By clicking on the blue post below, you can download a PDF of the November 9 edition of the San Bernardino County Sentinel.
By Mark Gutglueck
A decade after his fall from the pinnacle of San Bernardino County politics, more than nine years after he was initially charged with engaging in criminal activity and more than seven years after pleading guilty to 14 felony counts relating to abuses of the public trust in his capacity as a government official and a single misdemeanor drug charge, Bill Postmus was in court last Friday and three days this week in an attempt to vacate those guilty pleas and seek a new trial. The matter will continue before Judge Michael A. Smith in Department 21 on the Sixth Floor of the San Bernardino Justice Center next week.
Postmus’ sentencing has been delayed for more than seven years because an element of the plea deal he signed in March 2011 required that he cooperate with prosecutors in their efforts to bring to justice others believed to have been involved in the crimes in which he participated. The criminal issues involving Postmus prosecutors were focused upon related to three matters. One of those pertained to the abuses of his authority during the slightly more than two years he served as county assessor from January 2007 until his resignation in February 2009. The second related to the vote he cast in November 2006 during the closing days of his tenure as a member of the board of supervisors to approve the county’s settlement of a lawsuit brought against it by the Colonies Partners in 2002 over the county flood control district’s handling of drainage issues at the Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivisions in northeast Upland. Postmus had joined with his-then board colleagues Paul Biane and Gary Ovitt to close out that litigation by conferring upon the Colonies Partners a $102 million payout. Prosecutors alleged that one of the Colonies Partners’ managing principals, Jeff Burum, had worked with one-time San Bernardino County deputy sheriffs’ union president Jim Erwin to intimidate, threaten and blackmail Postmus and Biane to extort them into supporting the settlement. Prosecutors further maintained that after the county paid the Colonies Partners the $102 million, Burum then provided four separate $100,000 bribes/rewards to Postmus, Biane, Erwin and Ovitt’s chief-of-staff, Mark Kirk, disguising the payoffs as donations to political action committees that were either directly or secretly controlled by the four recipients. The $100,000 delivered to Kirk, prosecutors alleged, was intended as a quid pro quo to him for having induced Ovitt to support the settlement. The third set of criminal issues involving Postmus pertained to his illicit drug use, which were eventually reduced down to a single misdemeanor possession charge.
In 2006, after six years in office as county supervisor representing the First District, which at that time included practically all of San Bernardino County’s desert expanse, Postmus successfully vied against incumbent County Assessor Don Williamson, thereby acceding to the position of the county’s highest ranking taxing official. In 2008, the district attorney’s office initiated an investigation into reports that assessor’s office facilities, equipment, personnel and authority were being used for partisan political purposes. As part of that investigation, in January of 2009 district attorney’s investigators served search warrants at the assessor’s office headquarters in San Bernardino, at Postmus’ Rancho Cucamonga condominium and elsewhere. Within Postmus’s residential premises, investigators came upon liquid methamphetamine and a syringe to inject it. The following month, Postmus tendered his resignation as county assessor.
Also caught up in the assessor’s office investigation was Adam Aleman, whom Postmus upon becoming assessor in 2007 had appointed to serve as assistant assessor despite Aleman’s tender age of 23. In June 2009, Aleman pleaded guilty to felony vandalism charges relating his purposeful destruction of the hard drive in a county-issued laptop computer to prevent investigators from accessing it, two counts of theft, destruction, alteration or falsification of a public document, and presenting a false claim to a public board. Shortly thereafter and based in large measure on information Aleman had provided, Postmus was charged with multiple counts of having improperly used the authority of his office and misappropriation of government funds during his tenure as county assessor.
Some seven months later, Postmus and Erwin in February 2010 were named in a criminal complaint and charged with participating in a conspiracy to illegally obtain $102 million in a scheme that related to the November 2006 lawsuit settlement with the Colonies Partners. In that complaint, five other unnamed, uncharged co-conspirators were described. Though unidentified as to name, there were sufficient details in the complaint to make clear that the five alluded to were Colonies Partners co-managing principals Jeff Burum and Dan Richards, County Supervisor Paul Biane, Supervisor Gary Ovitt’s chief of staff Mark Kirk and public relations consultant Patrick O’Reilly, who had worked for the Colonies Partners.
