Integrity Unit: is it
December 26, 2010
The Public Integrity Unit was
officially disbanded, but
seems to be continuing its
work in a new bizarre
prosecution by Bonnie
The conflicts on the Tri-City
Hospital board have spilled
over from civil court to
See all posts re Tri-City
The Public Integrity Unit in the San
Diego district attorney's office may have
been officially disbanded, but the same
names (Dumanis and Leon
Schorr--see photo) are popping up in a
bizarre new prosecution that seems
every bit as political as two notorious
Chula Vista cases. Patrick O'Toole, the
head of the unit, still works at the DA's
office, but no longer appears on the
DA's website. The Public Integrity Unit
was embarrassed by the acquittal of
Chula Vista councilman Steve
Castaneda and the strange case of a
Chula Vista employee who was
charged with five felonies for taking two
hours off work.
"...[A] local law professor said Sterling's
alleged vote-swapping deal in late May
closely resembled what occurs in
Washington, D.C., every day. He cited
an example of congressional
Republicans refusing to support
presidential initiatives until after tax cuts
were extended. What is the difference,
the professor asked, between this very
public vote-swapping and what Sterling
said in the restaurant?"
OCEANSIDE: Sterling pleads not guilty
to felony charge
By PAUL SISSON
North County Times - Californian
December 16, 2010
Tri-City Medical Center Director
Kathleen Sterling pleaded not guilty
Thursday to a felony vote-swapping
charge in Vista Superior Court.
On Nov. 19, the San Diego County
district attorney's office charged Sterling
with soliciting a bribe and a
misdemeanor count of wrongful
influence. She appeared, as
scheduled, for arraignment Thursday,
represented by a court-appointed
Stating that the hospital director was
not considered a flight risk, Deputy
District Attorney Leon Schorr did not
request bail. Sterling is scheduled for
another administrative court date Jan. 3.
Sterling declined to comment on the
court proceedings during the hearing.
Later in the day, her colleagues voted
4-1, with Director Cyril Kellett
abstaining, to again censure Sterling.
This time, the censure regarded
statements Sterling made at a hospital
meeting Dec. 4. Those statements
included suggesting that fellow board
members "take the brown shirt and
wear it" after they accused her of, and
censured her for, calling board
members "Nazis" at a previous
On Thursday night, board members
called for Sterling to resign in light of
the censures and felony charge.
Sterling said in a telephone interview
Wednesday that she's not going
"I'm not going to resign," she said.
"This is nothing more than political
bullying at its highest. Why not find out
what is really underneath all of it?"
In court, Schorr, the deputy district
attorney, said it was Sterling's
statements at a May 26 dinner meeting
with two fellow board members and a
hospital administrator that led to the
felony charge against her. Hospital
Director George Coulter, board
Chairwoman RoseMarie Reno and
Casey Fatch, the hospital's chief
operations officer, testified at a public
hearing July 15 that Sterling offered to
support unspecified future board
business in exchange for being made
vice chairwoman of the hospital board
and chairwoman of the hospital's
Human Resources Committee.
"Both positions have elevated personal
power on the board and result in
personal financial benefits," Schorr
said in court. "Ms. Sterling's demands
were offered in exchange for procedural
votes on board matters."
If convicted of a felony, Sterling would
no longer be able to serve on the
Schorr said the misdemeanor charge
of undue influence relates to a vote
Sterling made during a formal
sanctions hearing July 15. At the
hearing, the board voted to strip
Sterling of the stipends she received for
attending hospital meetings. Sterling
voted against that item even though the
board's attorney told her she could be
breaking a law that forbids elected
officials from influencing decisions that
could affect them financially.
"Ms. Sterling disregarded the advice
and voted on issues that had a direct
economic impact on her," Schorr said.
After the initial complaints against
Sterling were filed, a local law
professor said Sterling's alleged
vote-swapping deal in late May closely
resembled what occurs in Washington,
D.C., every day. He cited an example of
congressional Republicans refusing to
support presidential initiatives until
after tax cuts were extended. What is
the difference, the professor asked,
between this very public vote-swapping
and what Sterling said in the
Standing in the hallway outside the
courtroom Thursday, Schorr declined to
comment on the workings of
San Diego District Attorney
March 1, 2007
New Public Integrity
Scrutiny of Local
and Public Officials
San Diego County District
Attorney Bonnie M.
announced the formation
of a Public Integrity Unit to
investigate allegations of
among elected officials,
candidates for office and
campaign officials in San
Diego County. For the
first time, the DA’s Office
is using the Criminal
Grand Jury as an
investigative tool to look
into charges of
corruption, becoming one
of the first counties in
California to do so.
“The people have the
right to expect that their
public officials will not
privately and illegally
benefit from their public
positions and from the
public treasury,” DA
Dumanis said. “Protecting
and vindicating this right
is one of the most
important priorities in the
District Attorney’s Office,
and the Public Integrity
Unit ensures that this is
...The DA’s Office will be
vigilant in keeping the
proceedings secret and
prosecuting any witness
who lies under oath.
DA Dumanis also
announced today that
she will no longer
candidates, except in
“I will not allow our
office to be used as a
Public integrity work
is difficult enough
possibility of having
or impaired by
The District Attorney's
Office will conduct
educational outreach to
candidates and campaign
officials if they request it,
but will not offer advisory
Not So Black and White
Voice of San Diego
October 19, 2007
Paul Levikow, a spokesman for District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, called
me back just now and explained why Dumanis didn't contradict herself by
endorsing her lieutenant for the city attorney's post.
He said that she said, orally, during a press conference in February that
she would endorse candidates for the City Attorney's Office, judge races,
the sheriff and attorney general.
"She said specifically she would endorse in all offices that have a direct
effect on her office and the administering of justice," Levikow said.
This caveat was not reflected in the DA's press release that day.
