In a move that exposes a deep fault line through one of the most high-profile and elite units in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, two deputy district attorneys filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against a supervising prosecutor Tuesday, alleging in graphic detail a raft of offenses that they claim occurred both in and outside the office.
In court documents, Beth Silverman and Tannaz Mokayef allege Gary Hearnsberger subjected them to unwanted touching and lewd remarks and behavior while he was head of the Major Crimes Division, which is responsible for trying the high profile cases.
The two women also allege that Hearnsberger favorited female attorneys who provided sexual favors to him, allowed him to touch or grope them or engaged in sexually explicit banter with him by giving them better assignments and opportunities for career advancement.
Top news of the day
Hearnsberger, a 34-year department veteran, was overseeing the division in 2011, when the lawsuit alleged transgressions began.
Silverman has tried cases that included the "Grim Sleeper" serial murder trial of Lonnie Franklin Jr., and she and Hearnsberger co-prosecuted the trial of the men who beat Bryan Stow in the Dodgers Stadium parking lot.
The unit handled cases including the trials of Conrad Murray in connection with the death of Michael Jackson and the murder trials of Phil Spector and Robert Blake.
It is currently handling the murder case against real estate heir Robert Durst and the murder trial against former rap mogul Suge Knight.
The lawsuit also names Los Angeles County and is seek unspecified damages.
Hearnsberger vehemently denied the claims, and said he has not yet seen the lawsuit.
"It makes sense that it was filed on April Fools' Day. I don’t conduct business that way. You can ask anyone that’s worked for me. It’s very disappointing that lawyers who you would expect to be of the highest caliber professional prosecutors would make such claims. It’s total retaliation and completely untrue," Hearnsberger told NBC News.
After the women filed complaints with the state, Hearnsberger was reassigned to another high-profile specialized unit, the Public Integrity Division, which prosecutes public officials charged with crimes. The state issued a "right-to-sue" notice to both plaintiffs. Hearnsberger was not disciplined in any way.
The suit alleges Hearnsberger made sexually explicit gestures toward Silverman and would sit close to her on a couch he had in his office.
Hearnsberger regularly walked behind Silverman so he could then place his hands on her hips or buttocks while leaving the office or crossing the street, the suit alleges.
After Silverman rejected Hearnsberger's advances, he cursed at her in front of colleagues, criticized her work ethic and personality and denied her case assignments, the suit alleges.
"The case has just begun and we are going to be looking deeper into the allegations," Gregory W. Smith, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told NBC4 hours after the lawsuit was filed.
Mokayef joined the Major Crimes Division in 2014 and also was subjected to similar unwanted touching by Hearnsberger, the suit alleges.
"On multiple occasions, Hearnsberger approached (Mokayef) and told her that she smelled good, or words to that effect,'' the complaint said.
Mokayef alleges that after she rejected Hearnsberger's advances and touching, he assigned her only stale investigations, subjected her to verbal abuse and screamed at her.
The suit also alleges that Hearnsberger was inappropriate even outside the office, at gatherings including other DAs and their families.
A photo included in the complaint appears to show Hearnsberger at a hillbilly-themed party dressed in denim overalls.
The lawsuit says "with nothing underneath and a stuffed sheep attached to his crotch."
The District Attorney’s Office did not immediately return calls seeking comment.