Both Postmus and Erwin pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In March 2011, however, Postmus, who was represented in the criminal matter relating to the assessor’s office by attorney Stephen Levine and in the Colonies Partners lawsuit settlement criminal case by attorney Richard Farquhar, entered into a plea agreement by which he pleaded guilty to 14 felony charges arising out of the lawsuit settlement and assessor’s office cases and to a single drug possession count, with the proviso that he was to cooperate with prosecutors in providing information, evidence and testimony in making a case against the unnamed co-conspirators outlined in the February 2010 complaint and those involved in his misuse of the assessor’s office. Though convictions against Postmus were recorded at that time on all 15 of the charges, it was spelled out that based upon his cooperation, all but three of the 14 felony convictions would be vacated, and the maximum sentence he would receive would be six years and eight months, with the possibility that prosecutors would recommend that he be given straight probation with no actual prison time. Sentencing, ultimately, remained within the discretion of the judge assigned to the case.
The following month, April 2011, Postmus went before a grand jury as a star witness, and in May 2011 that grand jury returned a 29 count indictment which named Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk as defendants, the narrative of which revolved around the November 2006 lawsuit settlement and the Colonies Partners’ provision of the separate $100,000 contributions to Biane’s, Erwin’s, Kirk’s and Postmus’ political action committees, which prosecutors characterized as thinly-disguised bribes.
The prosecution team consisted of prosecutors with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and the California Attorney General’s Office. They were matched by an impressive array of defense attorneys paid for by a portion of the proceeds from the $102 million settlement. For five-and-a-half years there were a multitude of delays, as the lawyers sparred at the trial court level, twice at the appellate level and twice before the California Supreme Court with regard to the dismissal or reinstatement of charges. Jury selection took place in December 2016 and the case went to trial in January 2017 before Judge Michael A. Smith. That trial involved two juries, one which weighed the evidence against Burum, Biane and Kirk, and another which was charged with deciding the fate of Erwin. In court, the proceedings involved 39 witnesses, more than half of whom were on the witness stand for multiple days, and continued for eight months.
Both Postmus and Aleman were central witnesses, with their testimony accounting for nearly all of the court proceedings in May 2017.
During his first three days of testimony under direct examination from May 1 through May 3, Postmus replicated the key elements of the prosecution’s narrative. In the latter half of 2006, Erwin, working on behalf of Burum and the Colonies Partners, Postmus testified, had threatened to expose elements of both his and Biane’s personal lives, including his own homosexuality and drug use, in an effort to persuade them to support the settlement. And Burum had promised to support him in either or both future political and business endeavors once the settlement was finalized, he said. Moreover, Postmus said, he believed the $102 million paid out to the Colonies Partners was ridiculously more than the development company was due. The threats and promises of reward, he testified, along with the desire to put the whole thing behind him prompted the settlement. And after the settlement was in place, Postmus testified, the Colonies Partners had come through with $100,000 for him in the form of two separate $50,000 donations to political action committees he had control over.
Thereafter, when the defense was given an opportunity to cross examine Postmus, under the withering questioning of one of Burum’s attorneys, Jennifer Keller, Postmus began to go sideways, and he testified that he had been intimidated by the district attorney’s office investigators to meet their expectations of what they needed to make the case against the others. Keller elicited from Postmus his acknowledgment that he was in the throes of methamphetamine addiction at the time of the events in question, rendering his memory unreliable and leaving him vulnerable to manipulation by the prosecution.
Toward the end of Summer 2017, the trial closed out without the defense calling any witnesses and without testimony from the accused, all of whom stood on their Fifth Amendment rights. The jury which heard the case against Burum, Biane and Kirk after less than two full days of deliberation returned verdicts of not guilty against all three on all remaining charges against them that had not already been dismissed by Judge Smith. The other jury deadlocked on all of the remaining charges brought against Jim Erwin. Thereafter, on a motion by the prosecution, the charges against Erwin were dismissed.
