From: SF Chronicle
by: Matthias Gafni, 06/05/19
The Contra Costa County civil grand jury took a rare step and formally accused long-embattled Assessor Gus Kramer of breaking state law by creating a hostile work environment for multiple employees in his office.
The accusation, filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court on Wednesday by the district attorney’s office on behalf of the jurors, alleged “willful or corrupt” misconduct over a five-year period in which employees complained that Kramer subjected them to sexually inappropriate comments.
If the 68-year-old Martinez resident is found guilty of the accusation by a 12-person jury, it could result in his removal from office after 25 years of service.
Kramer’s attorney, Michael Rains, said many of these accusations “from years ago” had already been investigated.
“He’s denied the allegations and the language asserted by the witnesses,” Rains said. “He says he did not make those statements and it’s been completely misconstrued.”
Even if the conduct were found to be true, Rains said, it wouldn’t rise to the level of removing Kramer from office.
It’s not the first time Kramer has garnered headlines for questionable behavior. Last year, Contra Costa officials hired an independent investigator to probe allegations that Kramer made inappropriate comments to two of his employees. The Board of Supervisors censured Kramer after the investigator found it “more likely than not” that Kramer made inappropriate comments.
Last month, the Fair Political Practices Commission fined him $5,500 for campaign finance violations, and in 2009 the county paid $1 million to settle a lawsuit with a female employee who complained that Kramer retaliated against her.
Did you know that subscribers get full access to our native App?
The grand jury found that Kramer’s conduct was “hostile and abusive” toward four employees, thus creating a hostile work environment and violating the Fair Housing and Employment Act, according to the accusation. Prosecutors, who were required by state law to file the accusation on behalf of the volunteer grand jury, asked for a hearing to determine if the Contra Costa district attorney’s office should be recused in further proceedings.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Christopher Walpole said he could not comment on specifics of the charges nor why his office might need to be removed from the case. He also declined to say why the East Bay civil grand jury was advised in their investigation by an outside agency — the Solano County counsel. A representative from the Solano County office said they were asked to advise because Kramer had previously been investigated by their Contra Costa counterparts and Kramer has an open lawsuit against the county over the censure.
The accusation alleges Kramer made sexual comments toward female employees and disparaging remarks targeting one victim’s ethnicity between December 2013 and last year.
One woman alleged that in 2014 Kramer would visit her cubicle almost daily to share tales of conquests with women. That same year, according to the accusation, he called her to a meeting in the lobby and pointed to a single rose when she arrived and said, “I brought that for you,” telling her he was “smitten” with her.
In a text message, Kramer told the employee he canceled the staff picnic, “Because, I wanted you all to myself. Ha, ha.” In another series of texts, Kramer was on vacation and said it would be much better if she were there with him, according to the court document.
In 2015, Kramer told her of his father’s virility and how he bought his niece a vibrator for Christmas and how funny he thought it was when she opened it in front of children. He often told the woman she reminded him of his niece, the accusation alleged.
The female employee was “subjected to these unwanted sexual comments and storytelling because she is a woman,” according to the accusation.
A second female employee alleged Kramer told her in 2013 how he went to dinner with a female business associate who was “wearing a white blouse with no bra.” Two years later, Kramer and the employee were alone in an office elevator and Kramer told her he had “inappropriate” thoughts about her, the accusation alleged.
A third female employee said that in 2014 Kramer told her he had seen a photo of her in her wedding dress and she looked “really hot.” Periodically, he would tell her, “I’ve heard you’ve been bad. Are you being good?” according to the accusation.
The woman was so bothered she asked her boss not to assign her to the fourth floor of the office to avoid Kramer, according to the accusation.
The fourth employee testified about a series of incidents just last year, the accusation said.
Three times, the accusation said, Kramer entered his office and told a story about a couple having anal sex. On three other instances, Kramer spoke about “physical attributes” of various women he met during business meetings. One time, he told his employee about a woman he’d like to “bend her over the couch,” according to the accusation.
In one instance, Kramer entered the office and made an ethnic slur. Also, after the California Democratic convention last year, Kramer told the worker, “White males would never vote for a f—ing Mexican,” according to court records.
Removing an elected official from office through a civil grand jury accusation is an unusual procedure allowed by a 1943 state law. It is not unprecedented in Contra Costa, as two years ago the same body filed an accusation — which is not a criminal charge — against the county’s then-district attorney, Mark Peterson, who was eventually forced out of office. Peterson was accused of illegally spending $66,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses.
Peterson eventually resigned after the state Department of Justice charged him with perjury and embezzlement, and he accepted probation as part of a plea deal.