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Friday, Jan 20, 2012 - Last Blog on Earth | News

Bonnie Dumanis' questionable campaign funders

She may not accept public-employee support, but Dumanis' self-righteousness is unwarranted

By Dave Maass
DA-Bonnie-Dumanis Bonnie Dumanis

As she stumbles down the mayoral campaign trail, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has explained that she's neither seeking the endorsement of the city's public-employee unions nor accepting their money. She's said that, as mayor, she'd have to negotiate with workers, so it would be a conflict of interest to accept their support. 

But Dumanis' self-righteousness rings hollow once you examine the type of money and support she's accepted from those involved in the justice system. Her campaign-finance disclosures over the years are rife with conflict. Here are some of the greatest hits from the last five years:

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In 2007 and again in 2009, Dumanis' district attorney reelection campaign accepted $500 from Lawrence Richman, CEO and chairman of Heritage Security Services, which has contracts with the county for private security, including the North County Transit District. About a month after accepting the donation, a Heritage Security worker shot and killed a man under questionable circumstances. The decision whether to prosecute the worker fell to Dumanis, who could have refunded the money but did not. Instead, the very same day she filed her campaign finance report disclosing the contribution, her spokesperson told the North County Times that her office would not press charges. No explanation was provided. 

In September 2011, a jury in a civil lawsuit found that Heritage was negligent and that its employee had acted with "malice and oppression." According to U-T San Diego, attorneys for the victim's mother have asked Dumanis to reopen the investigation. 

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In February 2007, Dumanis' campaign accepted $500 from George Stahlman of King Stahlman Bail Bonds. The conflict here is self-evident, but we'll say it anyway: The District Attorney's office has a role in setting bail, so the more the prosecutors ask for, the more money in the bondmen's pockets. 

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Normally, the prosecutor-defender relationship is adversarial in nature. But when it comes to Dumanis' campaigning, she's more than happy to cozy up to the other side of courtroom. We pointed out the potential problems when Public Defender Henry Coker endorsed Dumanis' mayoral bid, but their relationship goes back much further. In December 2009, Coker donated $150 to Dumanis' campaign—after, as the U-T reported, one of her staffers sat on the committee that selected him for the job. 

Two other public defenders, Matthew Braner and Michael Popkins, donated $200 and $100 to her campaign, respectively, around the same time. She's also accepted money from private defense attorneys, such as William Nimmo of the Nimmo Law Group in August 2009, and, more recently, her mayoral campaign has taken money from defense attorneys Eugene Iredale and Randy Grossman. 

It's important to remember, should Dumanis lose the election, she gets to keep her job as district attorney.

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A former judge, Dumanis also gets money from her friends on the bench, including Frank Brown, a Superior Court judge who handles criminal cases. Brown donated $150 to her reelection campaign in 2009 and $500 to her mayoral campaign. Another criminal court judge, the Hon. Amalia Meza, also contributed $150 to Dumanis' mayoral campaign. Dumanis also received money in 2008 from Judge Robert Coates, who was later censured for using his official position inappropriately in matters unrelated to his position. 

Dumanis also helped money flow the other way. As we reported in 2010, she headlined fundraisers for several judges, including Judge DeAnn Salcido, who'd later resign from the bench after she was caught using her courtroom to audition for a TV show.  

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This list is by no means exhaustive, since it's based on the campaign reports available online (they go back only to 2007). Further, we didn't run every single donor's name through the court-case database to check whether any of her donors have also been defendants in criminal cases. The election is still months away, so there's plenty of time for further muckraking. 

 
 
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