In the immediate aftermath of the verdicts, several jurors from both panels were interviewed, with some indicating that Postmus’ hedging of his testimony was a factor in their acquittal votes. Members of the prosecution team expressed consternation with the circumstance, and District Attorney Mike Ramos provided a public statement in explaining why his office had decided against retrying Erwin.
“Since the conclusion of jury deliberations, we have carefully evaluated our current position and have identified witness problems that cannot be resolved,” Ramos said. “As a result, we are unable to proceed. One such issue is the trial testimony of Bill Postmus, who is a necessary witness in the case against Jim Erwin. Bill Postmus’ unexpected testimony on cross-examination at the last trial conflicted with his grand jury testimony, his statement to the FBI, and multiple interviews with the district attorney’s office.”
In accordance with the plea agreement he had entered into in March 2011, Postmus’ sentencing had been held in abeyance until the Colonies Partners lawsuit settlement trial had concluded. On October 27, 2017, Postmus came before Judge Smith for a hearing on his sentencing. Postmus had entered his guilty plea to the 14 felony charges and single drug offense misdemeanor count in 2011 before Judge Smith, who was fresh from overseeing the trial of Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk. Judge Smith was thus intimately familiar with the terms of Postmus’ plea bargain as well as his testimony at trial. Smith had sole discretion over the terms and duration of Postmus’ sentence, which could range from probation up to six years and eight months in state prison. A factor to be considered in Smith’s sentencing determination was the recommendation of the prosecution team, as it was a primary party in the plea arrangement and was in a position to ascertain how fully Postmus had lived up to the terms of the plea bargain. At that point, Postmus was yet represented by Levine and Farquhar, and all three were yet determined to abide by the plea arrangement.
Prosecutors, however, rather than recommending leniency that would consist of vacating 11 of the 14 felony convictions and asking the court to impose no incarceration in favor of placing Postmus on immediate probation, signaled their intention to keep all 14 convictions intact and seek substantial prison time, i.e., four years. At the October 27, 2017 hearing, Supervising San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope asked for Smith to refer Postmus’ case file to the Riverside County Probation Department for review and sentencing recommendations. The matter was referred to the Riverside County Probation Department because Postmus, who was formerly one of the most powerful political figures in San Bernardino County, oversaw and approved budgetary allotments for the San Bernardino County Probation Department, and officials sought to avoid any chance of the recommendation on sentencing being influenced by that.
Subsequently, after the Riverside County Probation Department report on Postmus was completed, during a closed door sentencing conference at which at least one member of the prosecution team, Postmus and Levine were present, Smith indicated he was leaning toward sentencing Postmus to two years in state prison.
At that point Postmus, acutely conscious of how Burum, Biane and Kirk had been acquitted of criminal wrongdoing in conjunction with the same set of facts upon which he had pled guilty and that the prosecution’s best effort along the same line against his one-time codefendant Erwin had failed to obtain a conviction on any of the charges against him, reconsidered his own guilty pleas on the fourteen felony counts. Neither Levine nor Farquhar, who had been his legal representatives when the guilty pleas were entered, could represent him in withdrawing those pleas. Accordingly, Postmus fired them and retained attorney Jeffrey Lawrence in his effort to obtain what is euphemistically referred to as a “do-over,” that is, to withdraw his pleas and have the prosecution reinitiate the case against him so he can get a jury trial.
Lawrence has made a motion with the court to withdraw Postmus’ plea. According to Lawrence, Postmus was not in control of his faculties and was under substantial duress when he was criminally charged and then capitulated with the series of no contest pleas. Justice dictates, according to Lawrence, that the matter be reexamined in the light of revelations since that time and that Postmus essentially lived up to the terms of his plea arrangement and is now on the brink of being punished for doing so because the district attorney’s office and the California Attorney General’s Office are displeased with the outcome of the prosecution of Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk. Though Lawrence does not contend that Postmus was entirely innocent, he has suggested Postmus’ guilt with regard to much of what he was charged with is questionable.
