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Bay Area News Briefs

By Mike Aldax

January 24, 2008

John Burton slapped with $10 million sexual harassment lawsuit

Former President Pro Tem of the California State Senate John Burton was slapped with a $10 million sexual harassment lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court Wednesday for alleged abuses against the female director of his nonprofit organization, the woman's lawyer said.

The suit accuses Burton of subjecting Kathleen Driscoll, executive director of the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes, to a hostile, demeaning and sexually abusive work environment, her attorney Kelly Armstrong said. His lawyer has denied the allegations, calling the suit "a shakedown."

Driscoll worked since August 2006 as director of the San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that works to help homeless children in California, according to the foundation's Web site. The organization was founded in 2004 and is chaired by Burton, according to the Web site.

Driscoll alleges that Burton engaged in a "pattern and practice of inappropriate sexual advances," publicly humiliated her with his remarks, and used vulgar language on a daily basis starting shortly after she began working for the foundation and continuing for more than one year.

Driscoll reported that she had told Burton his behavior was inappropriate and had complained to the personnel department twice without action, according to the law firm's statement. Evidence including voicemails allegedly left by Burton and eyewitness accounts of his harassment will be
included in the case, Armstrong said.

Burton's lawyer, Susan Rubenstein, said she has not reviewed the lawsuit in depth but believes it is "a shakedown."

Bonds challenges indictment

Former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds asked a federal judge Wednesday either to dismiss the perjury and obstruction of justice charges filed against him or to order prosecutors to narrow them down.

Bonds' challenge to a Nov. 15 indictment was filed with U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco by the home run champion's six defense lawyers.

Illston is scheduled to hold a hearing on the motion on Feb. 29.

The defense attorneys claim the five counts in what they call a "scattershot" indictment are vague, confusing and unclear as to which of several statements cited in each count are allegedly false.

The attorneys wrote, "Some portions of the indictment are so vague it is simply impossible to be certain what untruths Mr. Bonds is alleged to have uttered."

The brief contends, "The government must elect a single, clearly stated charge as the basis for each count or suffer dismissal."

Bonds is accused of four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice when he told a federal grand jury in 2003 that he never knowingly received steroids or human growth hormone from his trainer, Greg Anderson.

The panel was investigating a sports steroids distribution scheme centered on the Burlingame-based Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative, or BALCO.

The defense brief also contends that many of the questions prosecutors posed to Bonds before the grand jury and Bonds' answers were "fundamentally ambiguous" and therefore legally insufficient to support a perjury conviction.

Federal judge appoints new Santa Clara County health chief

A federal judge in San Francisco Wednesday removed a former Santa Clara County health chief from office as receiver for the state's troubled prison health care system and appointed a Sacramento law professor in his place.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson praised former receiver Robert Sillen for a "bold, creative leadership style" but said different skills are now needed to implement changes in the system.

The judge appointed J. Clark Kelso, a law professor at the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, as the new receiver.

Henderson ordered the prison health care system into receivership in 2005, after concluding that the system "is broken beyond repair" and required a dramatic overhaul.

He appointed Sillen, then head of the Santa Clara Valley health and hospital system, as the receiver in 2006.

Henderson made the rulings in a lawsuit in which inmates have claimed that abysmal prison health care violates constitutional standards.

Burlingame burglary suspect in custody

Burlingame police have a suspect in custody in connection with a rash of burglaries in the city over the past few weeks.

Shawn Curtis McKnight Jr., 20, of Burlingame, is alleged to have carried out around a dozen residential burglaries on the city's south side since late December.

An extensive police investigation led officers to McKnight's home, where he was arrested Wednesday just before 3 p.m., according to Burlingame police.

At his home, officers reported finding items linking McKnight to the burglaries.

He was charged with nine counts of first-degree burglary and another nine for receiving stolen property. He was brought to San Mateo County Jail and is being held on $60,000 bail, police said.

Attorney for man accused of murdering members of Eritrean family claims self-defense

The defense lawyer for an Oakland man accused of murdering three members of an Eritrean family in Oakland on Thanksgiving Day in 2006 told a judge Wednesday that he believes the man acted in self-defense.

