Wednesday, February 15, 2012

California's political watchdog panel eases its approach to ethics issues

California's political watchdog panel eases its approach to ethics issues
The Fair Political Practices Commission has eased restrictions on gifts to lawmakers, called fewer open meetings and stopped notifying the public of pending investigations. Some good-government advocates are angry.
By Patrick McGreevy
Los Angeles Times
February 14, 2012

Reporting from Sacramento -- Three decades after Gov. Jerry Brown played a key role in creating a state political watchdog, the panel — now dominated by his appointees — has retreated from its aggressive approach to ethics enforcement.

As part of a top-to-bottom rewrite of regulations in the last year, the Fair Political Practices Commission has eased restrictions on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers, scaled back its open meetings and stopped notifying the public of pending investigations. Its job is to enforce laws on election campaigns, lobbying and conflicts of interest involving public employees, including the governor.

Commission Chairwoman Ann Ravel, whom Brown appointed in February 2011, said she was trying to make rules fair, clearer and easier to comply with and to focus on the worst offenders rather than on those who make minor mistakes. But she has outraged some good-government advocates along the way.

"I think the agenda is to basically castrate the commission," said fellow Commissioner Ronald Rotunda, a Chapman University law professor appointed by the state controller.

The panel prosecuted some big cases against politicians in the five years before Ravel took over, assessing them large fines, and tightened restrictions on the activity of public officials. Ravel, a veteran government attorney, said Brown gave her no marching orders when he appointed her.

"What we want to do is make sure that public officials use their positions for the good of the public and aren't doing it for their own self-interest," she said in an interview in her downtown Sacramento office.

The commission was born as part of the Political Reform Act, an initiative co-authored by Brown and approved by California voters in 1974 after a series of political scandals. So that no single official has undue influence over it, two members are appointed by the governor and one each by the attorney general, secretary of state and controller.

But because Brown was California's attorney general before becoming governor a year ago, he has appointed the majority of commission members. He also made the body's top attorney a political appointee rather than a civil servant, which allows the governor to replace the person who advises the commission and politicians on what's allowable.

Brown declined to be interviewed. His spokesman, Gil Duran, said the governor has no specific agenda for the commission but supports what his chairwoman is doing.

"The governor believes Ann Ravel is doing an outstanding job and operating in the best traditions of an independent agency, advancing the public trust in a practical and intelligent way," Duran said.

Brown's first appointee to the commission, in 2009 when he was attorney general, was controversial. He tapped Lynn Montgomery, who had managed the gubernatorial run of former Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante six years before. The campaign paid one of the largest fines in FPPC history.

"To appoint somebody who had a history of being involved in a campaign that crossed the line in the most egregious way in ethics law violations is troubling," said Kathay Feng, president of California Common Cause.

And the governor has had a sometimes contentious relationship with the commission.

In 1981, the FPPC called for a criminal investigation into whether key aides to then-Gov. Brown had perjured themselves, destroyed some records and withheld others to thwart a probe of possibly improper political activity in the governor's office. State law bars government resources from being used for campaigns or other political purposes.

Brown denied any wrongdoing by his office, which challenged the FPPC's jurisdiction in the matter, and prosecutors filed no charges. But Brown's reelection campaign later reimbursed the state $2,000 for the use of its computers.

Brown opposed the commission in court in 1990, after voters approved Proposition 73, which placed limits on campaign contributions. Then chairman of the state Democratic Party, he was part of a lawsuit to nullify the measure, which he called "one of the most pernicious campaign laws ever enacted." His side won.

He battled the commission again in 2000, when he was mayor of Oakland and was pursuing an ambitious redevelopment program for the city. The FPPC found that Brown had a conflict of interest because the program could have affected the value of his residence. Accusing the panel of applying the law too broadly, Brown sued and won in an appeals court.

Ravel had also argued from the outside for the FPPC to ease up. As Santa Clara County counsel in 2003, she won relaxed conflict-of-interest rules for county supervisors.

One of her first acts as commission chairwoman was to rescind public notices about pending investigations. Her predecessor, Dan Schnur, a former GOP strategist who now runs the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, had posted such information on the panel's website in hopes of deterring politicians from misbehaving.

Ravel argued that public airing of allegations that had not yet been substantiated violated the due-process rights of those accused.

She also canceled about half of the commission's monthly meetings, which Schnur also questioned. "It's important for the political community to know that the body responsible for its oversight is meeting on a regular basis," Schnur said.

Ravel's biggest dispute with open-government advocates has involved the overhaul of gift regulations.

State law requires officials to disclose gifts they receive and bars them from accepting gifts worth more than $10 from lobbyists. Ravel noted that the FPPC had allowed exceptions over the years if an official was dating the lobbyist or was a guest in the lobbyist's home.