Burum’s, Biane’s and Kirk’s acquittals and the failure to secure a conviction of Erwin illustrate, according to Lawrence’s motion, “the weakness of the evidence” the prosecution was relying upon.
According to Lawrence, “As part of their efforts to prosecute Paul Biane, Mark Kirk, James Erwin, Jeffrey Burum and others connected with the Colonies Partners L.P.’s 2006 settlement with the County of San Bernardino, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office callously took advantage of Mr. Postmus’s debilitating drug addiction, which they were aware of at least as early as 2009, two years prior to Mr. Postmus’s plea. District attorney investigators – experts on the effects of drug use on witnesses – preyed on Mr. Postmus in a series of interviews, using confusion, coercion, inducements, and threats to convince Mr. Postmus that he had no choice but to plead guilty. They fed him false information. They induced him with hopes of a deal, and then they used cleverly-worded threats and intimidation to ensure that any deal would be predicated on Mr. Postmus perjuring himself about the Colonies case and pleading guilty to a Colonies-related charge.”
Lawrence referenced the prosecution’s use of “confusion and false representations” which he labeled as a “mind-trick, played by the investigators to convince Mr. Postmus that there was wrongdoing where none existed. [P]rosecutorial investigators successfully planted false memories. Mr. Postumus’s drug addiction rendered him incapable of entering a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary guilty plea and DA investigators used his addiction to manipulate him into taking a guilty plea. Neither prosecutors nor the court did anything to determine the scope of Mr. Postmus’s drug abuse or whether it interfered with his ability to knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily enter into a guilty plea. In negotiating and accepting these pleas, the prosecution did nothing to determine the scope of Mr. Postmus’s drug use, or to determine the effect of that drug use on his mental faculties. Neither did Mr. Postmus’s prior counsel nor this court, which took the plea. Indeed, during his oral plea in this case, no one ever asked Mr. Postmus if his current or past drug use was affecting his ability to understand the terms of his plea bargain.”
According to Lawrence, the district attorney’s office investigators failed to discern “fact from fiction” in dealing with Postmus and instead used “his drug-induced fear and paranoia to hoodwink Mr. Postmus into believing fiction. Additionally, when Mr. Postmus’s plea was taken in court, Judge Smith failed to ask Mr. Postmus if he was under the influence of drugs or any other substance that would affect his ability to enter the plea, a standard question in all felony pleas.”
An obstacle to Postmus’ having his plea deal vacated consists of Judge Smith, who possesses a comprehensive knowledge of virtually all elements of the several cases involving Postmus, including what he learned as the judge overseeing both of the two cases filed against him; what he learned being the judge overseeing the case taken to trial against Biane, Burum, Kirk and Erwin; what he learned being the judge in the case against Adam Aleman, who as one of Postmus’ field representatives when Postmus was supervisor stood witness to the events leading up to the $102 million settlement and as Postmus’ appointee as assistant assessor was caught up in the assessor’s office crimes, for which he pleaded guilty before turning state’s evidence against Postmus, Erwin, Biane, Burum and Kirk; what he learned overseeing the case filed against Postmus’ boyfriend Greg Eyler, whom Postmus had hired into a do-nothing post in the assessor’s office; and what he learned as the judge overseeing a case filed by prosecutors against Dino DeFazio, one of Postmus’ business associates who had headed one of the political action committees which had been endowed with $50,000 of the total $100,000 provided to Postmus by the Colonies Partners after the $102 million settlement. Prosecutors alleged DeFazio had committed perjury by attempting to shield Postmus in claiming that he, DeFazio was the progenitor of the political action committee, when in fact it was created and controlled by Postmus for the purpose of laundering the money delivered to him as a bribe by the Colonies Partners for approving the lawsuit settlement. Ultimately, after Kirk, Biane and Burum were acquitted and charges against Erwin were dismissed, prosecutors dropped the case against DeFazio.
