By Doug Porter
In a perfect world we’d all be voting FOR candidates in elections. Instead, we voters are all-too-often mesmerized by the aura of incumbency. A figurative wink and a familiar smile replace judicious judgement. Sometimes it becomes necessary to take a stand, using the power of the ballot box to say ‘enough!’ This is one of those times.
In the upcoming June 3rd primary there are three incumbents who I believe ought to be voted out of office: District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, County Assessor/Clerk/Recorder Ernest J. Dronenburg, Jr. and Superior Court Judge Lisa Schall.
The particulars on each these bad apples differ, but the thing they all have in common is that they’ve misused the powers vested in them by the voters. Today, in the fifth and final installment in this series I’ll examine their records and offer up some better choices.
Part One of this series covered some of the important statewide offices being contested on June 3rd. Part Two took a look at federal and state legislative contests. Part three talked about the state and local propositions on the ballot. Part four surveyed the candidates for San Diego City Council. (For even more of our June 2014 primary coverage, go here.)
? = party endorsement ? = labor endorsement ? = Dems for Equality endorsement
Bonnie Dumanis (Incumbent, Republican) ?
Politicians who normally wouldn’t agree on the time of day line up to endorse her. Congressman Darrell Issa, City Council President Todd Gloria, California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and Escondido Mayor Sam Abed all agree that Bonnie’s The One.
“We need to keep doing what we’re doing because it’s working.” says the District Attorney. And everybody with any kind of political power nods in agreement. You’re just as likely to see her at a liberal group’s South Park Christmas party as at a Lincoln Club gala at the Westgate.
She’s the keeper of the flame and the guardian of secrets. What she means by ‘working’ has little to do with actual prosecutions; it’s all about keeping the status quo.
Those who cross her, as former Chula Vista Mayor Steve Casteneda did when he declined to appoint Dumanis aide Jesse Navarro to an open slot on the city council, risk all hell breaking lose, as happened for both the mayor and council.
Those who play along get special dispensation, as did former Sheriff Bill Kolender in this story told by ex-prosecutor Dave Stutz:
Within 3 hours of making a call to Sycuan to ask about a $25,000 contribution to “Kolender for Sheriff”‘, which would be illegal, I was called into her office and told to stop the investigation. No one knew about my call except Sycuan and myself. Either Kolender or Sycuan called her and she stopped an investigation without knowing what is was about nor did she ask. For the next year Dumanis was led by a leash by Kolender endorsing right wing candidates on a “law and Order” ticket. She has been in their bag since day one.
Investigations, allegations, grand juries and indictments are all part of the deal. It does not matter how much taxpayer money she wastes or how few convictions actually result. Once the headlines fade, nobody cares…
Consider the case of John Torres, a former crime-lab technician who served as a volunteer on the city’s employee retirement board a decade ago.
Today, he’s bankrupt, divorced and living in a 16 foot RV. He lost everything. But he’s a “free man”, having fended off Bonnie Dumanis’ ill-advised decision to file criminal charges against himself and five members of the City of San Diego’s retirement board in 2005.
Nine years after Torres was first charged in the case – and four years after the California Supreme Court concluded he’d done absolutely nothing improper – Torres is still living with the consequences of Dumanis’ politically motivated actions. And San Diego taxpayers are on the hook for $7 million in legal fees to reimburse the lawyers for the six defendants, none of whom was convicted of anything.
While the district attorney’s schmoozing may win friends in some circles, rank and file law enforcement officers loathe her.
Word is that one in four cases they bring to her office for prosecution get bounced. Actually, that one in four number comes from a City Beat article, so it’s not “word”, it’s “fact”.
“To put it another way, Dumanis chooses not to pursue charges in one out of four felony cases. That’s more than 22,000 felony cases rejected since 2008.”
(h/t Dave Maass)
That’s why 98% of all police associations in San Diego County are opposing her re-election.
Her response to this unprecedented defiance has been to have her minions take to social media to label these cops as union goons who are associated with pot dealers. I swear, her Twitter minion must be all of 13 years old, or suffering from arrested development.
I’ve rightfully been taken to task by advocates for medical marijuana for failing to mention her headlining grabbing hysteria towards pot. Back in February 2009 Dumanis made headlines by announcing the breakup of a drug ring targeting military families in Pacific Beach. The initial coverage was vintage 1960s hyperbole, ala “we busted a doper with a ounce of killer pot worth $3 million.”