-- SCOTT LEWIS
'Cept When I Do
October 19, 2007
by Scott Lewis
Voice of San Diego
Following up on the
contention from the District
Attorney's Office that
Bonnie Dumanis declared
she would not endorse
candidates for public office
-- only to clarify that she
would actually endorse
candidates for sheriff, city
attorney, attorney general
and judicial posts -- I
decided to go watch her
press conference from the
This is the entirety of her
prepared remarks about
not endorsing political
To underscore the
unbiased and transparent
mission of this office, I am
announcing today that I will
no longer personally
endorse political candidates
except in unusual
circumstances. In the past, I
have endorsed political
candidates where I felt it
was in the public's best
interest. However, public
integrity work is difficult
enough without the
possibility of having our
motives questioned or
impaired by politics. So let
me be clear: I will not allow
this office to be used as a
pawn during political
campaigns or allow the
incorrect perception that we
are anything other than
Except in unusual
circumstances, we will not
against a candidate during
a campaign season. We will
wait until after the election
Seeing that she did not, in
fact, mention at all this
huge caveat that she
would, in fact, endorse
candidates for all the
positions wherein her
opinion on the matter may
at all be relevant, I called
her spokesman Paul
Levikow back to ask what
the deal was.
He said that those, in fact,
were the entire contents of
her prepared remarks that
day and that after her
speech, while taking
questions from the press,
she clarified that she would
actually be endorsing
He wondered why I wasn't
there to hear it.
"The Public Integrity Unit
is part of the DA’s Special Operations Division which already
oversees public corruption cases.
"Prosecutors Patrick O’Toole and Leon Schorr are taking the lead
with these investigations. Schorr is a seasoned Deputy District
Attorney whose public integrity expertise was honed during 2006
when he was sent to work with the California Fair Political Practices
Commission in Sacramento.
"O’Toole was a federal prosecutor for more than 20 years and
served as the U.S. Attorney in San Diego."
from Bonnie Dumanis' "On the Record"
The Secret World of
By WILL CARLESS Voice of
Feb. 13, 2008
On Oct. 17, William Gentry, Jr.,
a local prosecutor with the
District Attorney's Office,
announced he was running for
election as city attorney
against the incumbent
Democrat, Mike Aguirre. Gentry
had the support of District
Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who
wrote a gushing letter to local
lawyers urging them to back
him in the race.
"I'm in this to win and 100
percent committed to it,"
Gentry told The San Diego
Union-Tribune the day he
entered the race.
But three months later, despite
raising more money than any
other candidate, Gentry
suddenly dropped out of the
race. After a fellow Republican,
Superior Court Judge Jan
Goldsmith, decided to run
against Aguirre, Gentry said he
didn't want to split the vote
against Aguirre and urged his
supporters to vote for
A week later,
Gentry had a new
gig. He was
appointed as a
The move raised eyebrows in
the local legal and political
communities, with many
pontificating that Gentry's
appointment was a trade-off
for dropping out of the race
against Aguirre and clearing
the way for Goldsmith.
And a number of local
attorneys, who spoke
anonymously because they
could appear in front of Judge
Gentry, questioned whether the
former district attorney was
the best qualified of several
local lawyers sitting on a
waiting list for Superior Court
But the screening and
undergone by Gentry, and all
other prospective judges, is
shrouded in secrecy, leaving
details of nominations,
including the rating given to
applicants by an independent
commission and the number of
potential rivals for each
judgeship, outside of public
"We'll never ever know whether
this was an inducement to
leave," said Steve Erie, a political
science professor at University of
California, San Diego. "But the
timing of it raises eyebrows. It's
like remarriage after a divorce.
The timing is awkward, the timing
is unseemly -- that it's occurring
so shortly afterwards."
Gentry said there's no
connection between his leaving
the race and his appointment. He
said he applied to the
Governor's Office two years ago
and had long cleared the vetting
process to become a judge when
he decided to have a stab at the
city attorney's job. The
governor's judicial appointments
secretary, Sharon Majors-Lewis,
who used to be a San Diego
district attorney herself, said
Gentry was chosen purely
because of his outstanding
qualifications. Before being
appointed, Gentry joined the San
Diego District Attorney's Office in
1998, and he is an Iraq War
"He's absolutely got the
qualifications necessary to be a
judge, not to mention his
community service involvements
and so forth," Majors-Lewis said.
"If he didn't have the
qualifications, he could not have
been considered or appointed."
Becoming an appointed Superior
Court judge in San Diego begins
with an application to the
The Governor's Office sends
each application to a committee
in San Diego, the Judicial
Selection Advisory Committee.
The identity of the members of
that group is secret, as is the
number of people on the
committee and the process by
which they assess the
applications sent to them. A
number of members of the local
legal and political communities
said District Attorney Bonnie
Dumanis is a member of the
committee, but the Governor's
Office would not answer any
questions about the group.
After its own team has vetted the
applicants, the Governor's Office
passes applications it approves
of to an independent state Bar
commission that's tasked with
assessing the qualifications of
potential judges: The
Commission on Judicial
Nominees Evaluation, known as
the JNE Commission.
The JNE Commission, which is
made up of active members of
the state Bar, former members of
the judiciary and members of the
public, then begins an
exhaustive assessment of each
candidate's qualifications. That
includes canvassing present and
former colleagues and
acquaintances of the applicant
and gathering feedback on
everything from the aspiring
judge's temperament, to their
character, to their record as an
Those meetings take place
behind locked doors. Every
document that's viewed in the
meetings is shredded. William
Kopeny, the current chairman of
the commission, said if a
non-commission member enters
the meeting to change the air
conditioning, the meeting stops
until the non-member leaves.
And almost every single element
of the JNE Commission's
evaluation of each candidate is
strictly confidential. Releasing
information from the commission
to the media or anyone else is a
misdemeanor, Kopeny said.
Past and present commission
members said there are very
good reasons why the
information gathered on each
applicant is kept confidential. To
accurately assess each
candidate's eligibility, the
commission relies on frank and
honest feedback from people
who know that candidate well
and who may have a close
relationship to them. The
commission would not get that
sort of frank information if
journalists and members of the
public were allowed to pick
through the feedback they
collate, the commission members
"If participating lawyers thought
their information was going to be
vetted in public, they would be
loath to pass it on," said Diane
Karpman, a legal ethicist and
former member of the JNE
Once the commission has
considered each candidate, it
awards them one of four ratings:
Extremely well qualified, well
qualified, qualified or not
qualified. This rating is sent to
the Governor's Office.
