By David M. Greenwald
Oakland, CA – It was a simple public records request from a campaign volunteer for Pamela Price, a civil rights attorney who ran for DA in 2018 and is running again for 2022, and it pulled up hundreds—potentially thousands—of emails which appear to show government officials working in the Alameda County DA’s Office using government email systems to campaign against Price
The campaign has now filed complaints with the DA’s office, Attorney General Rob Bonta, and the FPPC. They believe they have unearthed numerous violations of civil, criminal and campaign finance laws, as well as a continuing pattern of misconduct by deputies and O’Malley’s top employees into the 2022 race.
“I was the target of a malicious campaign by the district attorney and some of her employees, Nancy O’Malley and some of her employees to smear my good name and use the resources of the county to gain an unfair advantage in the race for district attorney,” Price said at a press conference in front of the René C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland on Wednesday.
When the campaign discovered the emails as the result of the work of a volunteer request, they had James Sutton, a veteran election law attorney look at them. He was stunned by what he saw.
“I’ve been practicing in this area of law for 30 years,” he 30 years and said that “it’s very common for a government employee to make a mistake and accidentally use his or her government email to work on a campaign.”
But he said “honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a pervasive and longterm misuse of government emails for blatant political activities.”
He added that “the violation of the penal code and the government code is unique. And it is noteworthy both because it is done by attorneys, by deputy district attorneys who should know the law. “
In all, the Sutton Law Firm reviewed 230 pages of emails. And in fact, this is just the first such release. The office indicated that there are thousands of pages of emails responsive to the request. They were only furnished maybe 20 percent they said.
“Blatant violations of the penal code and the government code,” he said. “What we have been told by the district attorney’s office, that this is just the tip of the iceberg, that this was their initial response to the public records act request. And we could expect additional emails, which we assume will show even more violations of the
Normally, enforcement of these laws falls to the District Attorney’s office.
“Obviously this office will have a conflict investigating its own employees,” he said. “We have sent copies to the State Attorney General, who routinely will step in when there’s a conflict involving a district attorney, as well as the Oakland Grand Jury, because this would also fall below their auspices as well as the California Fair Political Practices Commission.”
According to their complaint, the campaign believes that some of these rise to the level of felonies involving as many as 31 members of O’Malley’s office.
Some of the alleged violations flagged by the campaign:
- Using County email accounts to solicit campaign contributions to pay for “hit pieces” against Price in violation of of California Government Code Sections 82031, 8314 and 54964 and Penal Code Section 424;
- Using County email accounts to spy and report on the Price campaign in violation of California Government Code Sections 8314 and 54964;
- Using County email accounts to solicit volunteers to support O’Malley in violation of California Penal Code Section 424 and Government Code Sections 8314 and 54964.
“When we were approached about looking at the emails, I expected to see a couple of people breaking the rules of conduct,” said Sutton, the principal attorney at the Sutton Law Firm. “I never thought that the misconduct would be so widespread within the office.”
He noted the first email received was from Assistant DA Terry Wiley, who is now one of the three candidates including Price running to replace O’Malley who is retiring at the end of her term.
“We would like as many of you as possible to attend this candidates forum,” Assistant District Attorney Terry Wiley wrote in a May 2018 email. At the time, that was a month before the primary. Wiley was urging colleagues to show up to an event with Price and O’Malley “to show the people of Oakland the diversity of our office.”
O’Malley’s office declined comment and Wiley did not respond to a request for comment.
Another email shows an exchange between a PAC ad consultant and the office. The sender’s email address was redacted. The PAC – Californians United for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools – was funded by police associations in Alameda County. The email was sent to an employee of the DA’s office – the sender’s address was redacted.
Sutton at the press conference explained that there were a dozens instances “where a name and an email address has been redacted, just completely covered up and blocked out the DA’s office did not provide any explanation for why they redacted that person’s name or email.
“We’re assuming that it could be DA O’Malley herself,” Sutton clarified. If so, that would be from her private email to an employee on their government email. “We can’t imagine who it could be other than the district attorney herself who otherwise her email address does not show up in the emails.”
While a good number of emails were sent in 2018, Sutton clarified that “the same deputy district attorneys and investigators who were working on the campaigns in 2018 restarted their emails in April or May of this year when, around at the time when Ms. Price announced her candidacy, where they are monitoring Mrs. Prices, campaign filings and her campaign events, communicating with each other, keeping district attorney O’Malley informed of the status of the campaign.”
“I was shocked,” said Pamela Price. “During the 2018 campaign, we could only see the tip of the iceberg. We knew they were colluding with the police associations, but It is shameful to see the extent of the misconduct and corruption in the DA’s office.”
“It doesn’t matter that it was targeted towards me. What matters is the total disregard for the law by guardians of the law,” she explained. “No one is above the law and we can no longer allow a double standard of justice. In Alameda County.”