A small claims court judge has ruled against activist Barbara George in her $5,000 personal injury lawsuit against City Council candidate Gordon Wozniak, according to court documents.
George claimed that Wozniak kicked a chair that struck her chair and left her with back pain during a March 29, 2001 community meeting on the use of tritium, a radioactive isotope, at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
George opposed the lab’s use of tritium and Wozniak, then a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley, said activists’ fears were unfounded.
“I’m glad that this is finally over,” said Wozniak, who argued that the suit had no merit. “My feeling is it was basically harassment for political reasons.”
George filed suit five months ago after Wozniak announced his candidacy and just before the statute of limitations ran out.
George, who now lives in Sacramento, said the suit was not politically-motivated. She said she waited nearly a year to file suit because she was busy with two moves after the incident and was wrapped up in her work as executive director of Women’s Energy Matters, an alternative energy advocacy group.
“I don’t care who he is or what he’s running for,” she said. “I think it’s really reprehensible conduct. I think it needed to be aired in a public forum.”
But, as public as the case may be, at least one of Wozniak’s opponents in the race for the 8th District City Council race, Zoning Adjustments Board Commissioner Andy Katz, said he will not make the case a campaign issue.
“It shouldn’t effect the campaign because it’s not really part of the campaign,” he said.
After two delays, Judge Pro Tempore Jeff Eckber finally heard the case of George vs. Wozniak July 30. Witnesses for the plaintiff and defense both agreed that Wozniak grew annoyed with George’s repeated objections during a lab presentation at the March 29 meeting and kicked a chair in front of him that skidded in George’s direction.
But accounts of the force of the push and the likelihood of injury differed widely. Eckber did not make a ruling at the end of testimony July 30, taking the case under consideration, but he warned that the conflicting accounts had weakened George’s case.
“They basically put a lot of doubt into the judge’s mind about whether I was injured,” said George, describing the testimony of defense witnesses who she branded as liars.
At the trial, one of George’s witnesses, Robert Valentine, a physician’s assistant who attended to her at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center the night of the incident, testified that George had endured “minor trauma” including “a little redness” and some muscle spasms in the upper back.
But Dr. Elmer Grossman, a witness who testified for the defense, said the kicked chair was too low to have caused the trauma alleged by George.
Gene Bernardi, a George ally and member of the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste, which has long fought with the lab over its use of tritium, said she was “disgusted” by the ruling and said Wozniak should not hold public office.
“I just don’t feel comfortable with a person who can’t control himself being in a public position,” Bernardi said.
But Nancy Carleton, who used to work closely with Wozniak on the Parks and Recreation Commission, and often disagrees with him on the issues, said Wozniak is “a civil and courteous person.”
“I’ve always respected the way he’s worked with people of different political persuasions,” said Carleton, who is aligned with the city’s progressive faction. Wozniak is considered a moderate.
Wozniak said he is eager to leave the case behind him and get on with a campaign that will focus, in part, on properly handling the city’s projected $3 million deficit.
Wozniak will face Katz, Peace and Justice Commissioner Anne Wagley and immigrant and union activist Carlos Estrada. Housing Advisory Commissioner Jay Vega has withdrawn from the race.
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