Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Tag: Shaun King

Follow The Money

#Justice for George Floyd Poster

This week, San Francisco is leaning way forward in criminal justice reform in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, joined by Diane Becton, the first Black woman District Attorney in Contra Costa County, George Gascon, the former SF District Attorney and San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar called for the California State Bar to pass an ethics rule prohibiting prosecutors from accepting political donations and endorsements from law enforcement agencies and police unions.

Wow! This hits home in Alameda County. They decided to “Follow the Money!”

2018 – Follow The Money

In 2018, Republican Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern gave $50,000 to a campaign committee supporting incumbent District Attorney Nancy O’Malley.  Ahern has been widely criticized for his cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. He gives immigration status information on people in the county jail to ICE, and sets releasees up to be picked up by ICE. He also signed a letter in support of Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions to Attorney General. 

DA O’Malley is the only check on Sheriff Ahern, a fact that is particularly significant today. You see, Sheriff Ahern just placed Alameda County under curfew and is arresting peaceful protestors everywhere! Under Ahern’s leadership, the Santa Rita County Jail has earned a reputation as “the most dangerous place in the County.”

In 2018, political committees formed by law enforcement unions spent over $200,000 to help DA O’Malley hold onto her seat. Donors included local and state police unions of every size from around the state. Many of them also gave directly to O’Malley’s campaign.

In the last few days of the 2018 campaign, these political committees sent hit pieces with graphic images of child molesters throughout southern Alameda County to scare primarily white folks in believing that I was “soft on crime.” Apparently, it worked.

A Clear Conflict of Interest

Elena "Ebbie" Mondragon killed by Fremont Police in March 2017
Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon, Credit: CBS SF

DA Nancy O’Malley also accepted a $10,000 contribution to her DA campaign from the Fremont Police Officers Association. She received it at the same time she was investigating Fremont officers – including the union president – for the murder of 16-year-old Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon. Naturally, O’Malley cleared all of the officers of any wrongdoing after she got the contribution.

In 2018, Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert accepted $13,000 in campaign contributions from the Sacramento police union while she investigated them for the murder of Stephon Clark. Needless to say, her office did not charge any of the officers involved in that killing.

On a press call Monday, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton acknowledged “We work very closely with law enforcement and we have to evaluate whether some of those same officers have committed crimes. . . . Across California there are dozens of law enforcement unions, representing rank and file police officers, sheriffs’ deputies, and correctional officers. and these unions play a major role in state and even local politics.”

According to courthousenews.com, Becton notes the current rules of professional conduct say elected prosecutors should avoid soliciting support from attorneys representing accused officers, and should recuse themselves from prosecutions that could give rise to a conflict of interest. But they are not precluded from benefiting financially or politically from groups that pay the attorneys’ fees for accused officers.

Too often, prosecutors act as if they are above the law. They rarely recuse themselves. They routinely fight efforts for independent outside investigation of cases where officers are accused of using deadly force.

Police Own Our Cities

Last year, the San Francisco Police Association spent over $700,000 trying to buy the DA election. As I pointed out then, every American city, county and state has a powerful police association, whether it be city police, county sheriff or state correctional officers. They defend crooked cops and threaten elected officials.

Technically, it is a union formed to advocate for better working conditions and pay for officers. In the real world, however, POAs are laser focused on doing whatever it takes to control elected officials. POAs are political action committees that spend millions of dollars every year to influence elections.

In every city, county and state, the POAs band together to reinforce repressive and racist policies. As we can see, these policies undermine the fabric of the community. In every progressive challenge to the status quo, look for the POA to be fighting back and holding the line. Usually in lockstep with the local District Attorney.

Waking Up the Democratic Party

In a real surprise twist, somebody is waking up the Democratic Party. Following the press release by Boudin, Gascon, Becton and Verber Salazar, the California Progressive Caucus took a position. In a call to action, the Caucus said:

“Since the power of the Democratic Party rests in good measure on its ability to raise almost unlimited cash that can be funneled into campaigns, that is where we should start with solutions. We must decline money from law enforcement organizations and stop funneling money to those Democrats that refuse to make Black lives a priority. We must declare loudly when law enforcement organizations are opposing measures to save Black lives and then we must mobilize support to counter them.”

In August 2018, Shaun King lamented the absence of the Democratic Party in the fight for criminal justice reform. He asked “Does the Democratic Party really care about black people or do they just want our votes?” In fact, the Democratic party has been heavily invested in the fight for criminal justice reform. Only on the wrong side of history – on the side of the police.

The California Progressive Caucus knows how to “follow the money.” Calling out centrist Democrats who accept police union money is a welcome development. Too often, police unions have been able to use their money to buy protection for bad cops and repressive policies.

Unfortunately, Alameda County is not alone in trying to protect bad cops and racist practices. Still, as San Francisco and Contra Costa and San Joaquin counties move forward, maybe we’ll take another look around. In the light of George Floyd’s murder, we know that is way past time “wake up. “

Only 16 Votes

Credit: Gabriella Angotti-Jones for The New York Times

Tiffany Caban’s Election – Part 1

Tiffany Caban is losing her election to Queens District Attorney by only 16 votes. Only 16 votes could decide the race. The criminal justice system in Queens impacts 2.4 million people. The race highlights the dangers of “provisional ballots” and the power of absentee ballots.

