Witnesses gave conflicting accounts of an alleged assault by City Council candidate Gordon Wozniak against activist Barbara George in small claims court Tuesday, casting doubt on George’s $5,000 civil suit against Wozniak.
George filed suit four months ago, charging that Wozniak kicked a chair that injured her during a public meeting last year.
After two postponements of the trial in May and June, the one-day court deliberation finally took place Tuesday. Judge pro tempore Jeff Eckber issued no ruling at the end of the day, wanting more time for review. But Eckber suggested that as a plaintiff saddled with the burden of proof, George faces an uphill battle given the conflicting testimony surrounding last year’s incident.
“That’s a difficult burden,” Eckber said, referring to the burden of proof. “But I’ll take a look at all the facts.”
Eckber is expected to issue a ruling by mail in the coming weeks. George wants compensation for $180 in medical bills and $380 in legal bills. She is also asking for about $4,500 for pain and suffering.
Wozniak says George’s suit, filed shortly after he announced his intention to run for City Council, is politically motivated. George denied the charge but said she hopes the trial will cast light on Wozniak’s character as the election approaches.
According to witnesses, George repeatedly spoke out at a meeting on March 29, 2001 that focused on the use of tritium, a radioactive isotope, at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. George voiced opposition to plans at the lab. Wozniak, then a senior scientist there, at one point told George to “shut up” and pushed a chair that struck her seat.
Witness accounts vary widely as to the force of the push and the likelihood of injury.
“I saw him push [the chair] with such violence that it was really scary,” said Mary Davis, a witness for the plaintiff.
But Stephen Goldman, a witness for the defense, said the force of the push was “trivial.” Dr. Elmer Grossman, another defense witness, testfied that Wozniak pushed an empty chair that struck another empty chair before resting harmlessly on George’s seat.
Robert Valentine, a physician’s assistant who tended to George at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center the night of the incident, testified that George endured “minor trauma.”
He said George had “a little redness” and some muscle spasms in the upper back. Grossman, the doctor testifying for Wozniak, said the chair backs were too low to have caused an injury to the upper back.
But George referred to a statement by a witness for the defense noting that the kicked chair “moved vertically up two or three inches” and “hopped forward a couple of bounces,” suggesting that an airborne seat could have struck her in the upper back.
Wozniak said he was ready to put the incident behind him and campaign full time.
“I look forward to debating and running on the issues,” he said.
“I’m glad it’s over,” George agreed. “This has been a very difficult time in my life.”