Who Is Paying For Cynthia Ward’s Lawsuit Against Steve Chavez Lodge?
Posted by OC Insider on September 1, 2012
Blogger and Anaheim activist Cynthia Ward has filed a lawsuit to prevent Anaheim Council candidate Steve Chavez Lodge from using his name, Steve Chavez Lodge, on the ballot. Specifically, the “Chavez” part.
The specifics of the lawsuit have been covered by the local media. The assumption is including “Chavez” in his ballot name will help Chavez Lodge in a city where 50% of the population is Latino. Ward is a ferocious critic of his candidacy, presumably she’s trying to deny him any possible advantage.
Here’s a key fact: Ward’s lawyer is Fred Woocher, a liberal and one of the state’s top election lawyers who charges in the $500-an-hour range (more on Woocher later) representing liberal and Democratic causes in the state and around the country. The Lodge campaign is raising a hue and cry, demanding that Ward disclose who is paying Woocher’s fees, the implication being Ward is just a front person for whichever campaign or organization with a strong interest in keeping Lodge off the council – say, the Orange County Employees Association or the campaign of rival council candidate John Leos (the OCEA-endorsed candidate) –.is quietly paying Woocher to represent her.
Ward has been peppered with that question on blogs, in the media and by Lodge campaign e-mails, and she has answered them with evasive replies.
Yesterday, commenting on a Voice of OC story, she gave the appearance of answering it:
“I have not accepted a penny from anyone. Period. I do not know how to be more plain than that.”
But Ward answered a question no one is asking. Woocher is the one accepting the pennies (50,000 per hour, to be exact), not Ward.
The real questions Ward needs to answer are these:
- Is she paying for Woocher’s legal services on this lawsuit? Yes or no?
- If not, who is?
Ward was appointed by Supervisor Shawn Nelson as a director of the Orange County Cemetery District, which means she has to file a Form 700 disclosing her economic interests. An examination of Ward’s Form 700 should dispel any notion she is paying for ultra-expensive Fred Woocher’s representation out of her own pocket. She simply can’t afford him. The only believable explanation is someone else is paying Woocher, in which case Ward she really does owe the public full disclosure.
As a cemetery district director, Ward is a “designated employee” covered by the county’s gift ban ordinance (Section 1-3-22):
No designated employee shall solicit or accept any gift from any person whom he knows, or has reason to know, is doing business with the County, when such employee, by virtue of his County employment, could make a governmental decision, participate in a governmental decision, or use his or her official position to influence a governmental decision regarding the pending business of the donor, or has done any of the above during the twelve (12) months preceding the donation.
If Ward is paying for the lawsuit with someone else money – and it doesn’t matter if that third party is paying Woocher directly rather than through Ward — it is a “gift” and it falls under the county gift ban ordinance (legal bills aren’t included in the exempted categories), accepting it breaks the law.
If it is not a gift, then it is a political expenditure and needs to be reported as such, or else Ward is acting on behalf of another person or organization that is being deliberately hidden from the public.
And given Ward’s secretiveness on this topic, does anyone doubt she is hiding the identity of her benefactor? She certainly behaves like someone with something to hide.
Of course, Ward can end this controversy right now by disclosing who is paying for Woocher’s $500-an-hour services.
Recent history offers us a clue. Turn back the pages to spring 2007. Trung Nguyen held a 7-vote lead over Janet Nguyen in the 1st Supervisor District special election. Simultaneous recounts were requested by two different parties: Janet Nguyen and a retired union member no one had ever heard of named Gerald Feathers (the net effect was to split the cost of the recount). Like Ward today, Feathers was represented by Fred Woocher and his legal team. As with Ward, it was obvious Feathers could not personally afford the tens of thousands of dollars Woocher and his attorneys were charging. Like Ward today, Feathers refused to say if he was paying for Woocher’s services out of his own pocket, or identify who was footing the bill.
It has since become common knowledge among insiders that it was the OCEA paying for Woocher throughout the long and expensive recount.
The big difference is unlike Ward, Feathers was not a “designated employee” of the county, covered by county gift ban ordinance, so acting of OCEA’s cut-out didn’t violate the law. OCEA fits four of the ordinance’s five definitions of “doing business with the county”:
(1) Seeking the award of a contract or grant from the County; or
(2) Having sought the award of a contract or grant from the County in the past twelve (12) months; or
(3) Being engaged as a lobbyist or lobbyist firm, as defined in this article, from the time of such engagement until twelve (12) months after the award of the contract grant, license, permit, or other entitlement for use, which was the subject of the engagement; or
(4) Having an existing contractual relationship with the County, until twelve (12) months after the contractual obligations of all parties have been completed; or
Anaheim Municipal Employees Association, which is affiliated with and represented by the OCEA, would also fall under these definitions.
Another suspect, the OCEA’s candidate for Anaheim City Council, John Leos, would also fall under these definitions. Leos is county employee and until a few months ago, a member of the OCEA Board of Directors.
Truth the told, it’s hard to think of any likely funder of Woocher’s litigation for Ward who is NOT defined as doing business with the county.
By agreeing to be the plaintiff on this lawsuit against Steve Chavez Lodge, Ms. Ward has allowed herself to wander into a legal-political cul-de-sac from which she might find know exit. She doesn’t seem to have thought through what the potential the implications and consequences for her could be.
The puzzling thing is Ward’s continuing refusal to be transparent about who is paying for Woocher’s representation of her. Anyone who has read her blog posts and comments over the last couple of years knows that hiding-the-ball, obfuscation and evasion are out of character for her, and only make it seem more certain she is covering others.