MOORLACH UPDATE — Ethics Advice — April 16, 2013

Columnist Tom Elias states the obvious about who is not in the race for Governor, thus allowing someone who has represented at least 8 percent of the state’s population as an elected Treasurer-Tax Collector, to consider the crazy idea of running for Governor. The piece is in the Record Searchlight and is the first article below. The Daily News of Los Angeles used the headline “Jerry Brown has no reason to fear GOP rivals,” and it is also printed in the Long Beach Press-Telegram and Daily Breeze.

The next four articles deal with an odd Orange County Grand Jury report recommending a panel of ethically pure individuals to help elected officials to do the appropriate things. I’m not sure who oversees this panel, but I digress. I was not amused with the delivery of the message and, as I believe everyone is not without sin, I’m not sure what level of perfection the Grand Jury is trying to achieve. I do believe we could establish a Charter Commission and draft a better governing document. But, inferring that elected officials are inherently corrupt is not going to do much to encourage good people to step up to the challenge. My comments are provided in Patch, Associated Press, Voice of OC, and the OC Register, respectively.

Brown can expect 2014 cakewalk

By Tom Elias

Like flowers blooming in the spring, Republican candidates for governor have begun to pop up during the last few weeks.

But there’s a key difference between the folks jumping up this time and many who ran in gubernatorial primaries of the last two decades.

There are no billionaires among the early entrants. There is no one with the financial wherewithal of people like airline mogul Al Checchi, former Congresswoman Jane Harman (whose big money came from her late husband’s electronics business), financier William Simon, developer Phil Angelides, software innovator Steve Poizner, and former eBay executives Steve Westly and Meg Whitman.

There is also no one with the political experience of a Poizner or a Westly or an Angelides, all of whom held statewide office before running for governor.

And certainly no one with the combination of experience, savvy and fundraising ability of Gov. Jerry Brown, whose approval ratings are high in every poll after reducing the huge state deficit he inherited at the start of his latest term.

In fact, the coming run for governor looks like a cakewalk for Brown, who was gallivanting around China as his would-be rivals started making their pitches. It is similar in one way to Democrat Dianne Feinstein’s 2006 U.S. Senate re-election campaign, where only one Republican bothered to enter the primary — the far-right former state legislator Richard Mountjoy of Monrovia, who never had a chance.

It is similar in other ways to Feinstein’s re-election drive last year, when several Republicans vied for the GOP nomination against her, but none was adequately funded for a serious run and all were previous political unknowns who soon faded back into obscurity. Anti-autism activist Elizabeth Emken won the GOP nod, but lost the election by a 63-37 percent margin — meaning she drew virtually no votes beyond the bare-bones Republican base.

The early list of prospects to run against Brown next fall is short so far. Abel Maldonado, the former state senator and appointive lieutenant governor, who has not formally declared, has some name identification around the state despite having been beaten soundly by Democrat Gavin Newsom when trying for the lieutenant governor’s office on his own in 2010.

State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Hesperia also has a bit of a public profile — but not for positive reasons. This early enlistee in the anti-undocumented immigrant Minutemen organization is best known for trying to carry a Colt pistol onto an airliner at Ontario International Airport in January 2012. Donnelly’s run for governor (he was the first to declare) comes after getting three years probation when he pleaded no contest to reduced charges of carrying a gun into a city without a permit and carrying a prohibited item into a sterile area. Donnelly has never admitted he had no concealed weapon permit when caught with the gun in his attache case.

Also lurking in the Republican weeds is Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, a former county treasurer.

One statewide GOP official summed up the prospective candidates in two words: “serious problem.”

The shortlist has already produced its share of intraparty sniping and maneuvering. Billionaire physicist Charles Munger Jr., son of the partner of renowned investor Warren Buffett, says he will donate to Maldonado’s campaign in gratitude for Maldonado’s fathering the state’s three-year-old “top two” primary system. There were no limits on what Munger could contribute to the initiative campaigns for top two and two other measures he funded last year, but there are strict limits on what he can give directly to Maldonado this time.

Maldonado is also derided by the GOP’s leading anti-tax advocate, Grover Norquist, head of the advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform and the main purveyor of the “no new taxes” pledge many Republicans sign before running for office.

