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Emerald Ethics Hearing Day 1: Ottilie Puts Ethics Commission on Trial

Thursday, April 8, 2010
posted by Sunshine

What a rough few weeks for City Councilwoman Marti Emerald. After having a rather public falling out with her former Chief of Staff, Xema Jacobson, Marti is facing rather serious ethics charges related to her campaign finances. The ethics hearing regarding that case was today, and after a full day of witnesses and questions it seems to have made little progress.

Most of the discussion today focused on topics irrelevant to the two complaints filed. Bob Ottilie, Emerald’s attorney, had a really difficult time understanding what the actual hearing topic was and also struggled with not wasting enormous amounts of time by bringing up irrelevant and distracting topics. Only time will tell if the “put the judges on trial” defense will pay off for Ottilie and Emerald. Perhaps when the hearing resumes the Ethics Commission will actually be provided information on the complaints.

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12 Responses to “Emerald Ethics Hearing Day 1: Ottilie Puts Ethics Commission on Trial”

  1. Martilda the Hun says:

    How much did today’s hearing cost taxpayers in terms of city staff time and cost of televising it?

    With 6 ethics commission staff there working on this for months it has to top $50-100k by now. That would restore all the library hours lost for one of the branches in her district.

    shameful.

  2. Gwendolyn says:

    The Union-Tribune has slandered Marti Emerald.
    http://www.blogofsandiego.com/Voting.htm#04/09/10

    If you watched the Ethics Commission proceedings, you would have noticed that Ottilie made three main points in regards to his argument for his client, that leave more questions unanswered by the Ethics Commission and it’s over reaching investigation. This is not to deny that the Emerald Committee made accounting errors of reporting.

    Ottilie first showed that the Ethic Commission never produced the original complaint by an “anonymous” person. Why, we never get to learn. Every time Ottilie tried to question witnesses about this document, there was objection from the EC attorney. Why would the EC not want the defense to see the original complaint?

    Next, Ottilie tried to get more information on the extent of the investigation and we learn that the original complaint was actually answered appropriately by the Emerald Committee, that explained the discrepancy in reporting. His questioning of witness was focused on why the EC continued to harass the Emerald Committee for other documentation, when supposedly the original complaint had been answered. Why had the EC gone beyond the original complaint? What was driving their continued pursuit of the Emerald Committee?

    And last, Ottilie continued to show that the Emerald Committee met all requests for information regarding the complaint in a timely fashion. When the requests began to go outside the scope of the original letter to the Emerald Committee, that is when Councilmember Emerald decided bring in Ottilie.

    The Ethics Commission is on shaky ground now. Their whole process of working needs to be examined. A political figure can make mistakes for sure. But, it’s been shown in this case that a mistake was made but was not made with intent to hide information by the Emerald Commission, yet this Commission continued to pursue the Emerald Committee in a witch hunt fashion. Why?

    If you want to criticize the Emerald Committee for an accounting mistake, do so. But don’t blame her for the added expense incurred by the Ethics Commission. They have created the additional expense related to the ongoing investigation when none was warranted. Perhaps, those of you who wish to jump on this bandwagon better look more carefully at the operation of the Ethics Commission. Something stinks here. Maybe by April 29th, the Ethics Commission may rethink its approach. Otherwise, they may be seeing Otillie in Superior Court. All of those questions that the Ethics Commission would not answer would come out in that court.

  3. Gwendolyn says:

    Question:
    Where is “Mr. Murphy” commenting on this most recent event involving the Ethics Commission?

    Perhaps “Sunshine” could shed some light (pun intended) on this issue.

  4. Sunshine says:

    I have not been following this as closely as I probably should have, but I did watch the hearing, and to me it seems that everyone agrees on almost everything.

    Marti is guilty of the two ethics charges.

    Marti and her committee were extremely cooperative.

    Common sense then tells me that Marti should pay some fine based on the scope of the infraction and her cooperation. Whether or not the two charges were in the original complaint or discovered during an investigation is irrelevant, if anything the fact that she did not self-report and self-correct the mistakes but instead it took an ethics investigation to find them is actually a strike against her.

    She is guilty of those charges, and had two options; Take responsibility and pay some lesser amount (I think it was around $3,000) or fight it and pay more ($10,000). Given the scope of the amount of money in question ($50,000) and seriousness of whether or not reporting it impacted her post election fundraising makes me think that the original fine that was 6% of the amount in question is not unreasonable. So basically…

    Against Marti:
    Actually guilty of TWO ethics violations
    Did not self-report or self-correct
    Turned down 6% fine

    For Marti:
    Was cooperative
    Ethics commission staff were mean

    Ottilie had a lot of his questions objected to and a lot the things he wanted to talk about dismissed, but him constantly trying to bring up how cooperative Marti was or who filed the original complaint is irrelevant to THIS preceding. If Marti wants to sue the EC for being harassing, being mean, investigating to well, or something along those lines I guess she could. But she is still guilty.

    Mr. Murphy is probably the same place Bob Ottilie’s relevant questions are…who knows.

  5. Gwendolyn says:

    Sunshine: And the “two ethics charges” are? What did you hear?

