Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The DA's Political Contest Begins and It's Politics as Usual

Another Day Another Investigation Against Riverside Police Department?

alleging misuse of city funds, malfeasance. 

The Three Amigos' administration might be facing a state probe


Having gone the route of dealing with alleged misuse of asset forfeiture funds under Chief Russ Leach's regime, I've seen just how seriously the city and Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach take it...NOT!  And it's the taxpayer's money after all. 

I'd heard the State DOJ was looking into the RPD on some manner. Perhaps this is it. Guess we'll all see what happens...but color me not surprised. 

So many funding sources and grants...where to start... perhaps with the letter "A". 

To the City of Riverside:

Well I'm stunned. I'm also writing my records requests right now, starting in alphabetical order with the various funds mentioned in this article. Let's see I think that's Asset Forfeiture b/c it begins with an "A". I'll have to bring those report records up to date anyway...and then the COPS grant and I'll start by calling DOJ in DC to see what the exact regulations are for the granting and use of those monies. I will be asking also for the fates of the 15 officers under the grant and what money is being paid to them out of the 20013-20014 budget given that the money was awarded in 2010. And then I'll move on from there. I expect full cooperation on my record requests. pursuant to CPRA laws. That means you Mr. Priamos. 

I'm on the side that's not exploiting the police department, its employees and its resources because this is 2013 and that's just starting to get real old...tiresome...insulting and real expensive on the taxpayer. That's always my concern because I believe in the community/police/and city (though this part messes up too) partnership and don't want to see it jeopardized by any mismanagement. I'm on the side of people who take a stand to oppose to and if necessary expose it if wrongdoing is part of doing business in this city and its department. That's pretty much it.

Get the information, do some research and we'll see what turns up. It's an integrity of a department and the people of our city that foster a relationship with it often in difficult circumstances. 

Allegedly City Manager Scott Barber and City Attorney Greg Priamos are less than thrilled with the administration especially Priamos since he's not so "hands on" the police department as in the past.  But if something's going on are their hands clean? 

And no, the city under no circumstances should be allowed to investigate these allegations...they simply don't come off as that credible. 

The City Manager of course is keeping silent on the issue...but will his bosses, the City Council have the votes to call for an independent review and audit of the monies involved? He's set to brief them hopefully soon. 

And of course what will Mayor Rusty Bailey think?

For your reading pleasure:  some FAQs on "retention" requirements on COPS Grants

 I was watching a Disney movie, called "The Shaggy D.A." that was a sequel of course to the "Shaggy Dog".  Dean Jones played him in the newer film as a man who had decided to take on small town corruption by throwing his hat in the D.A.'s race where he'd be taking on a fat cat who'd profited from the corruption he oversaw in his little kingdom.

Suzanne Pleshette played his bewildered but very supportive political spouse and Tim Conway drove an ice cream truck with a sheepdog who became the other persona of the shaggy D.A.

River City is far removed from the fictional town of Medfield where Wilby Daniels launched his own grass roots candidacy for that office.  But then River City hasn't been a stranger to its own brand of controversy particularly during election cycles.

The city council in this beleaguered city had mostly ran its course earlier this year with two incumbents Andrew Melendrez and Paul Davis returning to office joined by newbie Jim Perry who replaced an outgoing Nancy Hart for Ward Six.

Only the election finals remains in the newly districted Ward Three now the city's largest and that will be decided the first Tuesday in November as to whether Valerie Hill or Mike Soubirous  will fill that dais seat.  It hadn't been the noisiest or more controversial of election years so far but when controversy arose, many still expected it to happen in this still undecided contest.

Instead the arena where it took place was the political race for Riverside County DA which won't be decided until 2014.  Although this contest had begun earlier than usual, it had proceeded pretty quietly with barely a ripple as the challenger to the incumbent began setting up his campaign machine, putting it in motion and rather quietly picking up endorsements for his candidacy including from many of the county's law enforcement associations from Blythe to Riverside Sheriff's Association, the largest one of all.

Not to mention the DA's own bargaining unit, the Riverside County Deputy District Attorneys' Association endorsed its former president and current challenger to the incumbent.

The Arenas

The Taj Mahal 

DA HeadQuarters

DA Eastern Division


The Penalty Box?

Indio's not been a very kind home to some of its investigators, namely Daniel Riter who did time for on the job involuntary manslaughter conviction and David McGowan who killed five family members before shooting himself to death inside his own home.   Prosecutors sent there including at least one candidate who ran against long-time incumbent Grover Trask and most recently two active members of the deputy DA's bargaining unit, John Aki and Mike Hestrin. Career enrichment or rotation or something entirely different? There's been a lot of interesting debate over this one.

