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Yesterday, Council President Scott Peters — reacting to the report from the AG’s office — asked District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to look into the allegations cited in the report that City Attorney Mike Aguirre had basically extorted the Mayor’s Office.
This highlights a fundamental problem for Dumanis that I’ve been tracking for a while now. Perhaps she would be the right person, under normal circumstances, to look into the allegation. For just this reason, she decided — and made a big public showing — a while ago to not endorse candidates for public office. She felt this would be the best way for her to avoid uncomfortable situations where she might be asked to investigate someone who she either supports or opposes politically.
Let’s look back on the very principled press release she sent out then:
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.
But then, she decided to make an equally big showing of her political opposition to Aguirre and who she wants to replace him. (Update: Just to be clear Dumanis, of course, ended up endorsing Judge Jan Goldsmith.) So, in this case at least, her office could be used as a pawn during political campaigns.
In a fundraising letter when she announced her formal opposition to Aguirre’s re-election, Dumanis made her position clear:
I am very concerned about the manner in which this City Attorney recklessly and without supporting evidence accuses citizens in our community of corruption, conspiracy and other criminal misconduct.
Prosecutors must always file charges based upon evidence and never base their cases on unsubstantiated beliefs. Prosecutors should always try their cases in a courtroom, not in the media and only after a complete and thorough investigation.
With all the effort she’s made to oppose Aguirre politically, she would have a hard time investigating him criminally and would have to pass any suspicions on to … oh my gosh, the attorney general. And if the attorney general were going to investigate it, well, he already has the allegation in hand.
So go back to Peters. Is he, the man who wants to be the city’s prosecutor, breaking Dumanis’ tenet that prosecutors should always try their cases in the courtroom, not in the media and only after a complete and thorough investigation?
Here was his statement yesterday about the allegations against Aguirre:
If true, such an offer could constitute criminal extortion, in addition to other potential violations of state ethics regulations. These serious allegations require additional investigation by the District Attorney.
He’s right. If true, they are potential violations of ethics regulations.
But if he really wanted an investigation he can request it privately like anyone can. He made this statement publicly for a reason.
If we are going to stop the poisonous environment where accusations and investigations are used to impugn peoples’ integrity, then everyone, not just Aguirre, has to agree to rise above it.
And Dumanis, well, she has to live with her decision to engage as a politician and therefore withdraw as a potential prosecutor.