The dating exemption is now written into state regulations, with a requirement that officials refrain from action on issues involving those with whom they are in a "dating relationship."

That will prevent abuse, Ravel said, without poking the government's nose into people's personal lives.

"The fact that somebody getting an engagement ring from somebody and they truly have a relationship — I don't consider that a serious problem," she said. "And I don't think that's the FPPC's issue."

Feng of California Common Cause disagreed, saying, "Potential corruption does not stop just because the relationship has entered the bedroom."

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Did SDPD supervisor Kevin Friedman undermine prosecution of cop Anthony Arevalos?

"The woman testified that Arevalos sexually assaulted her multiple times during her arrest. Friedman was at the scene that night and testified that he never saw Arevalos do anything inappropriate. The jury acquitted Arevalos of all charges related to the arrest."

New Scandal Brewed as SDPD Sergeant Testified
Feb 3, 2012
By Keegan Kyle

When San Diego police Sgt. Kevin Friedman took the stand in November, a jury got its first glimpse of the man responsible for supervising the defendant, former cop Anthony Arevalos.

Friedman was Arevalos' boss until March last year, when police arrested Arevalos and charged him with soliciting sexual bribes from seven women while on duty. Police accused Arevalos of committing 21 felonies, the jury found him guilty of eight.
The breadth and severity of the allegations, part of a larger spike in police misconduct, raised the most serious questions about internal oversight at the Police Department in the last decade. It spurred apologies from the police chief and promises to reform.

But Friedman's role supervising Arevalos — a focal point of internal scrutiny — didn't become public until the final days of Arevalos' criminal trial. Arevalos' attorneys called Friedman to testify about several traffic stops involving him and Arevalos.

Even today, as headlines reveal Friedman's own legal battles, his involvement in one of the city's biggest scandals in the last decade isn't well known. When media outlets across the city broke news last week that Friedman has been charged with fixing two traffic tickets, none mentioned Arevalos.

At the trial, Friedman's testimony played a pivotal role in reducing Arevalos' maximum prison sentence. Arevalos' attorneys pushed Friedman to poke holes in the prosecution's case and undermine the credibility of one accuser. A third of the felony charges were related to her accusations alone.

The woman testified that Arevalos sexually assaulted her multiple times during her arrest. Friedman was at the scene that night and testified that he never saw Arevalos do anything inappropriate. The jury acquitted Arevalos of all charges related to the arrest.

During its cross-examination of Friedman, the prosecution pressed him to explain any unusual behavior by Arevalos. Those questions elicited some of the most damning evidence about Arevalos' character during the entire trial.

Friedman testified that Arevalos was known to target female drivers and brag about the beauty of the women he arrested. Friedman said officers nicknamed Arevalos "the Las Colinas transport unit" because he arrested so many women.

"If someone was attractive, he would display it," Friedman testified.

The testimony provided some of the most concrete evidence that officers within the department knew Arevalos acted suspiciously but did nothing to address the behavior. Until one woman stepped forward in March last year, Arevalos continued patrolling San Diego's streets, where he arrested more women than his peers.

After the trial, Friedman went back to work at the Police Department and stayed out of public limelight until December, when his name and picture aired in a story by NBC7 San Diego.

The station broke news that Friedman was also the subject of a misconduct investigation. Police suspected he'd fixed traffic tickets for two county prosecutors last year.

Then, in January, the Attorney General's Office made the accusations official. It pressed misdemeanor charges against Friedman and one of the county prosecutors, Allison Debow.
According to the criminal complaint, a San Diego police officer issued citations to Debow and county prosecutor Amy Maund because they weren't wearing seat belts during a May 28 drive. Debow called Friedman, a close friend, and asked if there was something he could do about the tickets.
Friedman hid or destroyed the Police Department's record of the tickets, the complaint says, and then told Debow to shred her own copy. The complaint says Maund had no knowledge of the scheme until Debow told her to shred her ticket, too.
The complaint doesn't confirm how authorities learned of the incident. In December, NBC7 reported that a county prosecutor unknowingly had her ticket destroyed and later reported it to her superiors. The Attorney General's complaint only says Maund unknowingly had her ticket destroyed, not whether she reported it.
The District Attorney's Office declined to say when it began investigating the incident, but the Police Department first knew of the allegations July 8, spokeswoman Lt. Andra Brown said. The department pulled Friedman from patrol, assigned him to administrative duties and launched an internal investigation.
According to the Police Department's timeline, Friedman was under internal investigation throughout Arevalos' entire criminal trial. Brown said the department completed its probe Dec. 8, about a month after Friedman took the stand. In total, the department's investigation of Friedman took five months.
Though Friedman has been formally charged, he is still assigned to administrative duties and being paid. Debow is also on paid administrative leave until the case is resolved. Their next court hearing is scheduled for March 7.