It was before Judge Smith whom Postmus had come in 2011 to enter his plea on the 14 felony/single misdemeanor sheet of charges. Before accepting that plea, Smith had directly questioned Postmus, inquiring of him as to whether he was entering into the plea freely and without reservation, and whether he had a full comprehension of the plea, its implication, what it entailed and the expectation inherent within it of what Postmus would need to do to meet all of its terms. Smith specifically obtained from Postmus his acknowledgement that even were he to cooperate fully with the prosecution and meet the requirement that he testify truthfully, he might yet receive a sentence that would involve serving time in prison. Over the more than five-and-a-half years that then followed the subsequent indictment of Erwin, Kirk, Burum and Biane, the legal maneuvering of the defense team entailed repeated appeals to the appellate court and the California Supreme Court as well as motions before the trial court relating to the dismissal of various elements of the indictment. This necessitated Smith’s reading and re-reading of the testimony before the grand jury, including most particularly testimony by Postmus. Judge Smith was thus highly familiar with both the substance and nuance of the version of events Postmus had spelled out in his efforts to help prosecutor’s construct the case against the indicted defendants. That version of events provided in depth detail with regard to Postmus’ own involvement in the matter. Perhaps most importantly, Judge Smith was presiding from the bench in his courtroom some 17 feet away from Bill Postmus when he was in the witness box in May 2017 during the trial for Biane, Erwin, Burum and Kirk, a front row spectator, as it were, able to hear not only Postmus’ words but the forthrightness or hesitancy that accompanied them and watch Postmus’ face and body language as he responded to the questions put to him by Prosecutor Lewis Cope and Burum’s defense counsel, Jennifer Keller, as well as the sometimes combative questions leveled at him by Erwin’s defense attorney, Raj Maline.
Last Friday, Lawrence began his presentation on behalf of his client, shunting aside suggestions by Supervising Deputy California Attorney General Melissa Mandel that Smith should consider the effort to vacate the plea after more than seven years as “an affront to the court.” Deviating somewhat from the material in his original petition on behalf of Postmus that the plea agreement be vacated, Lawrence propounded a secondary theory that holds the prosecution of Postmus grew out of an animus and political rivalry toward the defendant by District Attorney Mike Ramos.
Ramos took up the prosecution of Postmus as part of an effort to politically persecute Postmus, who had designs of running for the same Congressional seat that Ramos coveted, which was then held by Congressman Jerry Lewis, one of Ramos’ political allies, who had designated Ramos as his heir apparent, Lawrence asserted. In a supplemental brief to the motion to withdraw the plea, Lawrence wrote, “DA Ramos was already a political rival of William Postmus in that they were both powerful Republicans in the county, both of whom had their eyes set on the congressional seat soon to be vacated by Congressional Representative Jerry Lewis.” Moreover, according to Lawrence, Postmus had angered Ramos by his having revealed the district attorney’s womanizing. “San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos targeted defendant William Potmus after he leaked personal information he had which indicated DA Michael Ramos had a sexual affair with Public Defender Doreen Boxer, while he was married, in March of 2006 at a county conference in Lake Arrowhead,” according to Lawrence.
On November 2, Postmus took the stand and Lawrence sought to explore the political and personal rivalry that existed between Postmus and Ramos in the 2006 and 2007 timeframe. Judge Smith, however, was not very indulgent of that line of questioning, indicating he believed it irrelevant to whether Postmus made a fully informed decision to enter into the plea arrangement in 2011. He curtailed that line of inquiry.
Deputy District Attorney Carlo Dicesare, who is working with Supervising Deputy California Attorney General Melissa Mandel in seeking to convince Smith to stay the course and abide by the 2011 plea arrangement, insisted that Postmus was in full possession of his faculties, knew all of his options, was mentally competent and had made a legally binding commitment when he accepted and signed his plea agreement in 2011. In questioning Postmus, Dicesare asked Postmus if he remembered Supervising Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope stating during the trial last year that he could get up to five years in prison. “Yes,” Postmus responded.