Theoretically, the governor can
still appoint someone who has
been rated "not qualified" by the
JNE Commission. If that
happens, the state Bar can
choose to make public the fact
that they rated the governor's
appointee as such but the
governor appointed them
But the state Bar doesn't have to
One former commissioner said
the bar could choose to keep
quiet about an unqualified
appointee in order to protect the
governor from embarrassment.
Gentry's rating by the JNE
Commission isn't public
information. Assuming he was
considered by the commission as
qualified to be a judge, there is
no public record whether he was
rated as merely qualified, or well
qualified or extremely well
Kopeny said Gentry, or any
other applicant's rating, can be
made public by the Governor's
Office if they chose to do so. But
the governor's officials don't
have to say anything if they don't
want to. A spokeswoman for the
Governor's Office said anything
related to the JNE Commission is
confidential, and that the office
could not release Gentry's rating.
And, in theory, the governor
doesn't have to answer to
anyone when it comes to his
judicial appointments. Because
the appointments are, by nature,
political, Kopeny said it's the
governor's prerogative to
appoint whomever he wants,
whenever he wants, for whatever
"The governor's supposed to
use political considerations.
That's the reason some people
vote for him, so that he'll appoint
people who are of a like mind or
that he'll appoint people who will,
in some way, serve the political
party that he's a member of,"
For his part, Aguirre said there's
no doubt Gentry's judicial
appointment was made to further
the ambitions of the Republican
Party to knock him out of office.
"If any of my friends who are
Republicans want to be
appointed judges, this is the time
to announce your candidacy for
city attorney," he said.
DA Office: We're Now a Political Pawn
Voice of San Diego
October 19, 2007
Whoa! What's this? District Attorney Bonnie
Dumanis is endorsing Bill Gentry in the race for
First of all, I guess we can stop calling Gentry a potential candidate.
D.A. Bonnie Dumanis: Who says I won't endorse?
But I can't be the only one who remembers Dumanis' declaration in
February that she wouldn’t endorse candidates for public office.
She made the announcement at the same time she announced the
formation of the Public Integrity Unit.
Here's that press release she sent out:
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis today
announced the formation of a Public Integrity Unit to
investigate allegations of criminal misconduct among
elected officials, candidates for office and campaign officials
in San Diego County. For the first time, the DA’s Office is
using the Criminal Grand Jury as an investigative tool to
look into charges of corruption, becoming one of the first
counties in California to do so.
DA Dumanis also announced today that she will no longer
personally endorse political candidates, except in unusual
circumstances. "I will not allow our office to be used as a
pawn during political campaigns," Dumanis said.
Apparently, this is one of those unusual circumstances where the office
can, indeed, be used as a political pawn.
Hat tip to our Café San Diego host today, Charles La Bella. It's not often
that we break news in the Café.
-- SCOTT LEWIS
From Press Release from Bonnie Dumanis' office, also March 1,
:...Dumanis also announced today that she will no longer
personally endorse political candidates, except in unusual
circumstances. “I will not allow our office to be used as a pawn
during political campaigns,” Dumanis said. "Public integrity work
is difficult enough without the possibility of having our motives
questioned or impaired by politics...."
Paul Nieto, Mike Madigan,
Laurie Madigan, Sunroad
Who controls Bill Kolander
and Bonnie Dumanis?
#1 07-22-2006, 12:47 AM
Forming Buds Join Date: Mar 2006
San Diego District Attorney Bonnie
The gal sits on the board of governors
at the california state bar now.
San Francisco, July 13, 2006
Five attorneys, including San Diego
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis,
have been chosen to serve three-year
terms on the State Bar’s Board of
Governors, it was announced
Dumanis, 54, is a former superior
court judge who won the district
attorney’s primary race in 2002 over
one of her competitors in this year’s
board of governors race, City Attorney
Mike Aguirre. She has been on the
boards of the San Diego County Bar
Association and the Lawyers Club of
Publication: San Diego Business
Author: Broderick, Pat
New In Town: Midge Costanza, a former
assistant to President Carter, has
joined District Attorney Bonnie M.
Dumanis' office as a public affairs
Costanza, 72, will be assigned to the
communications and community
relations division with an emphasis on
The story the U-T does not want you to read -
Dumanis and Chula Vista
by Pat Flannery
Blog of San Diego
Here is a video of a letter being presented to the Chula Vista City
Council on December 18, 2007. Activist Sonny Chandler, on behalf of a
civic group called the "Chula Vista Better Government Association",
called upon the Council to conduct an investigation into official
corruption in Chula Vista. The letter was also sent to the State Attorney
General and to the U.S. Attorney on December 7, 2007 asking that they:
" ... conduct an investigation to determine if there are conflicts of
interests, abuses of power and prosecutorial misconduct involving John
Moot, Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox and the local District Attorney’s
office. For the reasons listed below, we are not confident that the District
Attorney’s office or the City’s Board of Ethics can perform a fair and
impartial investigation into these matters.
We further request that you investigate a potential conspiracy involving
former Chula Vista City Councilmember John Moot, the office of District
Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, local land developer Jim Pieri and Chula Vista
Mayor Cheryl Cox to deprive Chula Vista voters of good government by
abusing their positions and power to improperly influence and intimidate
elected officials and community groups on behalf of the proposed
condominium high rise."
It makes interesting reading, especially the parts about Bonnie Dumanis
and Pat O'Toole. The civic group suspects that Dumanis and O'Toole
may have filed bogus charges against Chula Vista City Councilmember
Steve Castaneda, at the behest of a well-connected Chula Vista
developer named Jim Pieri, who apparently wanted "someone more likely
to approve his projects" on the City Council. A natural reaction for an
The group reports that Pieri contributed $15,050 to the Lincoln Club of
San Diego County during Cox's campaign who in turn contributed
$51,000 to Cox. Yep, that's how it works.
