what action, if any, was taken in response to the allegations.

Ethics Chairwoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) would not discuss the matter or confirm whether the panel has created a subcommittee to investigate the Filner incident — an action that typically would be made public.

“I have nothing to tell you,” Jones said Tuesday, adhering to the common practice of not commenting on the panel’s work.

Filner was one of just 10 lawmakers who voted in June against the Hoyer resolution, which was crafted in response to the ongoing federal investigation of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.). Filner’s opposition to the measure has not escaped the attention of Republicans.

“It’s more than a little ironic that Filner voted ‘no’ on Hoyer’s resolution considering he is the first person impacted by it, and it’s yet one more example of the Democrats’ hypocrisy on ethics issues,” said a GOP leadership aide.

But a senior Democratic aide said, “Democrats have made clear that we are dedicated to upholding high ethical standards in the House and we expect that this bipartisan committee is following up on its responsibilities and that would include this case.”

The aide also said that Republicans “look silly” by making claims that the ethics committee isn’t doing its job, considering the panel is made up of Members from both parties.

Asked whether he has been informed that ethics might investigate the matter, Filner asserted that he had not been charged or arrested. He said it was his understanding that someone had filed a complaint and that he was due in court Oct. 2 to respond to that complaint.

“I was not charged,” Filner said.

However, court documents for Loudoun General District Court accessed through an online database indicate that Filner was arrested Sept. 3 and charged with assault, a Class 1 misdemeanor.

The charge stems from an Aug. 19 altercation at Dulles when he barged into the United Airlines baggage claims office, attempted to enter a restricted area and allegedly pushed aside the outstretched arm of an airline employee in the process.

At first, Filner called the charges “ridiculous” and said accounts of what happened were “factually incorrect.” He later issued a statement saying he regretted the incident and that he was tired and frustrated by the flight’s delayed baggage. He also denies pushing or touching anyone.

“I was tired after a delayed flight and frustrated by the subsequent further delay of the entire flight’s baggage. But I did not want things to turn out as they did, with offense obviously taken and much misunderstanding,” Filner said in a statement released some days after the altercation took place. “This is an episode that I regret and hope to move beyond.”

Filner was released that evening after being interviewed by police. But later that night the attendant, named in court documents as Joanne Kunkel, went to the Loudoun County magistrate’s office to press charges, and a summons for Filner to appear in Loudoun General District Court on Oct. 2 was issued. Filner’s arrest date listed on court records is Sept. 3, the first time he was available to be served with the summons in person.

Filner is being represented by attorney Justin Dillon, an associate with the law firm of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP. According to a biography on the firm’s Web site, Dillon focuses on white-collar criminal defense, complex civil litigation and appellate litigation.

Dillon referred all comment on the case to Filner’s office on Tuesday.

If convicted of the assault charge, Filner faces up to 12 months in jail and up to a $2,500 fine under Virginia law.