UPDATE: Democratic chair calls for independent investigation
By Doug Porter
San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has informed her staff she’ll be leaving the position as of July 7, and is considering a run for County Supervisor.
In a letter distributed to the DA’s office on Thursday morning Dumanis says, although not committed as of yet to run for office, she believes her experience, along with the Board’s involvement in public safety and policy issues, would make her an effective member.
This announcement comes just days after defense lawyers for Mexican billionaire Jose Susumo Azano Matsura revealed the existence of text and phone conversations between the DA–who at one point was considered to the ‘subject’ of an FBI investigation–and United States Attorney Laura Duffy, who had recused herself from the case.
Attorney Knut Johnson has been retained by Azano to appeal guilty verdicts on 36 counts, including conspiracy to contribute illegally to the 2012 mayoral campaigns of District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Bob Filner. As a foreign national without a green card, the businessman’s more than half a million dollars campaign contributions were illegal.
The appeal is based on the claim his original defense attorney was incompetent. The communications between the two prosecutors were included in an August 2016 email from San Diego Assistant U.S. Attorney Phil Halpern to Azano’s former defense lawyer Michael Wynne, but not introduced at the trial.
A spokesperson for DA Dumanis’ office told KPBS “There was nothing inappropriate, improper or unethical about the communication between the District Attorney and then-U.S. Attorney.”
“The recused attorney disclosed to Dumanis, who was a defense witness, information about the prosecutor’s office’s intentions in terms of whether a certain prosecutor would remain on the case and whether there would be a possible delay in the trial,” Margolis said. “That was information relevant to the case and should not have been disclosed. It also raises the questions of why did Duffy have that information. Being recused, she should have never had the information.”
Margolis also questioned why the conversation between Duffy and Dumanis was moved to the phone.
“It appears what they’re attempting to do is to communicate in a way that there would be no record of it,” Margolis said. “It seems to indicate some kind of a guilty state of mind, or, being very careful about what might be said or thought about their communication. It’s very suspicious.”
DA Dumanis emerged from the cloud of scandal surrounding the trial relatively unscathed.
Three months before the verdict, Dumanis received a $20,000 contribution from the local Republican Party, using it to settle old debts with political consulting firm The Gemini Group and $3,000 to fundraiser KM Strategies.
Jennifer Tierney and Kelli Maruccia, the principals in those firms, were at that time listed as potential witnesses for the Anzano trial.
As Michael Smolens at the Union-Tribune pointed out:
Dumanis wasn’t charged in the case and has said she didn’t know what Azano was up to and that she did nothing wrong. She testified at his trial, and both the prosecution and defense danced around the clearly present but unspoken question of whether the district attorney had committed any crime. It would serve neither side’s legal case to go there.
But her story that she barely remembered Azano and met him in only in passing fell apart as several news stories and evidence in the trial showed there was more contact and knowledge than she had stated publicly.
If she truly didn’t remember the encounters with such an individual, that in itself would be troubling for a candidate. If she knowingly wasn’t telling all to the public, that’s another matter entirely.
UPDATE: Call for an Independent Investigation
The Chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party, Jessica Hayes, has released the following statement.
“Just two days prior to the District Attorney’s resignation announcement, press reports revealed that the DA was a ‘subject of the investigation’ in the Azano corruption saga and had improper contacts regarding the case with the then-U.S. Attorney.
“The public deserves to know the extent of the District Attorney’s involvement in the Azano corruption scandal, and whether any other personnel in the DA’s office acted improperly.
“I’m calling on the County Board of Supervisors to launch an independent investigation headed by a special prosecutor into the Office of the District Attorney’s connection with this far-reaching case – the largest political corruption scandal in San Diego history.
“Adding to a story already steeped in backroom politics and insider dealing, Dumanis’ early resignation now paves the way for the Board of Supervisors to appoint her replacement before the voters have a say. Anyone seeking to become San Diego’s next District Attorney should pledge to support an independent investigation into the DA’s role in this political corruption case.
“Because San Diego’s chief law enforcement officer is implicated, an independent investigation is the only way for justice to be served. This is no time for business-as-usual politics.
“It would be a grievous breach of the public’s trust to appoint a new DA until the independent investigation is concluded. The public has the right to know the full extent of the involvement of personnel in the DA’s office with this scandal.”
Suspicious or not, Dumanis pending retirement paves the way for her designated replacement, Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan to take over the position and run as an incumbent in the 2018 election.
Having already been endorsed by San Diego District Attorney Investigators Association and San Diegans Against Crime (the PAC of the union representing prosecutors), Summer should be considered a sure thing when it comes to the Board of Supervisors appointing a replacement for Dumanis.
At this point, Dumanis is the likely GOP choice for termed-out Ron Roberts 4th District Supervisor seat. She’ll be running against several Democrats, including attorney/community activist Omar Passons (declared), former Assemblypersons Nathan Fletcher (probable), and Lori Saldaña (on a listening tour).
Republican City Councilwoman Lori Zapf is also in the mix, though party leaders would like to see her retain her position as a helper for Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s agenda. Neophyte candidates Nora Kased and Anthoney Locatelli have also declared an interest in the supervisor seat.
A reliable source told me business interests have already done polling for the contest, and the hope is for Fletcher to emerge from the primary as damaged goods running against Dumanis in the general election. (That and $5 will get you a cup of coffee, so don’t put too much stock in this.)
The Pot Lobby
One more factor to consider in 2018’s political landscape will be the residual bitterness of medical marijuana advocates toward Dumanis, who they say unfairly prosecuted distributors.
In 2016 she lost a high-profile case against Golden Hills resident Micah Wojnowski, one that tried to paint the defendant as a manufacturer of concentrated cannabis along with felony child endangerment charges.
From a June 2016 San Diego Free Press article by Terrie Best of San Diego Americans for Safe Access
This would not be the first time we have seen evidence arranged by the DA’s office to incriminate people. Bonnie Dumanis herself was guilty of this tactic during her outrageous press conference on the Fridoon Rawshan killing last year in which she used props to impeach the character of a man shot by police. It is a routine artifice in cannabis cases. If police set a gun next to a bag of cannabis for a press release, it looks bad to the public (Operation Green Rx). If they scour your photo albums for glamour-style shots of you counting money (Jovan Jackson’s 2nd trial) it makes you look bad to a jury. It is a tactic that defiles the principles of justice and erodes public safety and people are tired of it.
With cannabis now legal in California and the emergence of open political involvement by supportive business interests, you can be sure these folks will campaign against Dumanis.
Why The Supervisors Are Important
(And What You Can Do)
The County Board of Supervisors is officially non-partisan. Unofficially, they’re all Republicans, though they’re hardly clones. Democrats believe they have a chance to gain a 3-2 majority over the next couple of elections.
The predominantly Republican point of view on the Supervisors is a sore spot for activists concerned about inequality, poverty, and social services in the county.
The Invest in San Diego Families Coalition is hosting a series of Town Hall meetings throughout the county to discuss the San Diego County’s $5.4 billion budget and how it can better serve communities.
The Board of Supervisors recently voted themselves a 12.5% raise, and continue to sit on $1.9 billion in unrestricted reserves (three times the amount recommended by financial experts).
The coalition believes these monies could be better spent by investing in the workforce and in services residents need. You can download a flyer by clicking here or see below for details on the meetings, which will take place in each supervisorial district.
Looking for some action? Check out the Weekly Progressive Calendar, published every Friday in this space, featuring Demonstrations, Rallies, Teach-ins, Meet Ups and other opportunities to get your activism on.
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