Noting that as a state senator in 2009, Maldonado voted for a temporary tax increase, Norquist told a reporter: “If you’re a Republican who raised taxes, how can anyone trust you? The state’s worse off because he did it.”

Besides that, Maldonado last year proved unable to defeat the vulnerable Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps in a district with far less of a Democratic plurality than her party’s current statewide edge.

It’s almost absurd to think Brown, who has vied with the likes of ex-Gov. Pete Wilson, billionaire Whitman and a sitting attorney general in Evelle Younger, worries much about the Republicans now lining up.

If Poizner or some other billionaire capable of writing personal checks to finance a major campaign were to enter the lists, Brown might be given some pause.

But right now he looks as secure as any 2014 candidate in America, even though he hasn’t said a word about running.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.

Grand Jury Blasts Corruption in OC

Recounting the county’s history of corruption scandals and even comparing the county with New York’s Tammany Hall, the grand jury calls for reform in Orange County government.

Orange County grand jury members released a report today recounting past corruption in the county and calling on supervisors to form a blue-ribbon commission to have ethical oversight.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer took the grand jury report as an opportunity to say he would call for the formation of a citizens’ commission that would oversee enforcement of campaign contribution violations in county government. Spitzer said he would partner with government watchdog Shirley Grindle, who wrote the Time Is Now, Clean Up Politics — or TINCUP — ordinance approved by voters in 1991.

Spitzer’s announcement, however, also offered a reprise of his public spat with Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, the one-time mentor who was grooming him to eventually step into the role of top prosecutor until the two had a messy public divorce and Spitzer was fired.

The grand jury’s report also drew the ire of Supervisor John Moorlach, who complained it painted the county with too "broad a brush," and wasn’t helpful in how county leaders could battle corruption.

The report offers a lengthy recounting of the county’s corruption scandals and even compared the county with New York’s Tammany Hall and Mayor Richard J. Daley’s political machine from the 1950s through the 1970s.

"From 1974-77, an eye-popping 43 Orange County political figures were indicted, among them, two congressmen, three supervisors and the county assessor," the report reads. "Sadly, the conduct continues today at all levels of Orange County government."

The grand jury recommends that the supervisors create a blue ribbon commission to study ethics programs and then give advice to public officials and employees. The commission should also have oversight authority and be able to "enforce compliance through the use of warning letters, administrative settlements and the issuance of annual public reports," according to the grand jury.

Moorlach prefers putting a measure on the ballot that would change the county’s charter to "incorporate some better practices" regarding ethical issues.

Moorlach criticized the grand jury report for being too vague on solutions.

"I’m just not so sure I can get my arms around what they want us to do," Moorlach said. "And I don’t appreciate the broad brush."

Moorlach said the grand jury has been losing credibility with many of the county’s political leaders.

"I think some of us have gotten to the point where we just don’t see the grand jury as being feared or as being helpful or adding benefit or value, and some of us have been willing to even state that publicly," Moorlach said.

Spitzer was also critical of the report.

"They don’t ask the fundamental question of why," Spitzer said.

"The Mike Carona’s of the world thought they could get away with it because of their relationship with the District Attorney’s Office," Spitzer said, referring to the disgraced former Orange County sheriff, who is doing time in a federal prison for witness tampering.

"The District Attorney and (Carona) had the same political advisor," Spitzer said, referring to Michael Schroeder, husband of Rackauckas’ chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder.

"The problem is there has been this tone of tolerance," Spitzer said. "The report speaks for itself. This is the grand jury saying there’s a tone of tolerance in the county… Everyone knows of the relationship between the District Attorney and Mike Carona and everyone knows it shouldn’t have taken the federal government to prosecute Mike Carona."

Susan Kang Schroeder fired back that Spitzer is a hypocrite because he was endorsed by Carona in past political campaigns. Rackauckas’ chief of staff also noted that Spitzer was fired from his job as prosecutor, in part, because of what were considered ethical lapses.

At one community meeting in which Spitzer was using the District Attorney’s office materials he announced that he was running for District Attorney in 2014, Schroeder said.

The District Attorney’s Office has been "vigorously" prosecuting political corruption cases, Schroeder said, adding that her boss recently won funding from the supervisors to expand a "public integrity unit" devoted to prosecuting official corruption.