When the Prosecutory Becomes Political 

(Part 1 in a Series)

Still though the campaigning and strategizing that comes with an election had begun, it was still quite early when the ripples of controversy emerged as the first shots were fired in what might be a contentious and turbulent election after all.

The Candidates

It's a two horse race which was much different than when former prosecutor turned state assemblyman Rod Pacheco ran against himself after apparently being carefully groomed for the position by King of DAs  Grover Trask.  The man who ruled that office longer than some monarchs have been in power without being beheaded or locked up inside some kind of tower managing to "retire" from the position to get a nice partnership at Best, Best and Krieger. There he authored a somewhat "whitewashed" investigative report for former city manager Brad Hudson and the very quiet City Council that employed him (though some believe it's the other way around) where he "reviewed" the city's own investigation into the infamous DUI scandal involving former Riverside Police Department Chief Russ Leach.

Past Rulers in the DA Palace

Grover Trask, King of DAs

After serving 20 plus in the DA's office, Trask  stepped down and basically handed off his seat to Rod Pacheco who had been a prosecutor, then got elected to the State Assembly where he promptly ticked off a lot of Republican politicos and wound up losing a lot of his luster before terming out and returning to a high ranking position in his former haunt. 

As DA, some say he ruled with an iron fist and helped shut down both the civil and criminal court systems necessitating Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court Ronald George to send an crisis task force of judges down to fix the justice system and its gridlock in River City, and surrounding county.  Jury duty certainly came up more frequently and one day, I and a record setting 848 members of a jury pool lined up around the block for court before Judge Hanks sent out a search party looking for us and some embarrassed deputies rounded us up and herded us up to his courtroom. My fault, partly I had broke the ranks with the other jurors stuck in line and asked the security guard to kindly call Judge Hanks and tell him that most of his jury pool would be late to his courtroom due to the gridlock in the lines.  She said no, and I told her that was okay because the judge would be calling down himself to find out where the jurors were within 15 minutes and he did it in less than ten.  That scenario repeated itself and the courts gamed the "one trial/one day" system to keep from running out of jurors before the week was done.  

A lot of frustration and poor morale hit many corners of the justice system. Lawsuits arose from some employees during the Pacheco reign filed by his own employees. Trask's main peeps took off for retirement or other jobs including in the private sector and Pacheco put those who were loyal to the in their positions, made the DA's office even more top heavy than River City's own hall of power. He got a shiny new building while the Public Defenders' Office continued to share space in the tight quarters of an asbestos infested building.  Though topped by a tower that was more than slightly phallic, the city embraced the new building after a tussle over parking and relocating every Smart Riverside router in the Eastside neighborhood that fell in its mighty shadow. 

Former prosecutor turned Riverside County Superior Court Judge Paul Zellerbach would throw his own hat in the ring in 2010.   He would wind  up winning sending Pacheco into private practice. 

Rod Pacheco, Fallen Prince

Anointed Successor to single-term DA in Nothing Flat 

Riverside Public Defender Steve Harmon

Some say I'm not a fan of the DA's office because I'm a champion of criminals among other things.  One time said that I was busy writing my letter to some parole board urging them not to release serial killer Kenneth Bianchi (never heard of him, Google him) who's doing life with parole up in Washington State. But anyway....I actually do respect the DA's office and am quite intrigued by the idea of it and the reality which often results from the fractured marriage of two often warring partners I'll just call, Prosecution and Politics.  I often think what's the point of making the state's prosecutor a politician and putting the hiring of that county department head up for election every four years.  What seems to happen is always the same elect a person who promises to be a prosecutor first ahead of being a politician which is the label given to the incumbent. Often they win the election and then the countdown begins to when they'll decide that being a politician suits them better than a dye in the wool prosecutor.

Or perhaps the prosecutor becomes the politician just to survive in a politicized office.

Politics has ruined the office time and time again or badly tarnished it and it just shouldn't be that way. Why elect the head of prosecution and appoint the head of public defense?  That never made much sense to me either. The Public Defender's Office actually irritates me more because I'll just never forget the time a public defender and supervising public defender badgered a client to plead guilty including to a felony, he "fired" them, represented himself without a law degree and through prelim (felony discharged by judge!) and even a trial walked away with only one misdemeanor conviction that was later overturned by the Court of Appeals, all without a law degree or even a college diploma. I mean the day a non-lawyer can do the job better than the office's crop of trained attorneys is more than enough reason to be annoyed.  It's not that both offices don't provide valuable services because they do and without them you wouldn't have a justice system, it's just that for the longest time the PD office seemed inept (more than one story of defendants representing themselves and winning after being told to "take a plea" by this office) and underfunded and the DA's office which had pretty much the purse strings of Riverside County certainly under Pacheco just seemed mired in the politics that just naturally comes with any elected position.