I was also informed that the U-T refused to run the story, despite the fact
that the "Chula Vista Better Government Association" did all the work. It
compiled these 334 pages of back up material and obviously did its
research. This story should be the kind of juicy political yarn any red-
blooded newspaper would love to run. And it is all documented.
Pieri is now leasing office space to the DA in Chula Vista at $71,328 per
month. That's a pretty nice lease. Here it is. Interesting how Dumanis
ended up renting from Pieri.
I have a feeling we have not heard the last of this story. I wonder why the
U-T did not want you to read it. Are they protecting Dumanis? Well, here
it is anyway, all 334 pages of it.
Let this case serve as a
cautionary tale to all
prosecutors who handle
cases which receive media
Duke lacrosse D.A. guilty of
June 16, 2007: A disciplinary
committee ruled Durham, N.C.,
District Attorney Mike Nifong
broke several rules of
professional conduct during his
prosecution of three Duke
University lacrosse players
falsely accused of rape.
By Susan Filan
Senior legal analyst
June. 17, 2007
While it may come as no
surprise to anyone that Mike
Nifong was swiftly and
summarily disbarred just one
day after his ethics hearing
concluded, make no mistake:
this is no small thing. For a
panel of lawyers to strip another
lawyer of his license to practice
law is a rarity indeed. This is the
legal equivalent of a unicorn
sighting. Lawyers usually try to
understand a fellow practitioner’
s blunders and usually
reprimand their colleague
without issuing the ultimate
penalty, the death penalty for a
lawyer: disbarment. While it is
public disgrace indeed, it also
says “you are the worst of the
worst and do not deserve to live
as a lawyer. You are not
trustworthy. The public has to be
protected from you.” Plus, it
strips Nifong of the only way he
knows to make a living. Instead
of collecting his pension and
retiring, he will have to start from
scratch. It is a stunning fall from
the height of his power. And it is
absolutely the right thing to do.
Nifong had many chances to
escape this fate, yet he never
chose to do the right thing. Not
Even when he resigned at the
eleventh hour live from the
witness stand to the surprise of
his own staff and attorneys, he
didn’t get it right. I think it was a
ploy that cost him. It was a gross
manipulation of sympathies.
Sympathy of the public, sympathy
of the bar committee reviewing
his misconduct and perhaps
even of those who he accused.
But I think it just showed him to
be tricky. Why surprise your own
lawyers? Why wait until the last
minute, when the hearing is
virtually done, when your
testimony is almost completed,
to say what everyone needed to
hear months ago?
Nifong finally admitted he made
mistakes and violated the Rules
of Professional Conduct under
cross examination, but claims
they were all unintentional and
the result of getting a little
“carried away.” Nifong was trying
to spare himself. Nifong’s
actions always serve Nifong. He
used the Duke case to get re-
elected, and he resigned to try to
save his law license.
Had he admitted he made
mistakes, dismissed all charges
in December 2006 (not just the
most serious sexual assault
charges), had he resigned
earlier, perhaps his actions
would not be seen as simply self-
Nifong will be disbarred for
I believe his tears were genuine,
but I think he cried for himself,
not for the damage he did to the
public’s confidence in the
criminal justice system, nor the
damage to the three innocent
young men whom he had
indicted, nor the damaged
reputation of Duke University or
the sport of lacrosse. There are
so many victims in this tragic tale
of shattered lives. Not the least of
whom is Nifong’s own teenage
son who attended Friday’s
hearing at his father’s request,
only to see his father skewered
on the witness stand,
culminating in tears and
resignation. Why put your own
son through this? More of a ploy
to gain sympathy, leniency, if not
As a former prosecutor, I can tell
you that when I saw a defendant
express genuine remorse, I felt
that half my job was done. In
order to get a person to change,
they have to understand and
admit they did something wrong.
But that is only half. The second
half is to determine the
appropriate punishment for the
offense. It was my instinct to cut
someone a break once they
admitted they were wrong. But
not if I felt the admission came at
a time, or in a manner designed
to manipulate my sympathy. And
that is precisely how Nifong’s
announcement struck me. He
had his own lawyers convinced
that he wouldn’t resign, and then
sprung it on everyone from the
witness stand. He couldn’t even
be forthright with his own
The possibility that Nifong would
be disbarred was real. But it took
him until the bitter end to see
what everyone else has seen for
months. But his realization,
admissions and resignation
came much too late. When
asked whether he still believes a
crime was committed that night,
he refused to admit that “nothing”
happened that night in that
house. He still believes
This statement supplies the
bitter evidence that he was
talking out of both sides of his
mouth. He wanted to save his
law license, but he could not
completely exonerate the three
young men whose lives he could
Nifong cannot have it both ways.
He cannot cry, admit he made
mistakes, resign, and yet still
maintain that “something”
happened that night. And expect
to be treated with mercy.
Mercifully he wasn’t treated.
Let this case serve as a
cautionary tale to all prosecutors
who handle cases which receive
media attention. Don’t go
“Hollywood.” Remember your
job is to keep the public
informed, to try your case in
courtroom, not the press, and to
make sure those you accuse get
a fair trial. Don’t play fast and
loose with the evidence. Play by
the rules. Prosecute mightily
and fairly in the courtroom, and
speak carefully and thoughtfully
to the press.
In April 2007, the Public Integrity Unit of San Diego District Attorney
Bonnie Dumanis began prosecuting political opponents of Cheryl Cox.
Patrick O'Toole, who had previously been appointed as US Attorney for
San Diego by Attorney General John Ashcroft, headed the unit. O'Toole
prosecuted a staffer for mayor Steven Padilla who had taken two hours
off work in an effort to get a photograph of Cheryl Cox with her disgraced
family friend David Malcolm at a twilight yacht party fundraiser for Cox.
The staffer was charged with five felony counts of perjury for telling a
grand jury that he filled out his leave slip from work before rather than
after he took off from his job at the City of Chula Vista. He pled guilty to
lesser charges as part of a plea deal.
