Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Marty Emerald ethics hearing

See all posts about Gil Cabrera, chairman of San Diego Ethics committee.

A Different Report on the Emerald Ethics Hearing
Apr 12, 2010
Voice of San Diego

On Thursday, April 8, the San Diego Ethics Commission held a televised meeting to hear an appeal by Councilwoman Emerald of the amount of the penalty assessed against her for two errors made during her campaign. There was no argument that the errors occurred. It was simply a question of how much the penalty should have been.

I watched the event (and it most definitely was an event; the city should have sold tickets!), but what I saw was not what appeared in our local print news.

Perhaps this is a perfect occasion to lament the loss of our unbiased print media, but let's leave that for another time. I want to give you my view of what actually happened at the hearing.

I give credit to Commissioner Valdez for handling a very difficult situation. He didn't do it as well as I would have liked, but his hands were somewhat tied.

First, he invited the Ethics Commission attorney to introduce her evidence. She needed to prove that the errors made by the Emerald campaign were so awful that they had to levy the largest fine possible for the infraction. She called both Ms. Emerald and her treasurer to the stand. She then closed her case...

The evidence did show that the treasurer contacted the commission as soon as she realized there could be a problem, that this was an isolated incident and that the Campaign Committee fully cooperated with Ethics Commission staff. (You can find the relevant Municipal Code regarding penalties here, under section 26.0438).

The code does not allow for penalties to be assessed if the commission thinks that there might have been negligence, if they can make innuendo as to the intention to deceive or if the executive director dislikes the candidate -- as she seemed to make an effort to show by her actions at the hearing. There needs to be proof...

The Ethics Commission did not attempt with its witness testimony to put any evidence into the record to prove that this was the most grievous error a campaign could make and therefore deserved the highest possible fine. It was that arrogance, that belief that they needed to make no effort to prove their case, that was the most striking action of the day to me.

So, despite that there had been no evidence given which would have allowed for a penalty, the hearing continued.

Mr. Ottillie was invited to call his witnesses. Immediately, the objections began.

Ms. Fulhorst, the Executive Director of the Ethics Commission had no place objecting -- that was for her attorney to do. And yet, she disrupted any attempt by Mr. Ottillie to put forward his evidence. She objected, sighed loudly into the microphone, tutted and tsked all the way through. Several times, when it appeared the witness might say something she didn't want to come out, she jumped in and actually testified before the witness could. But most of all, she objected to the waste of time it was for Mr. Ottillie to put forward any evidence. It was as if she believed that the outcome of the hearing was a predetermined thing, and the hearing was just a complete waste of her precious time.

I think we can all agree that a lot of the questions asked by Mr. Ottillie seemed somewhat pointless, but he has the right to put forward evidence of his client's innocence and to do so without the constant harassment of the person responsible for the assessment in the first place...

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