    What I heard, The issue is a reporting error…not an error of
    ethics, i.e. trying to hide an expenditure or payment. The UT seemed to have a different
    take it it’s reporting in it’s article of 4/9/10.

    However, someone else reporting, heard and reported:

    “The truth is that the alleged reporting delay gained no advantage for Emerald. By law, all outstanding campaign debts, whatever their nature, must be paid off within 180 days of the election involved, whether reported or not. A reporting failure, whether deliberate or inadvertent, in no way changes that campaign law. Emerald paid off her campaign debts according to that law, within 180 days. She is not being accused of violating that law, only of a reporting violation.”
    The U-T reports that this delay allowed Emerald to collect contributions that she would not otherwise be able to collect and that that was why she delayed reporting the debt. That is untrue and extremely damaging to Emerald. (Pat Flannery-Blog of San Diego UT)

  6. This past year I danced with the San Diego Ethics Commission, based on my 2005 run for SD mayor. Almost four years after the race, the commission did a ONE HUNDRED PERCENT audit of my 600 contributions (totally about $63,000) and my spending, and found some minor paperwork errors. Back and forth we went over this, and finally they levied a $250 fine.

    One substantiated charge was that my campaign accepted a $25 contribution from a self-employed part-time piano tuner, who used his checking account for both personal and business dealings. Guilty as charged. This “crime” is unique to San Diego politics.

    Yes, the fine was “only” $250 for all my transgressions, but it could easily have been $5,000. What saved me was that I used an incompetent, inexperienced volunteer campaign treasurer (I recommend this strategy to others thinking of running for city office).

    I did the math, and figured it cost the city WELL over $7,000 to run me through the wringer — not to mention waste my time over minutia. I finally grew tired of dealing with them, and just let ‘em fine me.

    This full campaign audit process is applied to 75% of the candidates who raise and spend at least (only) $10K on a race (that’s the official percentage used to decide to audit).

    This heavy-handed approach does indeed have a chilling effect on running for a city office. I know of no jurisdiction ANYWHERE that goes to such lengths to try to fine candidates.

    Emerald’s case I know little about. But I DO know the unique nature of our city’s oppressive, self-justifying SD City Ethics Commission.

    Candidates beware.

  7. Gwendolyn says:

    Mr. Rider,

    Your point is well made.

    Do you think that the Boling Committee could survive such an audit, even though they didn’t win?

    My point being that all candidates probably do make some mistakes in their accounting.
    As I see it, the issue here is whether the “accounting errors” would benefit that candidate and/or whether they were done on purpose with intent to deceive. That is what an ethics commission should be focused on…not minor reporting errors.
    It appears that the Ethics Commission tends to go overboard on minutia at times and loses perspective on the what their job is really is about. Spending time on minor reporting errors and harassing candidates is a waste of time and money.

  8. Actually, from the Commission employees’ standpoint, they did NOT waste their time during the MONTHS they chased down me and my paperwork transgressions (less than a dozen, as I remember). They spent their time justifying their size, their budget and their very existence.

    It seems the Ethics Commission has long since forgotten their original mission. In these budget cutting times, it’s all about avoiding the spending cuts. They present my $250 scalp to the city council as another reason to fund their bureaucracy next year with no budget cuts.

    The only good news is that for a candidate raising the amount of money I did, paying the $250 fine is a LOT cheaper than paying a professional treasurer $5K-$7K to do the paperwork. Unfortunately, the next candidate who falls back on this “amateur” excuse my not be so “lucky.”

  9. Gwendolyn says:

    Mr. Rider,

    Do you think that is why they are trying to get at least $10,000 from Ms. Emerald?…..to fund their operation, just in case their budget is cut? $10,000 seems rather excessive based on paper or reporting errors. Maybe they are running low on cash. The end of their budget year is, I think, June 30, 2010.

    You were indeed lucky not to pay more. Maybe there is a business here….counseling future candidates on how to not get caught in the claws of the EC kitty.

  10. Best candidate strategy? Don’t run! THAT’S the message the Ethics Commission is sending.

    At least don’t run if you are a serious candidate. If you raise $10,000, you are 75% likely to be subject to a FULL audit — beyond anything you’d suffer at the hands of the IRS or FTB

  11. Gwendolyn says:

    Mr. Rider,
    What do you suggest that the City do with the Ethics Commission?

  12. If one could pare down the Ethics Commission to a minimal role dealing only with true transgressions without systematically harassing most candidates, that would be preferable. But any such effort is like cutting out part of a cancer. It would grow back.

    In my ideal world, the candidates could receive unlimited contributions from anyone, but they would have to disclose such contributions (say, above $500 or an aggregate above $5,000) in a timely, online manner. Seems to me the state fair political practices commission and/or the county DA should be the policing force on this. And if complaints are received, they have to be public with proper ID of the person complaining.

    Frankly my plan is not well thought out — someone wiser than I could cobble together a better plan.

    Perhaps the better question is, how do the OTHER cities in the county handle such campaign matters? Most if all don’t have such active Ethics Commissions. And how’s that working for them, vs. our Ethics Commission working for us?

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