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Former Garcetti Staffer Testifies That The Mayor Was Aware Of Rick Jacobs' Inappropriate Behavior

A composite of Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA City Hall and Rick Jacobs.
Rick Jacobs (right) is named in a sexual harassment lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles filed in July 2020. LAPD Officer Matthew Garza alleges Mayor Eric Garcetti (left) was aware of Jacobs' harassing behavior and did nothing to stop it.
(Photos from Getty Images and Chava Sanchez for LAist)
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A former communications director for Mayor Eric Garcetti testified in a deposition that the mayor’s former chief of staff attempted to warn Garcetti about inappropriate behavior by his longtime associate, Rick Jacobs, but Garcetti would not take action.

The sworn testimony paints a picture of a powerful mayoral aid and political fundraiser who was so important to Garcetti that even top City Hall staff could not curb his actions — including alleged unwanted touching and sexualized comments that routinely went over the line.

Jacobs is the target of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the city of Los Angeles by a former member of Garcetti’s security detail, LAPD Officer Matthew Garza. Jacobs has played many roles in Garcetti’s orbit, including deputy chief of staff, political aide, and CEO of a nonprofit that the mayor launched when he was considering a 2020 run for the presidency. (LAist reported today that Jacobs has been receiving consulting fees from a labor union that is a longtime supporter of Garcetti's.)

Naomi Seligman was the mayor’s communications director from May 2015 to September 2017, and she continued to socialize with Garcetti’s team at events at Getty House — the mayor's official residence — after leaving her post.

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Seligman testified about conversations she had with Garcetti’s former chief of staff, Ana Guerrero, about why the mayor would not act against Jacobs. According to Seligman, Guerrero told her: "I've tried, and there's nothing I can do."

At another point, Seligman said Guerrero pressured her not to go public with what she knew about Jacobs.

“[Guerrero] wanted to warn me not to speak out,” Seligman testified. “It was a culture of Omertà,” referring to the Mafia’s code of silence. (Guerrero is currently on administrative leave after it was revealed that she made disparaging comments about several L.A. political figures on a private Facebook page.)

Guerrero denied observing sexual harassment by Jacobs in her deposition. She testified she did advise the mayor to distance himself from Jacobs last summer, “to avoid negative media attention and distractions” from the business of running the city and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his own deposition, Garcetti said he did not recall seeing any harassing behavior by Jacobs.

The mayor’s office has denied Garcetti or any of his top staff were aware of inappropriate conduct by Jacobs. In his deposition, Jacobs denied sexually harassing anyone — saying he gave hugs and may have made some off-color jokes, but he thought the contact was welcome, and his behavior bore no resemblance to the serious allegations in the Garza lawsuit.

But Seligman testified about an incident that occurred in Washington, D.C. when Garcetti was there to testify before a Senate subcommittee.

Seligman said she was told that Jacobs harassed a female Garcetti staffer in an elevator: “He blocked her into a corner and started pushing into her, back and forth, and she was asking, begging to stop, and he just kept pushing into her, pushing into her, and finally, the mayor had to intervene and tell him to get off of her.”

The staffer, Julia Brooke Ciardullo, Garcetti’s former chief legal counsel, later testified that she did not consider it sexual harassment — but she acknowledged the mayor got involved in the situation: “[Garcetti] said something to the effect of, you know, ‘Stop’ or ‘Cut it out.’”

According to Seligman’s testimony, Jacobs sexually harassed men and women, including city staff and others. One male city staffer confided in her about the harassment, she said, and three other men who are not city employees also spoke to her personally about Jacobs’ behavior.

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The mayor’s office staffer “would say that [Jacobs] hit on him,” Seligman testified, adding, “he was very uncomfortable …. he was annoyed and shaken by it.”

Seligman also submitted text messages from the employee and other people connected to Garcetti as evidence for the record. The texts include several people in city politics expressing relief that Jacobs would face a “reckoning” after Garza filed his lawsuit.

On July 14, 2020, Robyn Ritter Simon, an events manager who formerly produced a series of talks on women’s leadership for the Getty House Foundation, sent Seligman a text message in response to news coverage about the lawsuit.

“Oh, my God. It was only a matter of time before Jacobs would get stung by his outrageous behavior. Wowzer!” Ritter Simon wrote.

“Yup,” Seligman wrote back.

In her deposition, Seligman said that as recently as 2019, she witnessed Ana Guerrero and other high-level Garcetti staff observing Jacobs sexually harassing city employees and other individuals.

“Certainly he was touching and hugging people at the Getty House. We also witnessed Jacobs touching, hugging [LAPD security] detail …. in the Mayor's [city hall office] suite, at their reception area where detail sit.”

Seligman herself was a victim of sexual harassment by Jacobs, according to her deposition testimony.

In 2016, after the mayor’s State of the City address, Jacobs allegedly walked into Seligman’s office and kissed her on the lips “for a long time,” while “eight or nine” members of her communications staff looked on. “It was humiliating,” Seligman testified. She said she immediately reported the incident to Guerrero, who took no further action, according to Seligman. “[Guerrero] just kind of shook her head, rolled her eyes, got her sort of blank angry stare,” she said.

Seligman testified that the harassment extended to her family. She described an incident at a book party Jacobs threw for her husband, an author. At the event, Jacobs allegedly greeted the couple outside his home by grabbing Seligman’s husband and kissing him on the lips. In her deposition, Seligman recalled Jacobs staring at her while hugging her partner.

“The look was, I own you. I have power over you,” she testified. “There's nothing you can do or say. I can even kiss your husband in front of you.”

City staff widely considered Jacobs a potential political liability for the mayor, Seligman testified, and talked about his actions putting the city in danger of a costly lawsuit. But he remained, steering important campaign, philanthropic and political work for Garcetti.

Guerrero saw Jacobs as a dominant force in the mayor’s orbit, according to Seligman — one not to be challenged. “The only conversations we would have about Jacobs was that there was nothing that could be done,” Seligman testified. “So while I was employed with the city, she was very clear with me that no one could ... remove Jacobs from the city or from the situation.”

“[Guerrero] said that he was protected by the mayor, that the mayor would never fire or do anything about Jacobs,” Seligman said.

[Guerrero] made it clear while I was employed with the city, that Jacobs would always win," she said.