People talk about the "pure" prosecutor who focuses on that job and that job alone, and how the DA is the epitome of that image, somehow co-existing and moving about in a world that's anything but.  The reality is that by the time they exit the stage whether it's 20 years or only four, they all come off as political hacks leaving behind a DA's office in turmoil before the next leader takes powers with promises to "fix"" everything and restore the "DA" in the DA's office.  Back and forth, back and forth the power shifts until the office itself and its factions look like children riding on a seesaw in a playground, on the best days. Playing tug a war on the not so best days.

 Because politicians raise money through campaign donors and when they win election are they then beholden in any way to those who donate to their campaigns?  I remember Trask had one donor that had to be prosecuted on two separate criminal cases by the State Attorney General's office because of conflict of interest after that company out of Norco and its highest level employees had donated to one of his political campaigns. As long as there's political candidates and campaign war chests, that'll always happen. After meeting with Zellerbach inside the Taj Mahal and Public Integrity members on some "issues" with Riverside, including the infamous four way property swap which was to begin with the Citrus Towers and end with the RPD Admin headquarters winding up on top of a parking garage next to City Hall, I thought okay maybe there's a Public Integrity Office after all. Not long after that I received a campaign flier in the mail about a "luau" fundraiser held by Zellerbach's political campaign machine and included were the members of his "special" committee and they included members of River City's governing body, the city council.

So when a former prosecutor or two told me that River City was pretty "safe" from ever facing accountability from any DA's Public Integrity Unit, I didn't need a primer telling me that and why.  Politics in River City is already very incestuous...and apparently that includes the County as well.  But then it's all about politics and political survival from one gladiator style election to the next so what else can you expect?

 One former prosecutor I spoke with was candid in his belief that many a DA has run to be a prosecutor first, a politician being way down on the list but because of the nature of the campaigning and election process they always wind up falling into the same mold of being the Political DA.  It's more the system itself than the intent of the person in it, according to this former prosecutor.  Including the "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine" that's part of any successful political campaign. The winner who's left standing at the end invariably has indebted his or herself to "supporters" and has to start paying back those debts.

The nature of the beast, it's called in a tone which often sounds both apologetic and defensive.

He did say Hestrin had the potential to break that mold and stick to being a chief prosecutor first. To Hestrin's credit, his response to the idea of prosecutors helping to send  a man to prison for a crime he didn't commit  (according to DNA testing) in order to avoid the DA's office admission of making a mistake and some whitewashing was to circulate a 15 page letter around the office taking a stand on it.  If so, that's the action of a prosecutor, more than a politician. Prosecutors err, that's the nature of any job employing humans but when you hold a person's liberty in your hands and hold back on the truth, in favor of politics...well is that an office worth supporting?  The letter by Hestrin allegedly created a bit of a stir but if he indeed sent it out, more power to him. The scales were a bit more evenly balanced that day.  But then the DA's office had been embarrassed for prosecuting non guilty parties before waiting for the DNA results to come back on evidence. Not that it always matters as one former deputy DA who wound up with a lot of egg on his face was soon appointed as a judge in Superior Court.

But that it might be an impossible mold to break even for him.  Yes there's precedent, you have county sheriffs that are elected and police chiefs that are appointed.  And yes, politics and different types of dynamics and pressure plays into both.  But it's hard to look at the DA's office sometimes as just another political office when its cast of characters particularly those in the position to do so treat it like one.  One DA fills his executive positions with his peeps (though Zellerbach wiped out the official division and the cubicles and offices in the top floor were pretty empty a year or so ago) and then a new DA comes in, wipes that all out and replaces the spaces with his own peeps, like Zellerbach did with people like Jeff VanWagenen and Mike Soccio.

It's not stupid to do that, because you don't want to be surrounded by members of the opponent's camp. The adage of keeping your friends close, your enemies closer didn't work for Julius Caesar after all. But when the county's prosecutor's office turn into the Roman Empire anyway?

