By Cres Vellucci and David M. Greenwald
The criminal case against Maria Grijalva was, literally, over before it began. At the expected arraignment on the charges, the District Attorney’s office – before a plea was made – announced it was withdrawing all charges.
Grijalva’s defense attorney Stewart Katz, in fact, was incensed when Deputy DA Ryan Couzens leaped from his seat and quickly told the court the charges were being “withdrawn” because the FPPC [Fair Political Practices Commission] would investigate – although legal experts doubted the civil charges would stick.
Katz called it a “vindictive prosecution” in his comments to the court, adding that it was “outrageous” and a “ruse” whose primary purpose was to punish someone (Grijalva) who supported a campaign challenging District Attorney Jeff Reisig in the June election for DA.
“This is showing people not to challenge the DA,” said Katz, who told about 30 or more supporters that “this legal fiction isn’t worthy of a good novel,” and again noted that the prosecution was nothing more than “payback” for his client and showing people that’s how they will be “treated if the work to oppose” the status quo.
He called the prosecution the work of a “coward” and likened the DA’s office to “cockroaches who run when the lights are turned on.”
Couzens, for his part, interrupted Katz in court, and said “You had your chance to talk…and you talked a lot.” Couzens then quickly left the court, and ducked reporters’ questions, including whether the DA office would refile charges later. Charges can be refiled for one year.
After the announcement, Grijalva admitted it had been an ordeal, explaining that “I cried for a week” after she was fingerprinted and booked for the alleged crime.
“I am feeling fully vindicated. Yes, DA Reisig bullied me, and I committed no violation. It was simply an abuse of power by someone has a conflict of interest to charge me. This continues a pattern of prosecutorial conduct by Reisig, who needs to be recalled and removed from office,” Grijalva added.
Regarding her campaign for Yolo County Board of Education, Trustee Area 1, she said she was “feeling good” and that the prosecution had “galvanized” her campaign. She said she expects to be victorious in November.
In an earlier press release, the DA’s office, which has declined to comment on the charges, had Yolo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven say in a statement that most alleged violations committed by local candidates are based on “inexperience or inadvertence.”
“For many, a warning and immediate correction usually suffices,” Mr. Raven said in a statement. “However, significant or ongoing violations of the California Political Reform Act or local ordinances can pose real threats to the integrity of elections, and are taken seriously and prosecuted.”
Prior to the hearing, Ms. Grijalva gathered with at least a dozen supporters in front of the court house. On the advice of counsel, she did not speak, but Desiree Rojas, President of the Sacramento Chapter of LCLAA (Labor Council for Latin American Advancement) and a Davis resident spoke on her behalf.
Ms. Rojas called Ms. Grijalva “a fierce advocate for youth, particularly Latino youth unfairly targeted by DA Reisig’s gang injunction.”
She formed the community group, “Broderick is a Community, Not a Gang” where “she has spoken out, built coalitions, and taken to the streets, all to ensure that our youth have access to opportunities to succeed.
“Earlier this year, when she saw an opportunity to change our criminal justice system which disproportionately imprisons people of color, she became a prominent supporter of Dean Johansson’s campaign for district attorney,” Ms. Rojas stated. “While Dean was not elected, Maria’s efforts changed the conversation about criminal justice in our communities, and that conversation will continue far beyond any single election.”
She said, “This is who Maria is. She is a tireless’ advocate for justice and she is never afraid to stand up to those in power for what is right. But we are here today because this district attorney has called her something else. He has called her a criminal.”
Her supporters contended that the charges themselves were baseless – this even before the DA dismissed the charges. The Vanguard reported last week that a Sacramento Court had overturned Government Code section 85501 against former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, because the Citizens United Supreme Court decision had ruled that independent expenditures were constitutionally protected.
The DA dismissed a second charge under Sacramento Municipal Code that was filed. The Sacramento Bee last week published a story in which an elections expert called the DA’s charge a “misinterpretation” of the law.
As the Bee pointed out, “The law generally limits candidate controlled-committees to $250 donations made directly to campaigns, but it does not address or limit independent expenditures.”
Attorney Emelyn Rodriguez pointed out that these independent expenditures do not fall under laws dealing with contribution limits.
Desiree Rojas called this “a clear abuse of the District Attorney’s office and we will not stand for it.”
The charges were dismissed on Thursday morning, but the DA’s office refused to explain to either the Vanguard or Fox 40 in Sacramento why that was the case.