THREE CANDIDATES VIE FOR DISTRICT ATTORNEY SEAT IN CONTENTIOUS RACE

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By Jaden Jimenez

Jessica Richmond and Miriam Raftery also contributed to this report

May 29,2014 (San Diego)- Updated June 2, 2014 - This year if the current District Attorney, Bonnie Dumanis, would like to keep her job, she will need to defeat two opponents who have stepped up to the plate to take swings at the incumbent.  Bob Brewer, ex-Sempra Energy lawyer and Terri Wyatt, 26-year Deputy District Attorney in San Diego County, are both challenging Dumanis in the June 3rd primary.  The top two vote getters will then square off in November—unless one candidate  receives over 50% of the votes in June to win outright.

The race has shaped up to be very intriguing due to allegations flying among two of the candidates, Dumanis and Brewer. (Wyatt seems to be free of scandal.)  Accusations in the race include corruption, illegal campaign contributions,  federal probes,  a corporate cover-up and a good old April fool’s joke, just to name a few.  In an election for the role of the top prosecutor in San Diego, you might ask, shouldn’t candidates vying for the DA seat uphold the letter of the law,  not appear to break it?

This is the first time in 12 years that someone has challenged Dumanis, giving her a lot of time to build up her portfolio as DA.

Dumanis has made huge strides within San Diego's criminal justice system. She has created one of the first drug courts, giving substance abusers the chance to redeem themselves by taking part in a drug program rather than serving jail time. Dumanis also started a domestic violence court to combat repeat behavior by domestic abusers.

As the DA Dumanis has set up multiple divisions within her office to specifically review certain high profile cases such as unsolved homicides, drug crimes, and sex trafficking crimes. One of her prouder moments was the passage of “Chelsea’s law.  The bill, which she helped draft,  which imposes harsher sentencing for sexually violent predators and child molesters. 

Although she boasts a 94% conviction rate, her opponents, Brewer and Wyatt, contend that  Dumanis has politicized the office and engaged in some questionable activities.

During her unsuccessful mayoral campaign (after she had just started her third term as DA) , a committee supporting her campaign received $200,000  in contributions funneled illegally through shell companies and independent committees funded by a foreign national, according to a federal probe. The foreign national who reportedly was the source of the money was Jose Susuno Azano—who also bankrolled lawsuits against Sempra over land grabs in Mexico, the Los Angeles Times reported.   A federal corruption probe charged two men with funneling money from Azano into local campaigns, including Dumanis’ mayoral bid.  Azano reportedly wanted to build Miami-style resorts along San Diego’s shoreline. Dumanis has not faced charges and has stated that she did not know the source of the money, which Azano funneled through multiple sources.

Another issue for Jason Moore, former aide to Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla, was indicted on perjury and convicted on a lesser charge following an investigation by the D.A.  Moore now seeks to have the conviction tossed out—alleging that Dumanis had a conflict of interest, 10 News reported earlier this month. Moreover, a motion filed by Moore’s attorney claims, “Now, with the knowledge that DA Dumanis had personal, professional, and political reasons to oppose Mayor Padilla (and support his opponents), the investigation of Mr. Moore appears corrupt, biased, and for the personal, professional, and political gain of DA Dumanis." However, Dumanis told ECM that her opponent, Brewer, represented Padilla and that if the situation is politicized, it's their doing, not hers.  "Consider the source," she states.

Dumanis lost  90 percent of law enforcement union endorsements in this election, including the San Diego Police Officers Association and the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association.  The groups have said they believed some of Dumanis’ decisions were politically motivated rather than motivated about public safety. Specifically, they faulted the D.A. for making political endorsements for mayoral, legislative and judicial candidates. She had previously announced

formation of a Public Integrity Unit to prosecute corrupt public officials, at which time she had said that she wouldn’t make any endorsements except in “unusual circumstances” in order to steer clear of allegations of  bias.  Critics contend that by endorsing political figures, it would be a conflict of interest if any case were made against these figures.

By contrast,  Brewer has claimed he will make no political endorsements or run for any other political office while serving as D.A., in order to avoid creating bias in future cases.

Brewer’s legal background includes criminal defense, civil law, and in his early years, prosecution experience as well as representing Sempra Energy in legal proceedings.  He is a decorated Army captain who served in Vietnam, earned a law degree from University of San Diego and later moved to Los Angeles to work for the L.A. County DA’s office and then the U.S. Attorney’s office, where he tried Polish spy Marian Zacharski in 1981.