I have at least one lawyer in my family and he was recruited by the DA's office in Riverside County from one of the law schools in the state always on its recruitment list. One of the points they hit the hardest didn't have anything to do with being a lawyer let alone a prosecutor, it was the little known factoid that Riverside County had more golf  courses than most counties do and if you work for the DA's office, you too can have access to a higher number of golf courses...and well reading that, just made me scratch my head. Yes, I'm aware of all the politicking that takes place on River City's putting greens but really as a major selling tool?

Not that I'm not convinced at this point that the DA's Public Integrity Unit doesn't spend most of its time on the golf course. The former prosecutor told me that don't expect any public integrity unit under ANY DA past or present to ever look closely at what's going on in government in River City like the city that houses the main offices of the DA is like immune from any form of scrutiny from this unit.  I mean even though city council members off the record whisper frantically that they don't like what they're being told or ordered to do on issues discussed behind closed doors and not in public sessions of the city council. Rumors on the breeze of this DA or that one looking closer at River City's dais...but no it'll never happen not in this century.
Zellerbach came on like gangbusters on the heels of the FBI in the latest round of subpoenas issued at Moreno Valley's government after the city council conveniently decided to draft an ordinance advocating faster and earlier destruction of public records  not long after the federal probe of corruption in the city began.  River City of course passed a similar ordinance not long ago without similar concerns raised by the DA's office with one of the current management employees of Moreno Valley now, Tom DeSantis at the helm of the assistant city manager's position in Riverside.

A Common Denominator?

Tom DeSantis held assistant city manager positions in two cities who suddenly decided to pass ordinances advocating the destruction of public records at early dates. Coincidence? Inquiring minds want to know. 

Anyway, I was assured by former prosecutor that when it comes to River City the Public Integrity Unit will never amount to much. The only person ever really investigated by that unit that hit the press was an activist leader of a political organization that opposed then councilman Dom Betro who was investigated by the Public Integrity Unit over alleged voter residency this unit in all its work in River City pushes hard in one investigation against a local activist...not much to right home about.

So anyway despite my issues with whether the DA's office is a straight prosecutory agency or a political post bound to the same unwritten rules that all politicians must follow, I was still following the election campaigns which had gotten into swing some months before the election in 2014.

So when the first scandal broke in August it was a bit surprising to see it in the DA's race and not the one remaining election in River City.

A scandal that involved behavior that was both sleazy but also incredibly stupid. But it's hardly the first time that has happened in River City.  Someone fired a preemptive strike against Hestrin formerly introducing him to campaign mudslinging of the most personal kind. Targeting someone's family is always the act of a political coward and again stupid, because if there's a politician who himself doesn't live in a glass house I have yet to meet him or her.   But it's an act of political desperation because in reality, it's not good political strategy, it's backfired in River City elections enough time (right up there with the decision of some ex-politicos to act like immature hot headed jerks in or during their own campaigns) and it's just like I said, incredibly stupid.  That's why one of the most highly touted but least successful  (in the win column with candidates) campaign strategy consultants fails more than not to back a winner because the slogan of that political consulting firm (which later split into two pieces) is simply to throw mud at the opposing candidate and people who support them or appear to support them.  The hiring of them by the last DA proved to be icing on the cake to get the current one into office.

But anyway, no one ever really learns these basic tenets which became clear when in August, news broke that an investigation into the use of a campaign letter and photos had been launched.  Apparently what happened is that some campaign letters were sent out on the letter head of one of the police unions supporting Hestrin, the Riverside Police Officers' Association. Only they were included with "racy" photos of Hestrin's wife who'd been a model and had been sent to organizations like the Riverside Republican Women Federated, in what was described by RPOA president Sgt. Brian Smith as a "personal attack".

Both Hestrin who's understandably upset about his wife being targeted, and Zellerbach the natural number one suspect came out with comments in the PE.

.”“This is totally out of bounds. It’s not even close,” Hestrin said. “I’m going to continue to talk about the issues in Riverside County and why crime is up, but the district attorney isn’t addressing it. It’s dirty tricks, mean spirited and hurtful, and I’m not going to be dissuaded.”

Followed by this response from his opponent:

Zellerbach said there’s no place to attack an opponent’s family. He said he did not condone the letters and said the election should be between him and Hestrin and about their records.
“When things are put on the Internet, anyone can access them. In a political campaign, we as candidates put ourselves out there,” Zellerbach said. “It’s unfortunate when our family members become involved. Having been through a nasty campaign myself, political campaigns are sometimes a nasty business.

The RPOA through Smith responded:

It’s cowardly attacking someone’s family,” Smith said “This is an all out assault on Mike Hestrin’s family. His wife and kids aren’t running for DA – he is. It makes my blood boil.

