I had been wondering one thing about the posts below on Luis Acle’s upcoming appearance in front of the city of San Diego’s Ethics Commission. How is the school board president guaranteed a fair hearing in front of the commission? After all, this is a preliminary hearing where the commission will decide whether there is enough evidence to support a full administrative hearing — a trial of sorts — on the ethics violations of which he’s accused. The judges and jury in the trial would be the commission. Acle will be the respondent but the commission’s executive director, Stacey Fulhorst, will be the petitioner.

Fulhorst works, year in and year out, in collaboration with members of the commission and follows their direction. They obviously trust and respect her greatly. How can Acle compete against that in some kind of hearing where the commission will decide between her account of what he did and his?

I put the question to Gil Cabrera, the lawyer who is chairman of the Ethics Commission. He admitted it was “somewhat awkward” of a position to be in.

“What we try to do is if an investigation starts heading in a contested direction, Stacey stops providing us a detailed factual discussion of what has occurred,” Cabrera said.

In other words, most of the dozens of fines the commission has approved have been settlements with the people being investigated. And most have admitted what they did and claimed it was a simple mistake.

The full commission, of course, decides whether or not to initiate an investigation and it apparently did in Acle’s case. Cabrera said that the commission always looks at what Fulhorst does and is willing to reject her findings.

“Our role with Stacey doesn’t change so much even when we approve an uncontested stipulation. She has to present facts to us and we have to agree with them. The distinction now is there will be two factual presentations and applying them to the law is what we always do and it will be a matter of agreeing with her or not,” Cabrera said.

If Acle doesn’t like the result of whatever happens after that, he has the right to appeal the commission’s decision to the San Diego Superior Court. But the commission will also have the right to begin collection procedures on any fine it levies. It refers any unpaid fines to the city treasurer, who can try to garnish the state tax refund or other income of a reluctant recipient of an Ethics Commission fine.

SCOTT LEWIS

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