Eventually the truth oozed out. Via what was then the San Diego Union Tribune:
Although the sting’s stated intent was to catch drug dealers and violent criminals preying on military families in a Pacific Beach neighborhood, only a handful of the defendants had any connection to the military.
At least 14 were medical-marijuana patients who said they thought they were supplying pot to chronically ill people. One was a clerk in a smoke shop.
Most of the 33 people who were arrested only went to the Pacific Beach neighborhood because undercover agents directed them to a house set up for the investigation there. The gray single-story bungalow on Pico Street is in an enclave of privately owned homes mostly rented to Marine Corps and Navy families.
Needless to say, the MMJ folks have been actively trying to see her get unseated in this election.
Speaking of campaign funding, there’s the few hundred grand in campaign backing a foreign national illegally donated that she was completely oblivious to. Nuh-huh. Nothing to see here folks…
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. You need to cast your vote for somebody else.
Bob Brewer (Attorney, Independent)
He started out his career as a prosecutor. For the past thirty years he’s been a defense lawyer. According to Dumanis, this makes him a bad person, as she never fails to call Brewer a “criminal” defense attorney. He’s the guy all the law enforcement associations have lined up behind and he’s actually raised more money than Dumanis. Brewer’s campaign theme is short and simple: the politicization of the District Attorney’s office needs to end.
Via the La Jolla Light:
Brewer claims Dumanis’s unsuccessful 2012 mayoral bid and history of making endorsements has politicized the district attorney’s office. (Her endorsements include Carl DeMaio, whom she backed in the 2012 mayor’s race after she came in fourth in the primary, and, more recently, the re-election of San Diego County Clerk Ernie Dronenberg, who has also endorsed Dumanis’ bid for re-election.)
Brewer said he believes that, like the U.S. attorney — who is barred from engaging in partisan political activity (including endorsements and fundraising) under the Hatch Act, the district attorney should also not make endorsements.
Terri Wyatt (Career Prosecutor)
She retired as a career prosecutor for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office so she could run against her former boss. While Wyatt doesn’t have a heavy hitting endorsement list or a big campaign chest, her critique of the current regime in the DA’s office rings just as true. And it’s the issue of politicization that’s motivating her.
Here’s Wyatt, via the La Jolla Light, talking about the the demotions and transfers of police officers who dare to speak up about decisions involving prosecutions:
“So the message becomes, just keep your mouth shut, go along with the program,” Wyatt said. “All the lawyers feel that they have to be very careful what they say all the time, and that impacts public safety, because you want deputy district attorneys not worrying about politics. You want them concentrating on prosecuting their cases and doing it in the right way.”
Superior Court Judge, Seat # 20
Lisa Schall (Incumbent) ?
Carla Keehn (Assistant US Attorney) ? ?
A reasonable person might conclude that incumbent Schall and/or her supporters (it’s all very mysterious and anonymous) have been running a sub rosa effort against challenger Keehn. Endorsements have been withdrawn, billboards were abruptly taken down, and threats have ranged from being told running against an incumbent judge was “suicide” to promises that “life in this county would be miserable” for Keehn and her family unless she dropped out.
So what’s the deal with Schall, who’s been on the bench for three decades?
Superior Court Judge Lisa Schall was arrested on September 12, 2007 for driving under the influence of alcohol in violation of Vehicle Code Sec.23152(a), and driving with a blood alcohol level in excess of 0.08 percent in violation of Sec. 23152(b), after she allegedly failed a field sobriety test, and a blood test performed within the hour indicated a blood alcohol level of approximately 0.09 percent.
She pled guilty to the lesser offense of alcohol-related reckless driving in March, 2008. The Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished Judge Lisa Schall over her conviction, with seven of the commission’s 10 members voting 6-1 according to a letter dated September 5, 2008.
The letter from the commission noted that Schall had previously received a private admonishment in 1995 and a public admonishment in 1999. The private admonishment addressed Schall’s embroilment in a juvenile dependency case, the commission said, while the public admonishment addressed her abuse of the contempt power during a 1995 incident in which Schall ordered a defendant appearing before her for a hearing on a petition for a restraining order to exit the courtroom.
Schall has run unopposed in past elections, so nobody’s been around to point out these behaviors to voters.
Here’s Keehn’s story, as told by SDFP contributor Eva Posner.
Keehn, a mother of three, spent a lot of her life as a single working mother. When she and her wife, Sandra, got married in 2011, the federal government refused to recognize their union, depriving Sandra of any spousal benefits. But in 2013, when the Supreme Court ruling in Windsor v. United States struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, Karla and Sandra were able to make their marriage official.