Comments abounded in that section of the article and the PE actually didn't erase them away or edit them. 

Good for RPOA and Brian Smith! Whoever participated in this kind of slimy politics, shame on you. AND, if you think targeting the innocent and sweet wife of Mike Hestrin is going to gain you favor, especially amongst the female voters, then you are obviously oblivious that it will backfire. Intelligent women will not allow themselves to be used as a pawn. We're smarter than that, AND we won't be used as a means to your dirty politics! This kind of political strategy that attacks innocent family members is unacceptable, offensive, and unforgiveable. As RPOA's President Brian Smith put it best, this "makes my blood boil." Eventually, the truth and justice will prevail.

---Michelle Paradise, Riverside County District Attorney's office at the site

So everyone talked about it...and so far Michelle hasn't been shipped off to Indio but she's right, women are much smarter than someone or someones gave them credit for when they used these tactics. Investigations were requested and launched by different agencies.  Fingers were pointed including at Zellerbach but is he too obvious a suspect? Is there such thing as a "too obvious" suspect outside of mystery fiction?  But I was reminded of a recent episode of The Good Wife, where the heroine's (the "Wife") no good, should have stayed ex-husband was running for governor.  Voting fraud instigated by one of the candidates took place on Election day and inadvertently spotted by his own son working at a poll and had been done because the polls said it'd be a close election. But the Wife's Husband won by a landslide so all that effort...and it wasn't even necessary though it led to some hilarious battles in front of court where the opposing legal parties argued one side and then flip flopped.  It was revealed that it's likely the Husband and Candidate didn't know that his own campaign manager had ordered the voting fraud to take place.  So there's always a possibility that the candidate didn't know what his own campaign including his manager were up to...though with this television drama you just never know and it could easily turn out that the Husband knew all along.

The same is true in River City politics often. So is it true in this case? Did the smear tactics come out of Zellerbach's campaign and did he know anything about it?  Since the whole thing is sleazy but also very stands to reason that a stupid people believing he or she or they were smart would have done something like that.  The article said the photos came out of some place that was "hacked" from a "private account" so who had knowledge of it and access? Who knew how to "hack" it however that was done?

The other questions surround the use of the RPOA letterhead. Just about every police association endorsed Hestrin early on. The RPOA was one of the first but not the largest. That'd be the RSA which endorsed later on down the campaign trail.  Why was the RPOA letterhead used and how was it accessed? Was it from some template of it created for use in its correspondence? Was it simply used by someone who had a copy of a letter with it on it?  Was it political retaliation for that earlier endorsement and if so from whom? Was it someone mad at Hestrin AND the RPOA or at least the RPOA PAC Committee which handles the union's endorsement process? Was their dissent on the committee in the process as there had been in the past including one election where members of the PAC Committee resigned?  Was it an attack on both or was one just used as a means to get to go after the other?   All of these things just come to mind as someone from the outside looking in at the political arena.

If you want to get to the bottom of anything you have to look at everything with an unflinching eye especially in the world of politics where so often truth is stranger than fiction.  The hacked photo site and the origins of the letterhead are the two areas to look at and then find a way to connect the two together.

Was anyone involved from the DA's office or one of its unions (and the RSA includes some DA employees in its own membership)?  Zellerbach definitely should do as Hestrin recommended and do an internal investigation of his own campaign machine in case it's a scenario ala The Good Wife  because it's the right thing to do including for the voters though if he's directly involved, that of course isn't going to happen. But he's probably not the only one who should be doing that.

As a tactic it likely backfired as one would expect and one would hope it would. Sleazy tactics and personal attacks on candidates' family members shouldn't take place as competitive as these contests may get and they certainly shouldn't be condoned. The voters are so damn tired of this nonsense and it reflects badly not just on those who do it but the entire process itself. It taints the office that is instilled with so much public respect and trust in ways that sometimes can never be rehabilitated or repaired.

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board  condemned the use of smear tactics over policy dialogue  and yeah it's all sleazy and seriously voters are more interested in learning how candidates for office stand on the issues that matter most of them not a bunch of salacious nonsense.  I mean that's what reality TV is for right?  But then River City itself is turning into reality television just told on a very broad canvas and with a growing cast of characters.

And remember that earlier incestuous relationship between Zellerbach and River City's own government? The kind that can make something unethical be defined as "bad business"?

Well last month at the Mission Inn, Zellerbach joined a bunch of who's whos to honor current or future Congressional Candidate Steve Adams, a member of River City's City Council as shown in this impressive little invite

Campaign event for Councilman Steve Adams

Business as usual in River City


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