At the end of the first day of a preliminary hearing for Asmeron Gebreselassie, 43, and his brother Tewodros, 39, Asmeron's attorney Ray Plumhoff told Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert McGuiness that he will present "an affirmative defense," including a lengthy statement by
Asmeron that he fired shots only because he thought he was going to be killed.

In a brief filed in court, Plumhoff, an assistant public defender, admitted that Asmeron Gebreselassie shot and killed Winta Mehari, 28, who was the wife of his dead brother Abraham Tewolde, as well as her brother Yonas Mehari, 17, and their mother, 50-year-old Regbe Bahrengasi.

The shooting incident occurred at the Keller Plaza apartment complex at 5301 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland, where the Mehari family lived, about 3 p.m. on Nov. 23, 2006.

But Plumhoff said Asmeron opened fire only after two male members of the Mehari family met him with an angry outburst and pulled out guns.

Plumhoff alleged that Asmeron Gebreselassie believes that the Mehari family wanted to kill him because he threatened their plan to cash in on a $500,000 insurance policy that Abraham Tewolde, 42, who was his brother and the husband of Winta Mehari, had taken out before his death at his home in Berkeley on March 1, 2006. Abraham's cause of death was undetermined.

The hearing continues Thursday and is expected to last several more days.

Man shot while fetching lunch at taco truck

A man who was fatally shot while fetching lunch at an Oakland taco truck Tuesday is Abel Martinez-Mejia, 41, of Richmond, the Alameda County coroner's bureau confirmed Wednesday.

Martinez-Mejia was gunned down in an apparent robbery attempt just before noon at 85th Street and San Leandro Avenue, police said.

He was transported to Highland Hospital and succumbed to his wounds early Wednesday morning, police said.

The killing is under investigation.

Sunnyvale authorities ask public to help identify residential burglary suspects

Sunnyvale authorities are seeking the public's help in identifying two suspects linked to a series of residential burglaries, the Sunnyvale Department of Public safety announced Wednesday.

A total of 13 residential burglaries of a similar nature have been committed in Sunnyvale since November. In each case homes were entered by forcing open a door or window during the daytime when residents were not at home, according to the department.

A webcam inside one of the burglarized residences photographed three suspects inside the house. One of those suspects has been identified as San Jose resident Rosendo Miguel Orduno, 22. Orduno is currently in custody in Santa Clara County Jail.

Reiser trial in recess until next week

Oakland computer programmer Hans Reiser's trial on charges that he murdered his estranged wife Nina is in recess until next week because the judge's clerk has an appointment Wednesday afternoon and a juror will be attending a seminar today.

The early adjournment at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday means that there was only a day and a half of testimony this week in the slow-moving trial, which began Nov. 6, as Monday was a court holiday.

Prosecutor Paul Hora told jurors and Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman that it probably will take him another two weeks to finish presenting his case.

Hans Reiser, 44, is accused of murdering Nina even though her body has never been found, despite extensive searches in the Oakland hills and elsewhere.

Nina, who was 31, disappeared on Sept. 3, 2006, after she dropped off the couple's two children at the house at 6979 Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills where Hans Reiser lived with his mother.

The couple married in 1999 but Nina filed for divorce and separated from Hans in 2004. They were in the midst of an acrimonious divorce and a battle over the custody of their children when she disappeared.

Hans Reiser has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Napa City Council withdraws proposed annexation of Ghisletta

After meeting in closed session Tuesday, the Napa City Council decided to withdraw the city's proposed annexation of the 142-acre Ghisletta property in southwest Napa.

City Manager Mike Parness said in a prepared statement Wednesday that discussions about the annexation and Napa County's interest in a major housing project at the former Napa Pipe site created apprehension in the community.

"The City Council feels we all need to step back and take a look at out needs with a larger view. In addition to withdrawing the application for annexation, we're calling on the County to suspend their process involving Napa Pipe, and work cooperatively with us to do what's best for everyone in the community," Parness said.

The Ghisletta property along Foster Road is currently zoned for as many as 1,000 dwelling units and 3,200 townhomes have been proposed for the 152-acre former Napa Pipe Property off Kaiser Road.

"We are taking a broader view to develop a long-term vision. We will have a better outcome if we collaborate on housing needs, infrastructure, and the impact on government services, regardless of the jurisdictional boundaries," Mayor Jill Techel said in the statement.


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