After co-founding the firm Chapin & Brewer, he switched roles in the courtroom by defending Nancy Hoover, the girlfriend and business partner of J. David Dominelli who had created a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme. Hoover was convicted of tax evasion and served over two years in prison. 

More recently, Brewer has faced scrutiny for his role as an attorney at the Jones Day law firm hired by Sempra Energy to look into allegations that Sempra bribed Mexican officials to gain approval for a liquefied natural gas facility.  A whistleblower has contended that Sempra persuaded the U.S. Justice Department to let the company investigate itself—and that Brewer whitewashed the investigation, which was closed soon after. But in March, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced it is opening a new probe into Sempra over the bribery allegations, 10 News reported.  Brewer has declined to comment, referring media questions to Sempra, which denies the charges. 

Interestingly, according to a report in the Reader, it was Brewer who alerted federal authorities to investigate Azano – the Mexican tycoon later linked to illegal contributions to Dumanis’ mayoral campaign. Back in 2001, the FBI concluded that Sempra may have engaged in illegal activity in violation of the Corrupt Foreign Practices Act.

Could Sempra potentially face a criminal investigation in San Diego for actions such as corruption or willful cover-up of conditions leading to fires started by its power lines?  Potentially, yes, says Terry Wyatt, the third candidate in the race. Wyatt told ECM she has concerns over a potential conflict of interest should Brewer win and his office be asked to investigate Sempra.

Brewer has also been accused by Wyatt of offering jobs to her and another deputy D.A. in an effort to prevent them from running against him, Voice of San Diego reported. If true, that would violate state campaign laws. Brewer denied the claim.

Brewer  has built a strong campaign against Dumanis, however his campaign funds are also being scrutinized. He received a $700 contribution from Hoover (today known as Nancy Fletcher) whom he defended in the Dominelli Ponzi scandal..  Wyatt,has faulted Brewer for taking money from a convicted felon whom he formerly represented. 

Brewer’s campaign also returned a $10,000 contribution made by Brewer’s wife, a retired judge, to an independent committee working to elect Brewer. Such groups by law are prohibited from coordinating with a candidate’s campaign. 

The Dumanis campaign reportedly made hay of the controversy involving Brewer’s wife.  A fake press release on April 1st stated that Brewer would be holding a press conference to discuss his wife’s questionable independent expenditure.

Through his campaign, he has been gaining support from various groups for his stances on certain issues such as the medical-marijuana community that is angry over the DA’s prosecution of patients and collective operators who thought they were following state law.

Brewer supports medical marijuana, while Dumanis is against it. Brewer was diagnosed with Agent Orange-related non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He went through six months of powerful chemotherapy and three months of radiation. He didn’t use medical marijuana but going through this experience opened him up to the benefits of using.

“There is a legitimate use for medical marijuana as stated in Prop. 215, and here we are, 17 years after that was passed, and we still have significant problems in applying the law, and that’s very unfortunate,” he has stated.  

The final candidate is Terri Wyatt. The dark horse in the race after entering it later than Brewer, Wyatt has a 26-year career as a deputy district attorney in San Diego County working under Dumanis. A graduate of USD’s School of Law, Wyatt says she has worked in everything in the DA’s office from traffic ticket prosecutions to rape, murder and gang violence cases.

Wyatt spent six years as a division chief, the highest management job, overlooking felony case issuing and extraditions. During her career as a prosecutor Wyatt prosecuted 19 people currently serving life sentences for crimes such as murder and sexual assault.

Her campaign has gained less publicity compared to the other two candidates and has brought in far less money, but Wyatt still makes her stand proposing a more efficient, less politically run office if she were to become DA.

Wyatt said she saw the District Attorney’s office become much politicized under Dumanis’s management. Wyatt has stated multiple time that the decisions that Dumanis made weren't the best and should have been made from the motivation of keeping the public safe-- not out of political gain.

Wyatt’s first main goal  if she were elected is to increase the investigation units and resources towards elder abuse crimes. Wyatt has told East County Magazine  that her mother is currently in a nursing home, so victimization of the elderly is an issue that she views with serious concern.

ECM invited all three D.A. candidates to be interviewed on our radio show. Thus far only Wyatt has accepted.  You can hear our interviews with Bonnie Dumanis (click here) and Terri Wyatt (click here.)