The now-dormant unit ended its active phase with a second and final
prosecution, that of Steve Castaneda, who had run against Cheryl Cox for
mayor. Castaneda was prosecuted for allegedly lying about whether he
planned to buy a condo, even though he never bought the condo in
According to the San Diego Union Tribune, "Castaneda was a tenant at
the complex and was accused of seeking favors, such as free rent, from
Sunbow owner Ash Israni, according to the 1,200-page grand jury
The investigation found that Castaneda paid his rent and didn't ask
for special treatment.
O'Toole told the grand jury the perjury charges are warranted
because Castaneda should be held accountable for 'lying about the
facts'; even if no crime was uncovered...Castaneda has been vocal
about O'Toole's investigations, saying they are politically motivated. He
contended that Dumanis conspired with Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox,
his political rival in the 2006 mayoral primary."
"DA unit works as quietly as it began"
"Trial and Re-election bid could coincide".
Steve Castaneda found not guilty, is reelected
The Chula Vista prosecutions
Two (out of a total of two) prosecutions by the
PIU were based on perjury charges that were
generated, not uncovered, by the unit's
needed in DA's
San Diego Union-Tribune
Letter to editor
Regarding “Case vs.
Marine's widow is
(Our Region, April 18,
When an innocent
woman is sentenced to
life in prison and, after
being locked away for
two years and four
months until it is
learned that no crime
even existed, how can
the district attorney
say, “This is how the
system is supposed to
Perhaps the “system” is
OK. But the people
working it need serious
oversight. It was clear,
from the Union-Tribune
accounts of the trial,
that the District
overreached itself even
to bring the case to
trial. As it played out,
the DA vigorously
pressed charges based
circumstances (the post-
event behavior). Then,
springing from lab
results that erroneously
named a cause of
death, while still not
the case on emotional
influence the jury to
convict with a life
Most frightening is the
fact that the “system”
would send a citizen
away for life on the
basis of toxicology
findings that were not
corroborated. It was a
simple test; not like a
DNA work-up. It
should be routine to
repeat the test when
Any citizen can be at
risk of this kind of
misbehavior, and we
should not accept it as
EDWARD H. PITTS
DA should remember fate of those before her
BY Gerry Braun
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE
April 23, 2008
In politics, you need to keep an eye on your friends as much as your enemies –
sometimes more so.
That's the lesson this month for District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, whose eagerness
to be a friend to law enforcement can leave you wondering if she still wants to be
friends with the rest of us.
Dumanis, you'll recall, is such a good friend to law enforcement that she's fighting to
kick a respected judge off a case because she fears he'll give a stiff sentence to a
deputy sheriff who killed his wife.
In Oceanside, meanwhile, she's preventing the public from hearing the 911 calls a
woman made before an off-duty San Diego cop shot at her and her son in an
apparent road-rage incident.
And last week, after announcing that a lab had botched one of her cases, leading to a
wrongful murder conviction, Dumanis shrugged it off like she was Doris Day. Que
será, será. What will be, will be.
Standing by your friends and allies is an admirable quality. But could Dumanis have
forgotten how she got her job in the first place?
She was elected six years ago because the incumbent, Paul Pfingst, put his faith in
the Escondido Police Department and its inept investigation into Stephanie Crowe's
Pfingst made other mistakes, and did some good things as well. But his undoing
was his prosecution of Michael Crowe, who had confessed to stabbing his sister only
after a Guantanamo Bay-style interrogation, and whose innocence could have been
quickly established if police had done their jobs.
It took DNA evidence the police overlooked to exonerate Michael Crowe.
Voters tend to remember that sort of thing. Especially voters with children, or with
sisters, or brothers. But Pfingst was law enforcement's friend. He ignored the holes
in the case, and he paid a price.
Like Dumanis, he forgot how he got his job in the first place.
He was elected in 1994 because the incumbent, Ed Miller, put his faith in the San
Diego Police Department and its inept investigation of a little girl's rape.
Miller made other mistakes as well, notably prosecuting a mildly retarded man whom
his office believed to be a brilliant criminal mastermind, capable of torturing and
molesting dozens of Sunday-school kids (and slaughtering some large zoo animals)
while their parents worshipped nearby.
The Dale Akiki case was ludicrous, but lots of prosecutors lost their bearings in that
era of ritual-child-abuse hysteria and survived.
Miller's undoing was his prosecution of Jim Wade, the Navy man whom police
accused of raping his daughter, Alicia, ignoring her account of the attack and
evidence that a serial rapist committed an identical crime in that same neighborhood
that same week.
The police had a hunch about Wade, you see. So they put 8-year-old Alicia in a foster
home, and after more than a year of “therapy” she began to remember the crime the
way police thought it went down.
It took DNA evidence the police overlooked to exonerate Jim Wade.
But Miller was law enforcement's friend. He went with their hunch. He paid a price.
Which brings us back to Dumanis, who last week had to drop murder charges
against Cynthia Sommer, the young mother accused of poisoning her Marine
husband for his life insurance.
Dumanis' office won a first-degree murder conviction against Sommer last year,
having put its faith in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and its flawed
investigation into Sgt. Todd Sommer's death.
If you didn't recall the trial, two words may jog your memory: boob job.
Yes, Sommer is the woman who, after her husband's death, underwent breast-
enhancement surgery, joined a dating service and threw loud parties. The
prosecution highlighted this behavior – thought inappropriate for a new widow – in
winning a conviction that could have put her in prison for life.
Sommer won a new trial because of incompetent counsel, and as prosecutors
prepared for it, they conducted new tests, expecting to duplicate the earlier finding that
Todd Sommer's organs had fatally high concentrations of arsenic.
Instead, the new tests showed no arsenic at all. Oops.
Without the arsenic – remember, there was no other evidence that Cynthia Sommer
had killed or wanted to kill her husband – the prosecution was left with the dating
service, the insurance policy and the boob job.
Not much of a case there.
Like Michael Crowe and Jim Wade before her, Cynthia Sommer was torn from her
family because law-enforcement officers stopped analyzing the evidence once they
had developed a theory of the crime.