Postmus also acknowledged that he had spurned previous suggestions that he should renege on the plea, as when, shortly after entering it, attorneys representing Burum and Erwin sought out his attorney and asked that he withdraw his plea. Postmus acknowledged he had declined to act in accordance with those suggestions until after the conclusion of the 2017 trial.
At one telling moment, Judge Smith questioned Postmus directly, asking if he remembered an exchange the two had in 2011 before the plea deal was finalized when Judge Smith had told Postmus that even if he testified truthfully and met all of the terms contained in the plea agreement, there was still a possibility he would be sentenced to jail or state prison.
Postmus said he did not recall the exchange.
Based upon the Riverside County Probation Report calling for the imposition of a four-year to six-year sentence, the prosecution’s request that the plea arrangement be kept intact and Postmus be sentenced to at least four years in state prison, Judge Smith’s earlier indication that he was purposed to hand out a two-year state prison sentence and the progress of the hearing in general, a pall had been cast over Lawrence and Postmus as well as a small band of Postmus’supporters – including DeFazio, Supervisor Josie Gonzales and Hesperia Councilman Paul Russ – who were present at the courthouse on Tuesday, when the hearing resumed. With signs that Judge Smith is purposed to deny the motion to withdraw the plea and will impose a sentence that will entail prison time, Lawrence appeared resolved to continue with the effort and put into the record issues which he believes will form the basis for an appeal.
On Tuesday, Richard Farquhar, gave testimony.
Farquhar represented Postmus with regard to the criminal issues in the Colonies lawsuit settlement matter. Stephen Levine represented Postmus with regard to the criminal case evolving out of Postmus’ tenure as county assessor. An element in the case Lawrence is making on behalf of Postmus is that he was provided with inadequate legal representation by both of his attorneys, which is of note given the collegiality which exists among defense attorneys working in San Bernardino County and the close association between Levine and Lawrence, a particularly skilled framer of legal briefs who has on occasion, it is acknowledged, ghost written for Levine motions and briefs with regard to other cases that were submitted to the court. The case Lawrence is making for Postmus makes issue in particular with inadequacies in how Farquhar represented Postmus. In his motion to vacate Postmus’ plea, Lawrence wrote, “The fact is that the evidence will show that Mr. Postmus never even had a meaningful discussion about the facts of the case with his Colonies case attorney, court appointed attorney Richard Farquhar, nor was Mr. Farquhar ever present during any of his numerous interviews with prosecution investigators, nor was he ever present during any of the ten days Mr. Postmus spent testifying on the witness stand in the Colonies case.”
Farquhar on Tuesday testified that he believed given his experience in handling criminal matters in general he was “competent to handle the case” when he took up the Postmus matter. Nor was he overbooked at the time, he said. “I had a fair amount of cases, but nothing that was overloading me,” he said. He acknowledged that he had a demanding schedule involving a number of murder cases in the 2010/2011 timeframe and that the Postmus defense entailed an inordinate amount of discovery material, consisting of “multiple boxes” that “would not fit in my car” to the point that he needed to get a “full-size Jimmy truck” to ferry them to his office. He said he endeavored to read all of the discovery, which filled in excess of “at least six banker’s boxes” and that “I started organizing it as best as I could.” He said that in addition to material relating to the Colonies lawsuit settlement case, discovery relating to the assessor’s office case had been dumped upon him. He said he had succeeded in making it through “two or three” of those boxes, which he said contained the material most pertinent to the case, by the time Postmus entered into the plea agreement.
He endeavored to get up to speed on the case, Farquhar testified. Asked if he had coordinated with Levine, Farquhar said, “With Mr. Levine, there were multiple discussion that went on” and that they had met at Levine’s office and discussed the case when they would encounter each other in the courthouse. “I informed him there was a whole bunch of discovery to go through that related specifically to Colonies matter. I did discuss with Mr. Levine the strengths and weakness of the assessor’s case,” Farquhar said. Postmus was present during some of those discussions, Farquhar said, and their client appeared to understand what they were talking about. Postmus with regard to some issues knew more than he did, Farquhar indicated. “He would supply me with certain facts about the case,” he said.
