News & Notes

Questionable ethics, illicit affairs, sex, greed, nudity, lawsuits, incompetence, sudden resignations: Sounds just like Congress.

Natal attraction: About a year ago, local resident Stephanie Brill became pregnant with her third child and found herself a midwife to deliver the baby and provide prenatal care. It was the natural choice for Brill, herself a midwife and author of The Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy, and Birth. She also runs Berkeley’s Maia Midwifery, which advertises itself as “the premier pre-conception center for lesbians, bisexual women, and single women.” But Brill’s most recent experience could be the plot of a made-for-TV movie. About a week before her due date, she discovered that her trusted midwife was secretly indulging in a little third-trimester hanky-panky with Brill’s husband. The midwife, according to Brill, “apparently had every intention of both continuing to provide prenatal care to my family and me and attending our birth while carrying on a romantic relationship with my mate.”

How do we know this? Brill wrote a lengthy account of the affair in the national magazine Midwifery Today that shook up the Bay Area midwifery community and, some say, sparked a regional hunt for the Lamaze lecheress. “I was astounded to realize that a colleague, one I once respected, would cross all inherent ethical and professional boundaries during the course of providing prenatal care to a client,” Brill wrote. “Not only has the affair caused serious harm to my marriage, it shattered the fine-tuned internal balance I needed to enter into birth in a positive space. I lost ten pounds within the first week of finding out; I slept for a total of only twelve hours in the first five days; I cried uncontrollably. My blood pressure escalated dangerously. I was angry and disillusioned.”

Brill never named the home-wrecking homebirther, and she wouldn’t comment any further on the saga. But this cringer of a tale raises a serious concern. Doctors who fraternize with patients can have their medical licenses revoked. But, as Brill points out in her article, neither the state licensing agencies (midwives are registered by either the California Medical Board or Board of Registered Nursing), Midwives Alliance of North America, nor the North American Registry of Midwives has a code of ethics that explicitly prohibits sexual congress between midwives and their clients.

That may soon change. In response to Brill’s article, midwife peer-review groups are drafting language to prohibit such behavior, and they intend to present it to the Midwives Alliance. “That’s what our community is trying to do now, to come up with a code of ethics” on sexual misconduct, says Mason Cornelius, a midwife and member of Citizens Advocating Licensed Midwifery.

As for whether the sassy service provider will be censured by her peers, word on the ward is that it’ll be up to Brill.

Women who swim with the wolves: Speaking of ethics, the coach of El Cerrito’s municipal swim team just gave the city a lesson in propriety and walked off with $100,000 of city cash to boot.

Last week, a Contra Costa County jury awarded head coach Blythe Lucero a hundred grand plus lost wages for wrongful termination; Lucero resigned in May 2000, claiming local officials had failed to take action after she repeatedly complained about an eighteen-year-old assistant coach — whom she could not fire — getting intimate with several swimmers, ages fourteen through sixteen. Lucero alleged that the young man was kissing and groping the girls in front of the other swimmers, and that she’d once discovered him atop a young swimmer in a locked lifeguard room, practicing a little more than mouth-to-mouth.

After her supervisors and the city attorney’s office failed to take disciplinary action, Lucero felt compromised in her own position; she not only quit, but also sent an embarrassing letter to team members’ parents explaining her departure. El Cerrito finally launched an investigation, but despite its own investigator’s recommendations, the city still hasn’t adopted a policy prohibiting coaches from having sexual contact with their students. According to Leslie Levy, Lucero’s attorney, city managers dismissed the assistant coach’s behavior as “age-appropriate” and his supervisor merely warned that if he was having a relationship with a swimmer he should “take it off the premises.” Levy counters that the young man’s conduct set a bad example for the swimmers, who might conclude that it was normal for coaches to consort with team members. “He had an adult job. He was in a position of power,” says Levy. “Young people in their teens look up to coaches.”

The jury didn’t buy the “age-appropriate” business either, and decided that Lucero had essentially been forced out of her job by a sexually hostile work environment. Now El Cerrito has to cough up $100,000, a lot of money for a little city. Maybe the judge should have been lenient, and sentenced city officials to swim 100,000 laps instead.

The paper chase: “Ding-dong, the witch is dead!” said one staffer when asked about the sudden departure of Berkeley Daily Planet editor Devona Walker. After just six months on the job, Walker quietly split for parts unknown; her name vanished from the masthead, and weekend editor Kurtis Alexander was tapped to usher the paper into the future. “The mood is excellent,” says Planet stringer John Geluardi. “The esprit de corps is a thousand times better here.”

Local media watchers may recall that Geluardi used to be more than a freelance contributor. He was one of the paper’s staff reporters for eighteen months before Walker replaced Judith Scherr as editor; one of her first moves was to fire him after a blowup over a story. According to insiders, step two in the Walker regime was to end longstanding relations with UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, which farmed students out to the Planet. Without the student newshounds, the Planet broke less and less news, a trend Alexander is determined to reverse. “I’m definitely going to look into the program of reaching out to the J-school,” he says.

Soon, embarrassing errors began creeping into the Planet; former editor Scherr says she watched uneasily from the sidelines. “I was unhappy when I saw the typos and sloppy mistakes and serious errors,” she says. “I see myself as a professional, and I tried to avoid those errors as much as I can. It made me sad to see that happen.” Near the end of Walker’s tenure, the editor may even have regretted firing Geluardi; a few weeks ago, he says, Walker approached him at a council meeting and asked him to return as a freelancer. Now the former editor may have to hit the scant freelance market herself, while Alexander attempts to put the daily back on an even keel.

When nude Nigerians attack: Life just keeps getting worse for the East Bay oil giant ChevronTexaco. The company bought a 26 percent stake in a young natural gas- and energy-trading upstart named Dynegy in 1989, hoping to break into the energy market’s next phase early on. Unfortunately, that market proved to be a lot more volatile than the oil execs anticipated, and Dynegy’s stock value plummeted as federal and state investigations into its conduct in the electricity crisis cast a pall over the firm (“Market Volatility,” June 26).

Now Dynegy’s future is even more precarious, as Standard & Poor’s cut its debt rating to junk status last week. Seems the company has a liquidity crisis with its $2.2 billion credit line recently expired — cue the weepy violins, please.

As if that weren’t bad enough, ChevronTexaco has encountered complications in its Nigerian oil-drilling arm. On July 17, hundreds of village women occupied at least four of its pipeline stations, shutting down production until the company agreed to hire more local residents and finance local development projects. The villages around the oil facilities are among world’s poorest, lacking basics such as running water, even as Nigeria generates an annual $20 billion in oil revenue. Fed up with this disparity, the women — many as old as eighty — threatened to use their most potent weapon: stripping themselves naked, a powerful shaming device in the Niger Delta. One would think ChevronTexaco reps wouldn’t blink at the sight of Nigerian mammaries. But they caved like a bad saline job, agreeing to front $160,000 in small-business loans and to build hospitals, schools, and electricity grids in the area. And we thought these power-players knew how to play hardball.

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