And like Miller and Pfingst before her, Dumanis was left holding the bag.
Here's what Dumanis said in announcing that charges were being dropped:
Clearly, there is a huge lesson to be learned. I plan to review the processes in my
office so we never again prosecute someone we should have known was
Actually, I just made that up.
What Dumanis really said after Sommer was freed from two years and four
months in jail was: “Today justice was done. This is how the system is supposed
Which is true, to a point.
But Dumanis would be smart to think about that other system, the one by which
elected officials win their jobs, and are removed from them.
Steve Castaneda "not guilty"
Letters to the editor: San Diego Union Tribune
April 26, 2008
The people v. the district attorney
Our family would like to thank the jurors who found our brother, son and
father, Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Castaneda, not guilty given
the completely unsubstantiated charges leveled at him by District
Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. The outpouring of support that Steve has
received from friends and family here in the greater San Diego area has
Prior to the trial, Steve called and met with our father concerning a deal
the DA offered to drop all the felony accounts of perjury and reduce the
charge(s) to a single minor misdemeanor. Steve asked our father,
“Dad, what should I do?” His father replied, “Well, if you take that
deal, I guess you'll be fine with the district attorney, but you won't
be fine with me. Never admit to something you did not do!” Steve
turned the offer down with simple words uttered to prosecutor
Patrick O'Toole: “We'll see you in court.”
That part of this nearly two-year saga that has cost Steve and the
taxpayers well over $1 million seems to be over, but not really. Steve has
always said these charges were politically motivated by a former
campaign rival, Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, and her husband, county
Supervisor Greg Cox. You see, Steve had the temerity to oppose a Cox
for mayor of Chula Vista. Soon after Steve announced his intent to seek
that office, Cox's long-held political allies, lobbyists and legal special
inerests began to come out of the campaign woodwork.
Today there is no doubt the Coxes would vehemently deny that allegation
or any assertion they were connected at all to this public calamity that
targeted Castaneda. Yet, this case has cost our family and the taxpayers
of Chula Vista and county of San Diego dearly, and all of us deserve
However, there need not be an impasse on the relevant unanswered
question of complicity by Cheryl and Greg Cox; there is a simple fix. In at
least three articles the Union-Tribune reported a “tip” that the DA
received of wrongdoing by Castaneda that started this entire legal
debacle. Will the DA reveal who this tipster is? What is the relationship
and credibility that this individual tipster has with the DA? Dumanis must
surely know that people in this country have a right to face their
accusers, doesn't she? Once this individual comes out of the shadows
and is identified, we will then see if there is a relationship between this
tipster, Cheryl and Gregg Cox and the DA.
If there is no connection, all of us, including the Castaneda family, will
sleep better at night. But if there is, then this political and legal nightmare
may have a new destination.
Bob Castaneda is the brother of Steve Castaneda
Having attended several days of the trial of Steve Castaneda, I find the
outcome to be just as has been described – that is, poorly researched,
no evidence, and an unfair attack on Castaneda. I do agree that our
elected officials must demonstrate an extremely high code of ethics, but
after watching what transpired, the Public Integrity Unit needs to do some
self-examination of its ethics and motivation before spending thousands
of taxpayers' dollars chasing rumors and innuendos.
The timing of this case was highly suspicious in relation to the upcoming
election. What was the motivation to hold it just two months prior to
Castaneda's campaign for re-election to the Chula Vista City Council?
The jury recognized the facts in the case. Congratulations, Mr.
Regarding “DA should remember fate of those before her” (Our Region,
I feel columnist Gerry Braun's article on DA Bonnie Dumanis was unfair.
Lets talk about the DA's character. She forges relationships with the
police, the community and her employees and utilizes those relationships
for better communication, better training and always the goal of justice.
She works hard. She encourages each person to always do the right
thing. Her comments to the press are conservative and more expanded
when she has done a thorough examination of all the facts. When any
person speaks, you can ask “What were they communicating?” or “What
was the point they were trying to make?” or you can spin it.
The end result: Dumanis is exactly the type of leader the community
wants: hard-working, reflective, honest and true.
Deputy District Attorney
San Diego County
The people of San Diego should start connecting the dots: Our district
attorney is spinning dangerously out of control. Few seemed concerned
when she found that the fatal shootings of three Latino men in Vista by
four deputy sheriffs within five days in 2005 was justified.
It was only a matter of time before her unchecked power and ambition
would lead her to irresponsibly prosecute and nearly destroy the lives of
two other innocent citizens. Last week, her office was compelled to drop
charges against Cynthia Sommer, a young mother wrongly accused of
killing her husband. This week, we witnessed yet another embarrassing
moment for Dumanis with the acquittal of Chula Vista City Councilman
Now she refuses to be transparent in a pending case involving the San
Diego police officer accused of shooting a mother and her 8-year-old son
in an Oceanside parking lot. She has asked us to “keep on open mind”
about the case. But, as some have recently pointed out: Fool us once
shame on you, fool us three, four or five times, and we have a legal and
moral crisis on our hands. This has led many San Diegans to ask: Who is
Dumander Strikes Again!
Voice of San Diego
by Andrew Donohue
May 30, 2008
Mayor Jerry Sanders' reelection campaign today announced the
endorsements of District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Sheriff Bill
Kolender. (Because they so often endorse together, we at
voiceofsandiego.org generally refer to them as "Dumander" during election
The endorsements offer the mayor the support of the two top elected law
enforcement officials in the region. They both endorsed Sanders in 2005,
Dumanis, you might remember, vowed not to endorse in political races
upon the forming of her Public Integrity Unit, which focused on prosecuting
public officials. Dumanis offered a caveat though: She would endorse in
This is from her prepared remarks from that announcement last year:
"However, public integrity work is difficult enough without the possibility of
having our motives questioned or impaired by politics. So let me be clear: I
will not allow this office to be used as a pawn during political campaigns or
allow the incorrect perception that we are anything other than completely
Since then, she's endorsed two different candidates for city attorney and,
now, a candidate for mayor.
The endorsement in the city attorney's race caused her just last week to
decline a call to investigate City Attorney Mike Aguirre.