"The special prosecutions unit is the largest it’s ever been," Schroeder said.

"It’s wrong for (Spitzer) to attack the professionalism of the men and women of the District Attorney’s office," Schroeder said. "When they get a complaint, they vigorously pursue it and prosecute it… They look at the facts and it doesn’t matter who it is."

When Rackauckas was made aware that then-county executive Carlos Bustamante was accused of sexually assaulting several women he managed the top prosecutor put together a case against him, Schroeder noted. The ex-Santa Ana City Councilman is awaiting trial.

"When we get a case the simple analysis is, ‘Did that person commit a crime or not,’ " Schroeder said. "We do a lot of political corruption cases."

– City News Service

OC grand jury report calls for corruption panel

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) – A grand jury is calling on Orange County to create a blue-ribbon commission to help fight corruption, noting decades of scandals.

City News Service says the county grand jury released a report Monday. It calls on county supervisors to create a commission to study ethics programs elsewhere and recommend an oversight plan for the county. The commission could warn public officials and employees of ethics problems.

The report notes there have been two congressmen and dozens of other Orange County officials indicted in past decades. It also notes the 2009 conviction of former Sheriff Mike Carona for witness tampering and alleges that corruption remains a widespread problem.

Supervisor John Moorlach says the report is overly broad. Supervisor Todd Spitzer says he’ll work for formation of a citizens’ panel.

Information from: The Orange County Register, http://www.ocregister.com

Ethics Commission Urged for OC Government

By TRACY WOOD

The Orange County Grand Jury, citing the county’s 40-year history of political corruption, Monday recommended creation of an independent ethics commission to advise elected officials of ethical pitfalls and increase public confidence in government.

“Trust in government is dependent upon officials that place the public interest ahead of their own,” according to the 32-page report titled, A Call for Ethical Standards: Corruption in Orange County. “(W)e believe that there exists a direct correlation between ethical conduct and good governance.”

The panel recommended the Board of Supervisors create an a blue ribbon commission to study government ethics programs within California and around the nation and, within a year, propose an Orange County ethics reform program that includes oversight.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he and Shirley Grindle, author of Orange County’s campaign contribution ordinance, are writing their own ethics commission proposal that they’ll present to the Board of Supervisors next month.

“Their [grand jury] conclusion is right,” said Spitzer. “We need an ethics commission.”

But Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson took immediate issue with the grand jury, saying the ethics of any oversight body or blue ribbon commission would be no better that than the ethics of the elected officials who appointed them.

It’s up to the news media and the voters to hold government officials accountable, he said in a telephone interview.

“A truly informed public that votes is the ethics commission,” said Nelson.

But the grand jury said ethics commissioners shouldn’t be appointed by members of any group or agency they would oversee.

It cannot be emphasized enough that freedom to act without political interference is paramount to the success of any ethics program,” according to the grand jury report.

Supervisor John Moorlach said he’s considering the grand jury’s report and wants to understand all of the issues.

“I still have to react to it,” he said. But, he said, he plans to propose a separate commission to write a county charter and that may be a way to also handle the ethics issues.

The offices of Supervisors Janet Nguyen, Pat Bates and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas didn’t respond to a request for comment on the grand jury report.

In addition to the issues outlined by the grand jury, Spitzer said for the nearly 10 years that Rackauckas has been district attorney the county has had a “tone of tolerance” when it came to ethical issues.

In its report, the grand jury noted that while Orange County is the sixth largest county in the nation, Los Angeles-based commercial television and radio stations generally don’t cover local government in Orange County and many community newspapers that acted as watchdogs have closed over the years.

The grand jury report states a key provision of an ethics program would be offering formal and informal ethics advice to both public officials and government employees.

The program should operate a hotline for government employees and the public to report suspected unethical conduct, the jury proposed.

“In a healthy ethics environment,” the grand jury reported, “leaders are not afraid of an independent ethics program because they understand that the best measure is to do everything possible to prevent officials and employees from creating an appearance of impropriety.”

An ethics oversight body, it said, should “be free to act without political interference … have jurisdiction over each County department, agency, commission, and board and joint powers authority regardless of whether the head of such a body is elected or appointed … [and] have ethics-related jurisdiction over the elected leadership of the County,” the grand jury report declares.

