The sexual harassment trial for one of the state’s top elected officials, Fiona Ma, was supposed to start Tuesday in Sacramento. But due to “scheduling conflicts,” the court has now pushed the trial out to June, per the Chronicle.
The sexual harassment and wrongful terminations charges against Ma were filed three years ago by a former employee. Ma, a former SF supervisor and the current California state treasurer, has sought to get the charges dismissed since then, calling them “baseless.” But a judge ruled last year that the case could proceed to trial, as we reported at the time.
Both sides reportedly showed up to Sacramento Superior Court on Tuesday, for planned jury selection, when they learned of the rescheduling. Ma’s camp has said publicly she plans to testify in her own defense and that she’s hoping to bring “the truth to light in court” — but now she has to wait a little longer.
The lawsuit, in case you forgot, was brought by former state employee Judith Blackwell, who previously served as executive director of the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee until she was fired in January 2021. Blackwell sued Ma six months later, accusing her of sexual harassment when the two shared a hotel room and a subsequent Airbnb in the early pandemic period, while working together in Sacramento. She’s seeking punitive damages, civil penalties and attorney’s fees.
The lawsuit further alleges that Ma fired Blackwell for turning down Ma’s sexual advances, and discriminated against because of her race (she is Black) and because of her disabilities (she suffered a stroke in September 2020 that left her disabled). However, the judge in the pretrial hearings found no evidence of racial discrimination and wrongful termination, saying that Ma showed she fired Blackwell for her job performance. Blackwell will not be able to discuss those allegations in court, but the judge allowed the sexual harassment case to proceed.
The court documents revealed the details of the sexual harassment incident: Blackwell alleged Ma exposed her bare backside several times, summoned Blackwell to her room while half-dressed on three separate occasions, and climbed into bed with her once. Blackwell’s attorney called these actions “intentional” and “lewd.”
Ma has not disputed these incidents, but has stated that these were all non-sexual situations. She called them “random, isolated incidents that do not constitute sexual harassment,” per the court filings.
However, these accusations certainly don’t help her ambitions to run for higher office. She previously said she planned to run for governor in 2026, when Governor Gavin Newsom hits his term limit, per the Chronicle, but switched to campaigning for lieutenant governor in 2023 instead.
But the can of worms is open. A Sacramento Bee investigation into Ma, who still lives in San Francisco, found that she would often stay overnight in Sacramento on the taxpayers’ dime. She did this more than any other California elected official, including those from Southern California.
Feature image of California State Treasurer Fiona Ma via Greg Doherty/Getty Images for iHollywood Film Festival.