No word yet on what the usual circumstance is that led her to endorse
How can we account for the bizarre saga of
the Public Integrity Unit?
Was Dumanis protecting herself politically from Patrick O'Toole,
the George W. Bush-era US Attorney in San Diego. If she hadn't
given him the opportunity to act on his extreme political agenda,
I'm betting he would have run against her with support from the
far right. She gave him some rope, and he obligingly
But in December 2010, the PIU seems to have been unofficially
reconstituted for the sake of certain individuals connected to
Tri-City Medical Center (see right column).
Announcing Public Integrity Unit
Bonnie Dumanis, on March 1, 2007:
"If you break the law, we will prosecute you no matter who you
are...[unspoken exception: unless you are Cheryl Cox]...[We're]
going after these criminals [elected officials]...These two men
[O'Toole and Schorr] are the generals in our fight against public
[Note: Patrick O'Toole was appointed US Attorney in San Diego
(before Carole Lam) by George Bush's first attorney general, John
"I will not endorse candidates..."
San Diego District Attorney
The gal sits on the board of
governors at the california state
July 13, 2006
Five attorneys, including San
Diego District Attorney Bonnie
Dumanis, have been chosen
to serve three-year terms on
the State Bar’s Board of
Governors, it was announced
Dumanis, 54, is a former
superior court judge who won
the district attorney’s
primary race in 2002 over one of
her competitors in this year’s
board of governors race, City
Attorney Mike Aguirre. She has
been on the boards of the
San Diego County Bar
Association and the Lawyers
Club of San Diego
San Diego Business Journal
Publication Date: 22-AUG-05
Author: Broderick, Pat
New In Town: Midge Costanza, a
former assistant to President
Carter, has joined District
Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis'
office as a public affairs officer.
Costanza, 72, will be assigned to
the communications and
community relations division
with an emphasis on crime
Photo: Bonnie Dumanis, Patrick O'Toole, Leon Schorr
Time to close DA's Public Integrity Unit
San Diego Union Tribune
April 25, 2008
Regarding “DA's integrity-unit case ends in acquittal, mistrial” (Our
Region, April 24):
Jurors made the right decision in acquitting Chula Vista City Councilman
Steve Castaneda. Can you imagine “thinking about something” as a
crime. Time for the district attorney's Public Integrity Unit to be dissolved
and Deputy DA Patrick O'Toole to look for another job. I am voting to re-
elect Steve Castaneda. Hang in there, Steve!
The prosecution of Kathleen Sterling is worrisome. Almost immediately
after Sterling and other Tri-City Healthcare board members fired a group
of administrators in December 2008, powerful friends of the fired
individuals began asking Dumanis to file criminal charges against
members of the board who voted in favor of the firings. Bonnie Dumanis
did not respond to the first two attempts to involve the criminal justice
system in the matter, preferring to allow the case to make its way through
the civil courts. But apparently the third time is a charm. Does this have
anything to do with the mayoral campaign and/or efforts to change the
makeup of the Tri-City board?
D.A.'s Public Integrity Unit: Not So Public
Posted on April 10, 2011
by Will Carless
Voice of San Diego
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' website for her recently announced
mayoral campaign waxes lyrical about the prosecutor's protection of the
public, high conviction rates and strong managerial and organizational
Not mentioned in the list of accomplishments is the District Attorney's
Public Integrity Unit, a crack team of lawyers Dumanis set up with much
fanfare in the spring of 2007 as a weapon against San Diego's image as a
den of political iniquity and corruption.
Indeed, four years after the unit was created, San Diegans would be
forgiven for wondering whether it actually still exists. Since the
controversial — and largely botched — prosecution of Chula Vista
Councilman Steve Castaneda in 2008, Dumanis' team of anti-corruption
lawyers has been remarkably low-profile.
Dumanis says the unit has hardly been slacking off. Her office provided a
list of 88 public integrity prosecutions since 2007 as evidence that
complaints are being investigated. And Dumanis and her public integrity
czar Leon Schorr stressed that most of the work of the Public Integrity Unit
is investigative and doesn't necessarily result in prosecutions.
But 85 of the 88 prosecutions listed by Dumanis involved rank-and-file
public employees, not politicians or elected officials, who were the original
stated targets of the Public Integrity Unit. Lumped into the successes of
the unit are cases against police officers and city employees, and for
In four years, three elected officials have been prosecuted by Dumanis'
office and, so far, only one of those prosecutions has resulted in punitive
action: Earlier this year former Encinitas Mayor Dan Dalager was fined
$1,000 for receiving discounted kitchen appliances from a resident he
assisted while in office.
Dumanis proposed the Public Integrity Unit as a new and necessary
weapon in the local prosecutorial arsenal, and warned crooked politicians
that she would be watching them, and that they'd better behave.
Driving home the point that this was to be a unit that would specifically
target politicians, Dumanis said at the same press conference that she
would no longer be endorsing political candidates, and that her office
would not be used as a political pawn. She later endorsed in several
important races, including the 2008 city attorney's race, in which she
backed Jan Goldsmith against Mike Aguirre.
Fact Check: D.A. Says the Media Did It
April 19, 2011
by Will Carless
Voice of San Diego
"I think you, the collective media,
have made it all about elected
officials," District Attorney Bonnie
Dumanis told us in an interview
about the focus of her
Public Integrity Unit. Determination: Huckster
Analysis: In 2007, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis set up a Public
Integrity Unit with much fanfare. Four years later, it had seemingly gone
quiet. I decided to take a look back at the unit's work and found that it
had prosecuted just three elected officials, only one of which resulted in
punitive action — a $1,000 fine.
While reporting the story, a spokesman for Dumanis sent me a list of 88
public integrity cases the D.A.'s office had prosecuted since 2008. The
list was largely comprised of rank-and-file employees such as a police
officer, a rec center employee and even lawyers.