Such an oversight body "must have the authority to enforce compliance through the use of warning letters, administrative settlements and the issuance of annual public reports,” the report asserted.

It emphasized the importance of training county elected officials, employees and lobbyists about what is and isn’t ethical.

“What is sometimes technically legal doesn’t always equate to what is ethical,” according to the grand jury report. And it’s not just elected officials who would benefit from ethics training and oversight, the grand jury said. “It is evident to the Grand Jury that some employees at all levels of county government are unable or unwilling to learn from the mistakes of the past.”

It noted that in 2010 the United States “fell out of the top 20 least corrupt nations according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.”

U.S. corruption commonly “happens behind the scenes – manipulation of contract specifications; sweetheart deals with developers; ‘pay to play’ scenarios; and the hiring of family members, friends or close associates by companies doing business with government. Open bribery is rare.”

Decade after decade since the early 1970s, Orange County has been rocked by one political scandal after another that sent members of the Board of Supervisors, the sheriff, a member of congress, some of the state’s biggest political donors and dozens of others to prison.

In addition, the county declared bankruptcy in 1994, at the time the largest in the nation by a government body.

“Sadly,” the grand jury reported, “it is the Grand Jury’s hypothesis that untoward behavior continues and is actively festering in today’s political environment. In point of fact, this and several other studies conducted by the 2012-2013 Grand Jury address the fact that corruption has permeated all levels of the organization, and does not apply only to elected officials positioned visibly in the public eye.”

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.

O.C. grand jury wants anti-corruption panel

A county supervisor agrees, saying he’s planning a proposal.

By MARTIN WISCKOL

A grand jury report calling for an ethics commission to address rampant corruption in the county was addressed immediately upon release Monday by a sympathetic Orange Countysupervisor, who said he’s already working on plans for such a panel.

"We’ve been in a situation in the county for more than a decade where there’s a tone of permissiveness," said Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who hopes to present his ethics proposal to fellow supervisors in May.

But the county’s best-known government watchdog, who haslong pushed for an ethics panel, said supervisors already have displayed their reluctance to establish an authority with teeth – in part because the panel would oversee supervisors themselves.

"Anything done by supervisors would be so diluted as to be meaningless." said Shirley Grindle, the citizen watchdog who wrote the county’s campaign finance law. "The only way to get a decent ethics committee is to put it before voters."

According to the Orange County grand jury report, the county "has gained a reputation (among some) for impropriety rivaling that of New York’s Tammany Hall or Chicago under Mayor Richard J. Daley."

While Spitzer is focused on problems since 1998, the grand jury lists a litany of wrongdoing dating back to the 1970s, citing 43 county politicians indicted from 1974 to 1977 alone.

"Sadly, the conduct continues today at all levels of Orange County government," the report says. The biggest example given was the 2009 conviction ofSheriff Mike Carona for attempting to obstruct justice, but the report also cites a county engineer who pleaded guilty to taking bribes, a complaint about circumvention of the county hiring guidelines, allegations of sexual harassment and numerous other alleged or proven improprieties.

The grand jury called on county supervisors to appoint a blue-ribbon commission to study ethics programs elsewhere and to recommend a plan to establish an ethics oversight committee.

In 2008, supervisors appointed a more narrowly focused ad hoc committee to look at the county’s campaign finance law, known as TINCUP. Among those on the commission was Grindle, who was pushing for an ethics commission that would investigate complaints related to campaign finance and conflict of interest. No commission was established, nor were any changes made to law.

"I wouldn’t trust any committee appointed by the Board of Supervisors," Grindle said Monday, noting that political consultants and others opposed to her proposed ethics commission outnumbered her on the 2008 panel.

Despite that, Grindle has been working with Spitzer to develop a proposal. Grindle said she’d like to see prospective members for an ethics commission screened by the Grand Jurors Association of Orange County, which is made up of former grand jurors, with the final selection made by the three most recent past presiding judges of the Orange County Superior Court.

The commission would have a paid staff and would provide training, investigate complaints and review campaign disclosure filings. Aside from campaign opponents, Grindle is the only person who currently reviews filings to make sure they’ve been done properly.

While Grindle is skeptical about supervisors approving a measure of substance, Spitzer said there’s a better chance than five years ago.

"I don’t think at that time there was a serious advocate on the board," he said. "This is long-overdue reform. This is just good government."

