My View: Grijalva Case Really Was Open and Shut and the Question Remains – Why Reisig Prosecuted This At All?

Desiree Rojas speaks on Maria Grijalva’s behalf early Thursday

From the beginning, people skeptical of our coverage asked what we were missing with respect to the prosecution of Maria Grijalva.  That was answered this week on Thursday when the DA’s office did what it should have been done at the start – they dropped the criminal charges and turned it over to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) – where this case should have been from the start.

On the law itself, our early analysis appears to be spot on – this case was never a criminal case and it remains questionable as to whether Ms. Grijalva even violated campaign finance laws.

Don’t take our word for this.

The Bee reported on Friday: “Attorneys specializing in campaign finance said it’s unusual for a district attorney to pursue misdemeanor campaign finance violations that aren’t included with more severe criminal charges such as embezzlement or money laundering.”

“By pursuing these charges criminally, it definitely demonstrates an unfamiliarity with this area of law,” said San Francisco political law attorney Jesse Mainardi, who was not involved in the case.

The Vanguard talked with people familiar with elections going back at least to the 1970s in Yolo County – none of them can recall a case where campaign finance violations were charged criminally.  And we’re not talking about more serious charges like embezzlement or money laundering – charges that would warrant the involvement of law enforcement rather than election law enforcement.

In this sense, this case was what we thought it was from the start – some sort of overreach by the Yolo County District Attorney against a person who just happened to have been a major donor to his opponent.

And that is where the facts end and speculation takes over.  The DA’s office won’t say anything to anyone about what happened.

Stewart Katz is a long-time and very well respected defense attorney in Sacramento.  He told the court this was “vindictive prosecution” and added, as Cres Vellucci reported, 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 Mr. 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.”

The DA’s office offered nothing in the way of an explanation.  Mr. Couzens reportedly quickly left the court and ducked reporters’ questions.

Yolo County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Jonathan Raven told the Bee in an email, “There’s really nothing more to be said beyond what the DA’s office stated in court.”

How about an explanation?  An explanation as to why the DA’s office pursued this in the beginning?  An explanation as to why their target just happened to be a major donor to the DA’s political opponent?  An explanation as to why they got the law so very wrong on this matter?

It wasn’t that long ago that the DA’s office sent out a press release on this.  Mr. Raven said 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.”

But that leaves more questions than answers.

After all, as Mr. Mainardi noted, there is no serious criminal charge here.

Ms. Grijalva simply spent $6000 on a one-time letter for Joe DeAnda running for West Sacramento Mayor.  That doesn’t seem to be significant, ongoing, or a threat to the integrity of elections.

Under the worst of circumstances, that hardly seems cause to bring criminal charges into a political campaign.  We have run out of legal explanations for why the DA’s office did this.  What we are left with are political ones – very very sloppy political ones.

Maybe there is a very legitimate reason why the DA’s office charged a woman with multiple misdemeanors for sending out a $6000 letter.  But they sure aren’t forthcoming with those reasons.  Not to us.  Not to the court.  Not to the Sacramento Bee.  Not to Fox 40.

Some believe this is political retribution.  Others believe this was a political favor that Mr. Reisig did to help West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, a Reisig supporter and political ally, who is facing a tougher than expected reelection bid against Joe DeAnda, and who just happens to be the man on whose behalf Ms. Grijalva sent out the letter.

Some believe this might be political retribution against Ms. Grijalva, who right now is in her own battle for the Yolo County Board of Education in the West Sacramento district.

What we know is that criminal charges over a campaign finance matter is exceedingly rare.  We know that Ms. Grijalva was served with a notice subpoenaing her campaign finance records from her 2016 West Sacramento City Council bid.  And that a week after she sent the letter in early October, she was served with the notice to appear in this matter.

Desiree Rojas at Thursday’s press conference said, “Jeff Reisig is a bully.”

The question that I think Yolo County residents need to ask, in particular after a very close reelection, is why did Jeff Reisig do this?  Did he really use his legal authority to play politics?  Because that’s really what this looks like when all is said and done.

Does he have a better explanation?  He sure hasn’t offered it.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Ken A

    David asks “Why Reisig Prosecuted This At All?” I think everyone knows that the story Grijalva tells about how she quickly went from renting out rooms in her house to donating a huge sum of cash to Reisig’s opponent is BS and just like the IRS often does similar stuff to tax cheats to let them know they are watching them it is obvious that they had her fingerprinted to send a message that they don’t want her funneling anonymous cash in to Yolo County elections any more.

      1. Ken A

        I think David has been in the (slimy) world of politics long enough to know that no one had plans to lock Grijalva up they just wanted to “send a message” that they “are watching her” (and the people that are funneling anonymous cash in to Yolo County elections will have to jump through the hoops to find other people to donate money so the DA does not know they hate him and have him start messing with them in the way he is messing with Grijalva)…

        1. David Greenwald

          “they just wanted to “send a message” that they “are watching her””

          Think about what you just said. A truly chilling message coming from the chief law enforcement. She was never endanger of being locked up for a misdemeanor. However, the chilling effect of sending a message is very troubling to me.

          ” the people that are funneling anonymous cash in to Yolo County elections”

          Shear speculation. Not only is there no evidence of this, the campaign ran an extremely law budget effort. They were sending handwritten postcards to voters and had cheaply done campaign ads. Not a high budget effort.

  2. Sharla C.

    I really dislike the independent expenditures in elections, especially local elections, but not enough to arrest people.  Paying $6000 to send a letter out in support of a local candidate is not a heroic act, but the DA has turned it into one.

  3. Jim Hoch

    Most DA’s prefer to not appear so incompetent. Unless there is another shoe to drop it is hard to understand why he would choose to bring these charges and look like an idiot.

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