In an interview, Dumanis claimed that the unit had been set up to
investigate and prosecute any and all public employees — not just
elected officials. Dumanis said reporters had misconstrued the purpose
of the Public Integrity Unit, limiting its role to the prosecution of elected
officials and not including all the public employees investigated by her
"I think you, the collective media, have made it all about elected officials,
that's who you're interested in these days," Dumanis said.
But if the media has construed the role of the unit that way, it's because
Dumanis defined the team that way four years ago.
At the 2007 press conference where she announced the creation of the
unit and in the her office's corresponding press release, Dumanis'
message was crystal clear: The team would be focused on investigating
corruption among elected officials, candidates and campaign officials...
Walker said he couldn't remember if Dumanis had expanded on what
exactly constituted a "public integrity" case at the press conference.
Further, Walker pointed to a statement from the press release he
authored in 2007, which quotes Dumanis as saying: "The people have
the right to expect that their public officials will not privately and illegally
benefit from their public positions and from the public treasury."
...Walker's press release from the time only expands into specifics
beyond the phrase "public officials" in its first sentence. It reads:
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis today
announced the formation of a Public Integrity Unit to investigate
allegations of criminal misconduct among elected officials,
candidates for office and campaign officials in San Diego County.
...We're calling this statement Huckster Propaganda. That's because the
statement is not only inaccurate, but it's reasonable to believe that
Dumanis knew it was inaccurate but made the statement anyway to
attempt to gain an advantage in the story I was writing about the Public
Bonnie Dumanis Releases Butterflies to
Honor Crime Victims
By Matt Potter
San Diego Reader
May 4, 2011
Another mayoral hopeful, this one actually declared, is Republican
district attorney Bonnie Dumanis. On Friday, April 15, she and her friend
and political ally county sheriff Bill Gore held a Citizens of Courage
Awards Ceremony for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. As reported
by the Union-Tribune, “dignitaries and law enforcement officials
released about 100 butterflies to honor local crime victims.”
It wasn’t mentioned that the wingding was held at the rooftop Beach bar
of downtown’s W Hotel, with “complimentary hors d’oeuvres, a no-host
bar, and an opportunity drawing,” according to a release by the Crime
Victims Fund, which charged admission of $10 a head (“which is
waived for media representatives”) as a fund-raiser. According to the
group’s Internal Revenue Service report for 2009, filed last November
22, it raised $41,994, made $15,492 in grants, and spent $44,000 on
unspecified “contract services,” reporting an end-of-year deficit of
Presided over by family law attorney Meredith Levin, the board
includes Sheriff Gore; onetime GOP city attorney candidate
Leslie Devaney; former assistant chief of police, now Qualcomm
executive, Bill Maheu; San Diego executive assistant chief of
police David Ramirez; and Phyllis Shess, a deputy district
attorney under Dumanis.
In a telephone interview last week, the fund’s executive director Patti
Colston said the group’s past financial issues had resulted from the loss
of revenue it had been receiving from a discontinued prison-labor
program at the state’s Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility on Otay
Mesa, but there are plans for future growth.
[Westin Gaslamp Quarter Hotel, 910 Broadway Circle, on the second
floor in the California Ballroom.]
|San Diego Education Report
OCEANSIDE: DA drops remaining
charge against Tri-City director
August 30, 2012
BY PAUL SISSON
Tri-City Medical Center has spent more than $120,000 in
the past year on legal fees related to its ongoing battle with
Director Kathleen Sterling...
The San Diego County district attorney's office
has dropped a remaining misdemeanor charge of
wrongful influence against Tri-City Medical Center
Director Kathleen Sterling, who had been accused
of illegally voting on an item in which she had a
financial interest. [Maura Larkins comment: I
don't think Bonnie Dumanis has looked very
hard for conflicts of interest among local
officials. In fact, it appears that Bonnie herself
might have some conflicts of interest
regarding whom she chooses to prosecute.]
District attorney Bonnie Dumanis issued a
statement Thursday saying the matter had been
dismissed "in the interest of justice" after
prosecutors determined the case wasn't strong
enough to move forward. [Maura Larkins
comment: Wait a minute. Justice and not
having evidence are two different things. So
which was it?]
"Our office can only proceed with a criminal case
when we believe we can prove it beyond a
reasonable doubt," Dumanis said in the
statement. "After an ongoing review of the totality
of the evidence, we've determined we can no
longer meet that legal and ethical burden."
Sterling said Thursday that she had no comment
on the dismissal.
The embattled board member announced Aug. 14
that she would not be running for re-election in
November, citing "arduous conditions" put upon
her by a "compromised board" and hospital
Sterling was charged in November 2010 with
felony vote trading, as well as a misdemeanor
count of undue influence. The felony count was
dismissed last year, but a trial was set for
September on the misdemeanor.
Another Tri-City board member, Charlene
Anderson, said Thursday that she was surprised
by the district attorney's decision to dismiss the
charge, given that Sterling had voted in front of
"She was warned in writing and was warned two or
three times at the meeting not to vote, but she did
anyway," Anderson said.
A conviction could have kept Sterling from running
for elected office for four years. Leon Schorr, the
deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, said
earlier this month that a judge would have ultimate
discretion on the matter during sentencing.
The misdemeanor charge stemmed from an
incident on July 12, 2010, in which the Tri-City
board voted on whether Sterling should be
removed from all board committees and stop
receiving reimbursement for attending
conferences in her role as a hospital director.
Sterling took part in the vote over the objections
of board attorney Greg Moser, who said she
should recuse herself because she had a
personal financial interest in the outcome.
Board members receive a stipend of $100 for
each committee meeting they attend.
|Jan. 10, 2013
It appears that Bonnie has just scratched the surface
of corruption in schools and colleges in San Diego.
She kept hands off the people whose abuse of power
at Miracosta College cost millions, but she's going
hard on people in South Bay who were involved in
I do not believe that Bonnie is a racist.
It's just that the people in San Diego who have political
clout and are therefore untouchable are likely to be
Bonnie would NOT be in office if her PIU went after
white male Republicans. I imagine she was thrilled that
a couple of them turned up in her South Bay sweep.
Bertha Lopez Manuel Paul Yolanda Hernandez Yolanda