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City commissioner faces lawsuit for alleged injury

By Kurtis Alexander Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday May 21, 2002

A year-old spat that some say is as much about politics as it is about pain is scheduled to be heard in court this week. 

Former Berkeley resident Barbara George is pressing a case against political foe and Planning Commissioner Gordon Wozniak for injuries she incurred when Wozniak allegedly kicked a chair that struck her chair during a heated meeting of the city’s Environmental Sampling Project Task Force in March, 2001. 

Wozniak, who has announced his intentions to run for City Council this November, has portrayed last year’s incident as an accident. He says he “shifted his position,” and a chair in front of him fell forward. 

On Thursday, a small claims court judge is expected to decide the merit of George’s $5,000 suit against the commissioner for medical bills, pain and suffering resulting from back injuries. 

“I do think [his actions] were intentional,” George said on Monday. “He hurt me... He should have been more in control of himself.” 

George filed her suit just weeks before the one-year statute of limitations expired. She said her delayed March 7, 2002 filing was the result of her busy work schedule, personal finances, and some anxieties about taking the case to court. 

“I didn’t feel I could let it go in the end,” she said. 

Wozniak tells a different story and said, last week, that eyewitnesses to the 2001 incident would affirm his innocence in court Thursday. 

Though he didn’t want to discuss details prior to the court date, Wozniak said that George’s late filing of the suit might be politically motivated. 

The well-known ideological differences between the two surfaced at last year’s infamous meeting, during a public comment period on the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its monitoring of controversial tritium emissions. 

George was critical of the lab’s release of tritium, a radioactive isotope that has been known to cause cancer. Wozniak is a senior scientist at the lab. 

According to several witnesses at last year’s meeting, George’s injury followed a vocal protest she made against a lab official. After snubbing requests for her to be quiet, Wozniak, seated two rows behind George, allegedly kicked a metal folding chair which struck the back of George’s chair. 

A police report filed on the night of the meeting cites contradictory testimony by witnesses as to whether the incident was intentional or accidental. 

George said that after the incident she drove herself to Alta Bates/Summit Medical Center where she was treated for bruising and muscle spasms and then released. 

Wozniak was issued a citation by police. 

Another factor prompting George to pursue a lawsuit against Wozniak, she said, was his stated ambition to run for City Council. 

“When I heard the news that he was running for City Council, I realized that this guy shouldn’t be running anything,” George said. “He’s really a violent man.” 

Wozniak is looking to replace Councilmember Polly Armstrong, who has said she will not run for another term in District 8.