Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., has entered a plea days before he was set for trial on assault and battery charges over allegations he pushed a United Airlines baggage employee at Dulles International Airport. As part of the deal he will write a letter of apology to the baggage worker.
At a hearing in Loudoun County, Va., General District Court on Monday Filner entered a so-called Alford plea after prosecutors amended the assault and battery charges to trespassing, also a misdemeanor. That means he did not admit guilt, but acknowledged sufficient evidence exists for a conviction.
He was fined $100 and agreed to send an apology letter within two weeks to Joanne Kay Kunkel, the baggage worker who accused him of trying to shove past her into an employee-only area after his bags were delayed Aug. 19.
Filner had been set for trial Dec. 4 on the assault and battery charges.
"If it's not a real apology that would be viewed as a breach of the agreement and I would have the option of bringing back the charges," Ryan Perry, assistant commonwealth's attorney, said in a phone interview.
Kunkel alleged in a criminal complaint that Filner barged past other customers, screamed at employees and repeatedly pushed her. He yelled "You can't stop me," according to her complaint.
Filner said he was sorry in a statement Monday but also denied any physical violence.
"At the time, it wouldn't have occurred to me that entering an airport office under these circumstances would be considered trespassing. But I understand now that, since I was told to stay out, it can be considered trespass. That's why I'm entering what I understand is called an Alford plea: I did, in fact, go back there," Filner said.
"I want to make clear that I did not strike, push, or shove anyone," he said. "It's very important to me that the record be clear on this point. Nor did I seek any sort of special treatment because I was a congressman."
Filner's plea may not be the last word on the incident: The House Ethics Committee announced plans in September to investigate the airport run-in after criminal proceedings were over.
Filner is in his eighth term representing California's 51st Congressional District that borders Mexico. He chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee.