San Diego Union Tribune

November 29, 2007

Va. airline employee rips Filner apology

'Pathetic,' she says; civil suit considered


WASHINGTON – An airport baggage employee who claims Rep. Bob Filner assaulted her after growing irate about his delayed luggage says the court-ordered apology she received from the congressman is “pathetic,” that she is considering civil action and that the courts may have been lenient because of Filner's status as a lawmaker.



Joanne Kay Kunkel, the 35-year-old United Airlines customer service representative who filed an assault charge against the San Diego Democrat, said the stress and anxiety caused by the encounter have rendered her unable to work at the job she has held for more than eight years.

“This is someone that many people respect and look up to, and if he can get away with this so easily, why can't anyone off the streets?” Kunkel said in an interview.

She claimed Filner screamed and pushed past her into an employees-only area in search of his bags Aug. 19 at Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

At the General District Court of Loudon County, Va., on Monday, Filner entered a so-called Alford plea after prosecutors reduced the misdemeanor assault and battery charge to trespassing.

In the plea, similar to a no-contest plea, Filner did not admit guilt, but acknowledged that sufficient evidence exists for a conviction. He was fined $100 and ordered to write Kunkel an apology, which Kunkel received in the mail.

Filner wrote that he is “sorry for raising my voice and behaving discourteously toward you and your colleagues,” Kunkel said, reading the letter in a telephone interview.

“ 'I was frustrated after a long day of traveling,' ” Filner wrote, she said. “ 'I overreacted and should not have done so. Please accept my most sincere apologies.' ”

Filner has said he acted out of frustration because his flight and baggage were delayed and no airline workers would tell him why. He insists nothing violent occurred.

“I want to make clear that I did not strike, push or shove anyone,” he said in a statement after the court hearing. “Nor did I seek any sort of special treatment because I was a congressman.”

He said he didn't tell the United personnel “where I worked or what I did for a living.”

But Kunkel insisted yesterday that Filner shoved her twice near the shoulders – hard enough to cause a person to stumble backward. She also said she believes that a man of less standing would have been forced to face her in court.

“Representative Filner got his day in court, and I got nothing,” said Kunkel, who said she has encountered many upset travelers, but never one as “scary” or “hostile” as Filner.

“The (prosecutor) has essentially offered Representative Filner a simple slap on the wrist and the ability to avoid acknowledging guilt or culpability.”

Filner could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Kunkel said she has been unable to work because of the “stress” and “anxiety” resulting from the incident.

“Nothing has been done to address my injuries,” said Kunkel, who has two children, ages 2 and 12.

She is not on disability, she said, but instead has been taking sick leave since the incident. She plans to return to work Dec. 10.

Ryan W. Perry, the assistant commonwealth's attorney who prosecuted the case, has said prosecutors could re-file charges if Filner's letter was not a “real apology.” But Kunkel said Perry told her that the apology letter was satisfactory. Now that the case against Filner appears to be settled, Kunkel said she is talking with an attorney friend about her options, which she said may include civil action against the congressman.

The House Ethics Committee has appointed a four-member investigative panel to look into the matter. House rules call for the Ethics Committee to investigate any member indicted or arrested on a criminal charge and create an investigative panel no later than 30 days after the charges are filed.

The committee agreed to delay the investigation until the legal proceedings concluded.

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