Last week, the State Bar Court Review Department said Clint Parish made the false charge against his opponent, a sitting Yolo County Superior Court judge, with reckless disregard for the truth.
The court found the false accusation violated rule 1-700 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct, which requires attorneys running for judicial office to abide by Canon 5 of the California Code of Judicial Ethics. The judicial canon states that candidates for judicial office shall not “knowingly, or with reckless disregard for the truth, misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position or any other fact concerning the candidate or his or her opponent.”
“[W]e find Parish’s reckless statement implicating a judge with bribery requires public discipline to maintain the integrity of the legal profession and to preserve public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary,” the Review Department order said.
In September of 2013, a State Bar Court Hearing Department judge found that Parish violated the rule but they recommended an admonition, which is not considered discipline. Parish conceded that his campaign mailer contained a false statement, but argued it did not warrant discipline because it was unintentional.
The charges stem from a mailer sent in May, 2012, that the Vanguard reported on, in which Clinton Parish, then a Deputy District Attorney in Yolo County, accused Dan Maguire, a sitting Superior Court Judge in Yolo County of a host of allegations.
As the Vanguard covered at the time, he asserted “that his opponent, while in private practice, was involved ‘in a sordid case of corporate fraud that involved payment of bribes in Russia …’ ; was ‘part of Arnold’s legal team that made decisions including commuting the sentence of convicted murderer Esteban Nunez …’ ; and that his opponent was ‘quoted defending the Protocol Foundation – used to hide $1.7 million in Arnold’s Travel Expenses.’ “
Furthermore, he posted “on his campaign web site a captioned photograph of himself and a uniformed officer in front of the Winters’ [sic] Police Department. The photograph’s caption stated: ‘Clint Parish has been endorsed by the Winter’s [sic] Police Department.’ In truth and in fact respondent had not been endorsed by the Winters’ [sic] Police Department.”
As a result of those allegations, numerous supporters, including his boss, District Attorney Jeff Reisig, and Sheriff Ed Prieto withdrew their support.
Ultimately, Mr. Parish suspended his campaign and he was soundly defeated a month later.
The state bar ruling in the fall of 2013 appeared to mark the end of the saga. However, both parties appealed the hearing judge’s decisions including the order recommending an admonition. The Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar (OCTC, Office of the Chief Trial Counsel) sought a public reproval, arguing that Mr. Parish made five misrepresentations and/or misleading statements.
Mr. Parish continues to argue he “unknowing made one false statement about his opponent” and argues that the OCTC “failed to prove he made the statements with a reckless disregard of the truth.” Mr. Parish argued that they affirm the order of admonition.
In a ruling they write, “After independently reviewing the record (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 9.12), we agree with the hearing judge that Parish’s statement accusing his opponent of involvement in bribery and corporate fraud was a factual misrepresentation made with reckless disregard for the truth.”
They add, “We also agree that the other four campaign statements alleged in the Notice of Disciplinary Charges (NDC) do not violate the rule, that extensive mitigating circumstances are present, and that the record does not support a finding of significant harm.”
However, they write, “We disagree with the hearing judge, however, that this matter should be resolved with an order of admonition, which is not discipline. Instead, we find Parish’s reckless statement implicating a judge with bribery requires public discipline to maintain the integrity of the legal profession and to preserve public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.”
They order Mr. Parish “publicly reproved” until he successful completes the State Bar’s Ethics School.
In a serious of attacks, the mailers made a number of key charges against Judge Maguire, including that he was “Arnold’s Bagman.”
Judge Maguire, the mailer inaccurately charged, while in private practice, “was involved in a sordid case of corporate fraud that involved payment of bribes in Russia.”
Judge Maguire, prior to being a judge, was an associate at a law firm, Home, Roberts and Owen, which had a main office in Denver, but also an office in Russia. Mr. Maguire worked in the Denver office and had nothing to do with the Russian office.
The firm was sued for fraud in Denver, but prevailed in the matter and Mr. Maguire “had left HRO before the lawsuit had been filed and had nothing to do with the office in Russia.”
In the correct ruling, Mr. Parish “concedes the statement implicating Judge Maguire in bribery and corporate fraud was ‘actually false.’” They write, “He learned it was false after the mailer had been delivered to homes in Yolo County in May, but he could have ascertained this fact before sending it out. The accusation was brought to Parish’s attention in March via an email from Wells in which he referenced an attached article, and stated ‘if I read this right,’ the law firm Judge Maguire had previously worked for ‘was doing the legal work for a bunch of Russian mobsters.’”
Mr. Parish failed to read an attached article in the email nor did “he conduct any research to establish the accuracy of Wells’s assessment. Indeed, the email provided no factual support to accuse Judge Maguire of bribery or corporate fraud. In addition, though he relied entirely on Wells’s conclusions about Judge Maguire on this issue, Parish did not ask Wells to identify the steps he had taken, if any, to vet the accusation.”
Judge Maguire testified that had Mr. Parish conducted basic online research, he would have found that there was no factual support for the allegation.
Mr. Parish, now in private practice in Sonora, California, had no previous record of discipline after being admitted to the bar in 2000.
In rule changes that were adopted by the California Supreme Court in November 2012, judges and lawyers seeking judicial office are required to take a free online ethics course within 60 days of filing for office.
—David M. Greenwald reporting