Election officials initially tossed out an estimated 2,500 provisional ballots. Some people registered too late to vote in the primary election. Others moved and did not re-register in time. Some voters forgot to sign and swear they were registered Democrats. On the flip side, usually the most reliable and conservative voters cast absentee ballots. Absentee voters vote early and those votes usually decide the race. That conventional wisdom may prove true in Queens.

What’s At Stake in Queens

Tiffany Caban’s race for District Attorney has captured the attention of the nation. Her story, in case you missed it, is an original American story. She’s young, a mere 31 years old, of Puerto Rican descent, a former Public Defender and the first in her family to graduate from college. Bringing all of her real life and world experience, she put together a broad coalition of progressives, formerly incarcerated folks, sex workers and undocumented immigrants.

New York based Working Families Party, Real Justice PAC, Color of Change, Our Revolution and Democrats for Socialist America (DSA) also supported Tiffany. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krashner, Singer John Legend, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, former NY gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon and the New York Times newspaper all endorsed Tiffany.

Only 1 major labor union endorsed Tiffany Caban.

According to the New York Times, the Queens District Attorney’s office is woefully out of step with the community it serves. The office features high racial disparities in prosecutions and routine violations of the right to counsel. It has no dedicated unit to address wrongful convictions and no oversight of abusive landlords.

Who is Melinda Katz?

Melinda Katz, Tiffany’s opponent, is an established player in New York politics. Melinda has been the Queens Borough President for 6 years. She will be termed out when her term expires in 2021. She is running for her 6th elected office in 25 years. In her long political career she has not shown any interest in criminal justice reform. She has not led any challenges to mass incarceration in New York.

In 1995, Melinda voted as a member of the New York State Assembly to reinstate the death penalty. On the City Council, she voted to increase penalties for low-level offenses and create a new category of crime (gang recruitment). She also favors increased police surveillance in city schools. Every elected member of Congress from New York except one, and NY Governor Andrew Cuomo endorsed Melinda.

Not surprising, big labor unions like SEIU, Teamsters, Firefighters and the building trades all support Melinda Katz. Melinda has no courtroom experience even though she is a lawyer. Her last real gig was as a lobbyist for real estate clients at Greenberg Taurig. The firm has a scandalous history, including a$7.6 million fine in 2006 levied by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to settle allegations that the firm helped cover up a bank’s financial misconduct. Greenberg is also Rudy Giuliani, former NY mayor and current Trump surrogate’s old law firm.

The Democratic Party Favorite

Here’s how one local writer described Melinda’s ties to the Queens Democratic Party:

Katz has also cemented her ties to the Queens Democratic Party, which is often criticized as one of the last bastions of calcified political power in the city. The Party protects and promotes its own and, in any race, brings to bear a large cadre of local, state, and national elected officials that originated from its ranks or owe it some allegiance, as well as the allies of those officials, other local party officials like members of the state committee, political club members, and others.

The Queens Democratic Party was previously headed by Congressional representative-turned-lobbyist Joe Crowley, who lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and has been fundraising for Katz.”

According to one commentator, Melinda Katz ran on the traditional campaign of fear and racism. As she notes, “Law-and-order feminists have long used the idea of professional white women’s safety and reputation against young women activists of color.” Yet, she’s ahead by only 16 votes.

The Wrong Side of History

In August 2018, Shaun King lamented the absence of the Democratic Party in the fight for criminal justice reform. He asked “Does the Democratic Party really care about black people or do they just want our votes?”

The reality, reflected in the Queens DA race, is that the Democratic Party is very much present. On the wrong side of history. This was obvious in the 2018 Alameda County District Attorney race. According to the local Democratic Party Chair, Robin Torello, incumbent DA Nancy O’Malley “fights for our Democratic values of justice, equality and civil rights everyday.”

Credit: Pamela Price for District Attorney 2018

Every one of O’Malley’s answers are inconsistent with the California Democratic Party platform. Nonetheless, the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee, the Sierra Club and Senator Kamala Harris all endorsed O’Malley. After that, less than 100 days after winning re-election with financial and logistical support from the Democratic party machine, O’Malley endorsed the anti-choice Republican candidate for State Assembly over a Democrat. Fortunately, the Republican lost her seat.

Only 16 Votes

I pray that Tiffany Caban can get at least 17 more votes. Still, the hard lesson for progressives is that we have to “flip” the party. We have a chance to do just that in Alameda County in March 2020. If you are not a registered Democrat, you must re-register and do it early.

One estimate is that a million independent voters (registered as “no party preference”) in California risk not being able to vote for president or local Democratic party representatives in the March primary. In other words, independents who want to change the status quo in March 2020 best re-register to vote as a Democrat. You can change it back later.

In California, the drop dead date to re-register to vote by mail in the primary is January 15, 2020. So, you can only vote by mail for local Democratic party officials if you are a registered Democrat by January 15, 2020. If you want to vote in person, the final date to re-register to get a Democratic ballot is February 17, 2020.

Across the country, we see this is where “the petal meets the metal.” We really need everyone to “#DEM-ENTER” ASAP.

If you can please help Tiffany pay for the recount in the Queens DA race, go to her webpage at cabanforqueens.com and make a contribution. Tiffany is a corporate-free candidate.

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