Asked if he had a “collaborative” relationship with Levine, Farquhar said, “Yes, we did. It made sense for us to discuss [both cases],” Farquhar said. “We anticipated that if there was a resolution it would involve both cases.”
Farquhar testified that he kept the channel of communication with Postmus open throughout the duration of his representation of him. “Mr. Postmus had my cell phone [number] and when he had a Blackberry we would discuss things,” he said, by both text and phone.
Farquhar acknowledged that in March 2011 he concluded an agreement with prosecutors to have Postmus accept the plea agreement that was being offered. That decision arose from Postmus and not from him or Levine, Farquhar maintained. Postmus had come to the conclusion he should accept the plea based on a number of factors, including the consideration that one of the employees with the assessor’s office caught up in the case, former Rancho Cucamonga City Councilman Rex Guieerez, had been convicted at trial, Farquhar indicated.
“One of the people involved in the case [Gutierrez] was sent to prison, so he wanted to make a deal with them if he could,” Farquhar said. Once Postmus was set on a course of arriving at a deal with the prosecution, Farquhar said he and Levine tried to structure an arrangement by which Postmus would trade cooperation with the prosecution and its investigators for staying out of prison. “He was frightened about the prospect of going to prison and he wanted to see what he could do about his resolving it without that happening,” Farquhar said. “We were hoping for probation. Not that that was firm, but we were hoping for probation. That was what I was shooting for and what I hoped would be accomplished.”
Asked if he had promised Postmus that he would be able to avoid going to prison, Farquhar said, “We could not promise him that. What was said was that if he did what he was supposed to do as a party to the plea agreement, that would be a fair resolution of the case.”
Asked if it had been explained to Postmus that he might go to jail, Farquhar said, “We did explain to him that we knew that was a possibility. I can’t say I believed that would happen, but we did discuss that possibility with him.”
Farquhar testified that during all of the initial meetings between Postmus and the district attorney’s office investigators to demonstrate Postmus’ willingness to cooperate with the prosecution, either he or Levine were present.
Farquhar acknowledged that because Levine had been representing Postmus longer than he had, Levine had a stronger and better relationship with Postmus than he did.
In his testimony, Farquhar indicated that there was a fundamental difference between Postmus and the prosecution and its investigators in that they considered the $100,000 the Colonies Partners had provided to his political action committees to be a bribe, and Postmus did not. “There was some disagreement with them over that,” Farquhar said. “He felt he wasn’t bribed. They felt he was.” When it was suggested the money the Colonies Partners provided him after he voted to provide the company with a $102 million payout to settle the lawsuit was a quid pro quo, Farquahar said Postmus would reply “that wasn’t what it was for. That is how a PAC [political action committee] is run. That is the political nature of things and it wasn’t bribery.”
Farquhar testified that at the time that the plea agreement was entered into he saw no indication that Postmus was using drugs or was of diminished capacity. Asked about Postmus’ “mental state,” Farquhar responded, “He seemed fine. Are you referring to intoxication?” Then, in response to a more specific inquiry relating to drugs, Farquhar indicated he would recognize all of the classic symptomology of drug abuse and said, “If Mr. Postmus was under the influence, I didn’t see it. I didn’t notice any indication or appearance that he was under the influence at the time.”
On the day that Postmus signed the plea agreement documents, Faquhar said he went over the contents with his client. Asked if he “appeared to understand” their contents, Farquhar said, “Yes.”
Farquhar said a glitch on the plea agreement document that Lawrence had latched onto in which Postmus had initialed a box relating to his ability to understand English and had then initialed a box below it relating to his need for an interpreter had been his oversight and not one attributable to Postmus or an indication that Postmus was in some fashion incoherent at the time he accepted the plea and signed the document.
