Photo by Sam Hodgson
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis speaks to the Clairemont Town Council at a mayoral forum.
Statement: “I even formed one (nonprofit) as a judge with the Superior Court with the drug court,” District Attorney and mayoral candidate Bonnie Dumanis said March 26.
Analysis: Dumanis’ pitch to voters boils down to executive experience. Citing her position as district attorney, she argues that only she knows how to run a large government agency.
But at a candidates’ forum about nonprofit issues last month, Dumanis cited other experiences in an effort to connect with the audience. She talked about the nonprofits she’s advised over the years and others she’s supported financially.
Then Dumanis claimed her experiences in San Diego even included creating a nonprofit. Here’s how she told the story:
I’ve worked with many in my time and particularly I even formed one as a judge with the Superior Court with the drug court. So I point this out because I know some of the problems that exist for nonprofits, and I also know what it takes to work in the community for the past 38 years, working together.
We decided to Fact Check the story because Dumanis cited it to bolster her credentials with a nonprofit-oriented crowd. The story also interested us because as far as we could tell, no local news media had ever reported it.
San Diego’s drug courts stretch back to 1997, when law enforcement agencies across the nation latched onto a program pioneered by officials in Miami-Dade County. The program aimed to cut drug-related crime by steering addicts into treatment facilities instead of short-term jail sentences.
“It’s being smart on crime, instead of being stupid and locking everybody up,” said Susan Finlay, a former judge who ran the South Bay’s first drug court. “We got sick of seeing the same people over and over.”
San Diego officials added four drug courts to their calendar to cover different regions of the county. Finlay oversaw the South Bay drug court. Dumanis, a municipal judge in 1997, oversaw the downtown drug court. Officials placed the other two at North County and East County facilities.
Aside from overseeing the downtown court, tax filings show Dumanis created a nonprofit that year called the San Diego Courts Foundation, Inc. She signed its articles of incorporation and became the organization’s first president.
The nonprofit still exists today, though it’s been renamed the San Diego Justice Foundation and Dumanis is no longer actively involved with its leadership. Angela Parker is the organization’s chief financial officer and came on board shortly after it was created. She said the nonprofit was originally formed to collect donations and apply for grants to financially support the downtown drug court. Some grant applications required a nonprofit partner so the court system couldn’t apply itself, she said.
In its best fundraising year, tax filings show the nonprofit received about $145,000. Parker said that money paid for bus passes so drug offenders could attend treatment, or incentives like movie tickets, or awards for graduation ceremonies.
Finlay, the former South Bay judge, said she donated to the nonprofit years ago because she believed in the drug courts’ mission. Finlay said she also supports Dumanis for mayor.
In recent years, the nonprofit Dumanis created has looked much different. It averages pulling in about $13,000 in contributions annually. It no longer provides services to the drug courts. And its main program aims to connect at-risk youth with college and career opportunities.
But looking back, Parker has no doubts that Dumanis’ story at the nonprofit forum was accurate. “She was the reason it was formed,” Parker said. “She was extremely involved.”
Since tax filings and interviews support Dumanis’ story, we’ve rated it True. If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.
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