“In real powerful daily ways, I have seen that it isn’t just what the law is, but how it’s applied that makes a difference to people,” Keehn said.
Keehn said she would strive to make sure the law is applied fairly to anyone who walks into her courtroom.
“What excites me about being an American is that we are a system of laws that are applied equally and fairly. You know when you step into the courthouse, whatever your color is, no matter how much money you have in your pocket there is one set of laws and it’s going to apply to you. No matter what your name is, no matter where you were born, you’re going to be treated fairly in that room.”
Whether or not that is true depends heavily on the judge sitting on the bench in front of you. We as an electorate have a heavy responsibility in choosing that person. We should pay attention.
County Assessor/Recorder/ Clerk
Ernest Dronenburg, Jr. (Incumbent, Republican) ?
Susan Guinn ( Consumer advocate attorney, Democrat) ? ?
George Mantor (Author/Educator/
Jonathan Gordon (Financial Analyst/Businessowner)
No Website or Data Available
Here’s a fine example of a down-ballot contest worth knowing about. Aside from the usual differences in political outlook, a controversial action taken by the incumbent related to the court decision overturning Proposition 8, has energized LGBT activists in this race.
A little background, via City Beat:
Four years ago, we endorsed Ernie Dronenburg in this race. We described him as a “supremely overqualified ‘tax geek'” who agreed with us that the cost of obtaining records from the county was too high and could be made cheaper—and more efficient—by putting documents online. The conservative Republican also promised us that if Prop. 8 were overturned, his office would honor that ruling. Well, Prop. 8 was overturned, and Dronenburg went and filed a petition with the state Supreme Court challenging the ruling.
UT San Diego, in their endorsement of the incumbent, tried to explain away this political stupidity:
Dronenburg has made but one mistake — a political blunder in his role as county clerk, responsible for issuing marriage licenses and conducting civil marriages. After the California Supreme Court lifted a ban on gay marriage last year, Dronenburg hired a lawyer prominent in the movement against same-sex marriage and clumsily sought a clarification of the ruling. The move produced a political backlash — and challenges to his re-election, with opponents criticizing him as anti-gay and saying he was trying to halt gay marriages. In reality, he notes, his office never stopped performing same-sex marriage ceremonies. It was the proverbial tempest in a teapot.
Aaah, the old “you’re being silly” argument. Only Dronenburg’s actions weren’t so silly.
Via the Reader:
His efforts to halt same-sex marriages from taking place were paid for by Prop 8 attorney and lead counsel for the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, Charles LiMandri, according to an October 28 “Behested Payment Report” Dronenburg filed with the county.
The form reveals LiMandri donated $11,240 in legal work to Dronenburg and the county to pay for “services required for the drafting and filing of a legal brief with the State Supreme Court.” Dronenburg described the legal work as “filing legal brief raising questions and asking for guidance.”
The Fair Political Practices Commission sent a letter to Dronenburg, admonishing him for failing to report the in-kind donation from LiMandri.
Challenger Susan Guinn points out that, despite laudatory language from Manchester’s minions about efficiencies in the clerk’s office, the current backlog in the assessor’s office is a serious problem for San Diego County taxpayers.
Via Uptown News:
“When I look around and see the waste that happens in the assessor’s office and the fact that Dronenburg is not reaching out to the communities that need him the most, then I think this cause we’re taking on is worth the next four years of my life,” Guinn said.
Among those in attendance was Francine Busby, head of the San Diego County Democratic Party, who acknowledged that as a countywide position, the race for the assessor’s office will be a large scale and challenging endeavor. She said that while the LGBT community has a large voting population, it’s not just about numbers.
Candidate George Manor is running to unravel and do whatever he can to stop what he claims is a scandalous conspiracy on the part of banks via the MERS title registry system.
“ …it puts every property owner in the position of having their property seized without any due process whatsoever.
The incumbent has allowed for fraudulent actors, and their supporters, to access the land recording system by permitting robo-signed mortgage assignments to permeate land title records, jeopardized the sanctity of the mortgage foreclosure process and inserted uncertainty into the mortgage finance process.
The integrity of land title records and the consuming public now hang in the balance and nothing is being done.
I spent the better part of an afternoon chasing this theory down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theorist web sites. While I didn’t find enough to completely debunk his claims, I also didn’t find any proof that the real estate system is about to collapse. (And, no, I’m not going to look any further)
This is an excerpt from Doug Porter’s column at San Diego Free Press.