Durham's first public defender stepped down in 2005 to avoid a public airing of sexual harassment claims.
Now, the state Attorney General's Office is reviewing a criminal investigation that could result in charges that Bob Brown Jr. sexually assaulted one of his employees.
Spokeswoman Noelle Talley said Thursday the office's special prosecutions unit is reviewing a State Bureau of Investigation inquiry that wrapped up about two weeks ago.
She wouldn't discuss the case, but in a civil lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court this week, three women claim Brown made unwanted sexual advances.
They are Assistant Public Defender Danielle Bruno, former paralegal Janice Ingram and former legal assistant Rachel Allen.
Allen, a 30-year-old single mother, said Brown touched her inappropriately at work.
Then in October 2005, the lawsuit says, Brown went to Allen's house and pressured her to take her clothes off.
"Brown then touched Ms. Allen's body and genitalia and sexually assaulted her by performing a sex act against her will," it says. He then pressured her for sex, but she refused, according to the lawsuit.
Brown did not return a call seeking comment Thursday afternoon. He remains an active member of the State Bar, and has not been publicly disciplined or reprimanded related to these allegations. However, Scott Holmes, one of the lawyers who filed the lawsuit, said a complaint had been filed with the bar.
Appointed in 1990, Brown was Durham's first public defender. But for years, the lawsuit alleges, he was notorious for making unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate comments to co-workers.
The lawsuit says Brown settled out of court a previous sexual harassment claim made by one of his employees. In another case in 1996, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor assault charge. In that case, Brown was accused of grabbing a female client's buttocks. The State Bar reprimanded Brown for the incident and fined him.
Nevertheless, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson reappointed Brown as the public defender in 1998.
In December 2005, Bruno filed an affidavit claiming Brown made sexual advances toward her. The civil filing was made under a statute that sets out a process for removing a public defender from office. Within days, Brown resigned, essentially ending the need for that filing and temporarily stopping details of the allegations from coming to light.
Bruno, Ingram and Allen all filed discrimination complaints last year with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found reasonable cause to think a violation had occurred. The EEOC then found that the women had a right to sue.
Staff writer Jessica Rocha can be reached at 932-2008 or firstname.lastname@example.org.