But Spitzer will have some persuadingto do. Supervisor John Moorlach, who appointed Grindle to the 1998 committee and appeared open to a possible ethics commission at the time, still has a bad taste in his mouth from the experience – which included conflicts involving Grindle.

"I’ll think about it, but if it has to be Shirley Grindle’s model, I’d be a little reluctant," Moorlach said. "I’ve been there, done that."

Grindle, 78, said she would like to see somebody launch a countywide campaign to put an ethics commission proposal before voters, but that she is not prepared to lead such a large-scale endeavor.

Spitzer said he’d prefer not to go before voters, but approve it on the supervisors’ level so adjustments could easily be made.

While the grand jury report listed problems dating back to the 1970s, Spitzer claimed a lack of enforcement by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, elected in 1998, was central to the current problem.

"We don’t have the right tone in this county in terms of ethics and integrity," said Spitzer, a former deputy district attorney fired by Rackauckas in 2010.

Rackuackas’ office responded by pointing to the grand jury’s list of prosecutions of public officials and noting that the office added six people last year to its Special Prosecutions Unit specifically to better investigate and prosecute cases involving public officials.

"As far as being lax, I think that’s inaccurate," said Mike Lubinsky, who oversees the Special Prosecutions Unit.

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

April 16

2008

Peggy Lowe of the OC Register provided a Board action in “Supervisors vote to increase jail cameras – Cameras will be placed in guard stations for first time.” Here is the beginning of the piece:

Permanent digital cameras running 24/7 will be placed in the guard stations of Orange County’s largest jail after the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday put the spending of $370,000 on more surveillance equipment on the fast track.

The 5-0 vote by supervisors is another response to the release last week of a scathing grand jury report that said deputies seldom performed their regular duties, instead watching television, playing video games and sleeping on the job.

Supervisors declared the need for cameras an emergency so it could bypass the county’s complicated contracting process and quickly upgrade the cameras within the Theo Lacy jail. Inmate John Chamberlain was killed in Theo Lacy’s Barracks F in October 2006 and his killing was the focus of the grand jury’s investigation.

Last week, Sheriff’s Department officials complained that they couldn’t move fast enough on adding surveillance, thanks to the county’s strict contracting rules. With Tuesday’s approval, the department can upgrade recording video cameras within Barracks F, G and H and place them in the guard stations – called "bubbles" – for the first time.

Supervisor Chris Norby said he only "reluctantly" supported the measure because he doesn’t believe there is a true emergency. Supervisors and the Sheriff’s Department have known for some time that the lack of cameras – and the blind spots within the jail – were a problem, he said.

"I don’t know what this is really new information," Norby said. "These are chronic conditions that people knew about."

But supervisors John Moorlach and Bill Campbell said the release of the grand jury transcripts last Monday constituted the emergency.

"This is now a matter of fact," Moorlach said. "We have inmates in jeopardy. We have deputy sheriffs in jeopardy."

Channel 4 had a unique story in “Claim Of Cat Stunned To Death At Theo Lacy Jail Investigated.” Here is the piece in full:

The scandal-plagued Orange County Sheriff’s Department is investigating whether jail staff used a stun gun on a cat that was found dead on facility grounds, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The investigation comes after a scathing criminal grand jury report last week that found deputies at Theo Lacy Jail sent personal text messages and watched TV while inmates beat a fellow inmate to death. Another inmate died last week after a stun gun was used at the jail.

A tipster told the department Monday that jail personnel had used a stun gun on the cat. The animal was later found dead on the jail grounds, between two fences, said John McDonald, sheriff’s spokesman. It had been dead several weeks.

A necropsy is pending and McDonald declined to release further details until the results are back, including who reported the allegations.

Also Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors approved $370,000 to install digital surveillance cameras in jail barracks and guard stations at Theo Lacy. The board voted 5-0 to declare an emergency situation at the jail so the county can bypass its contracting process.

On April 7, officials released transcripts of a grand jury probe into the Oct. 5, 2006, beating death of an inmate at the hands of other prisoners. The findings indicated that the attack took place in areas out of range of existing surveillance at the facility.

One guard allegedly was watching television and text- messaging while the beating victim — computer technician John Chamberlain, 41, of Mission Viejo

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