Farquhar acknowledged that at one point the attorney for Jim Erwin, Raj Maline, had approached him about having Postmus withdraw his guilty pleas but that neither he nor Postmus had responded positively to that overture at the time. Farquhar was also questioned about a motion put together by Maline that sought to recuse Mike Ramos as the prosecutor on the criminal matter relating to the Colonies case.
“I didn’t see the grounds for it,” said Farquhar.
Lawrence asked Farquhar, “Do you recall rumors in the courthouse about Mr. Ramos having an affair with the public defender?”
Farquhar responded, “There were rumors that he was involved with a lot of people, including the public defender. I didn’t know Mr. Postmus had a lot of information about all of this.”
Farquhar asked why Farquhar had not been present in court during the trial for Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk, when Postmus testified.
“We discussed whether he felt it was necessary for me to be there and I told him I would be available if he needed me,” Farquhar said. “My best advice was ‘Just tell the truth.’ I said if he felt uncomfortable and he thought it was necessary, he could ask for a break and consult with me.”
Judge Smith carried out a brief questioning of Farquhar. After Farquhar acknowledged that he was present in court in 2011 when Postmus entered his guilty pleas to the 14 felonies, Judge Smith asked him, “Do you recall at one point me telling him something pretty close to that regardless of how well he cooperated and testified and told the truth, there was still a high likelihood he would go to state prison or county jail?”
Farquhar replied, “I do recall something of that nature.”
Lawrence called to the witness stand John Dino DeFazio, who was one of Postmus’ business partners. DeFazio acknowledged he was charged with perjury in the case but related “All the charges were dismissed.”
DeFazio said of his relationship with Postmus that “We’re business partners [in a] consulting business for entitlements.”
Lawrence’s major focus in his examination of DeFazio was what had transpired on an unspecified date in late 2010 or early 2011 at the Green Tree Inn in Victorville, which DeFazio at that time owned. DeFazio said that Postmus had been charged in the Colonies lawsuit settlement criminal matter. “I was aware he was charged,” DeFazio said. They were at lunch when Postmus received a call and because of the sound level in the restaurant, they exited the building, DeFazio said. “I don’t know the exact date,” DeFazio said. “We went outside and he put it [Postmus’ cell phone] on speaker.” On the line, DeFazio said were “Brett Granlund and Dave Ellis.”
Granlund, a former Republican Assemblyman who has since become a lobbyist, was a close associate of Mike Ramos. He was also heavily involved in Republican circles, which brought him into frequent contact with Postmus. Ellis is a political consultant who works almost exclusively with Republican politicians on their electoral campaigns. He was Mike Ramos’ campaign manager.
DeFazio said Postmus putting his phone on speaker mode on that occasion “made me privy to the call from both of those gentlemen. The gist of it was Dave Ellis trying to cut a deal with Mr. Postmus on his charges.”
“What was Bret Granlund doing?” Lawrence asked
“The same,” said DeFazio. “Brett Granlund was trying to talk Mr. Postmus into cutting a deal with the district attorney’s office.” DeFazio said he learned from Postmus that Ellis and Granlund had continued their efforts to have Postmus enter guilty pleas on the charges “over what could have been two or three weeks. I know they were talking on other days, but I didn’t listen to those calls,” he said.
DeFazio’s testimony supports that portion of Lawrence’s motion to withdraw the plea which states that Ramos “had David Ellis and Brett Granlund call Postmus for him and encourage him to plead guilty. Both knew Postmus from political circles, and they were aware of his drug problem. They encouraged Postmus to plead guilty and testify against Erwin, who was now publicly shaming DA Ramos with his claim that he had the affair Postmus had told him about. At the time, Postmus thought these men were sincere in their efforts to get him to plead guilty, but now he believes they were just doing Ramos’ bidding. DA Ramos wanted to quell any talk of his alleged affair, as he was up for reelection in 2010, but instead Neil Derry, then a [member of the] San Bernardino County Board of Supervisor[s], whom James Erwin helped elect when he worked for him, was calling for a public investigation of DA Ramos over his alleged sexual misconduct on the job.”
Also called to testify was Stephen Levine.
Lawrence asked Levine if Postmus had been offered assurances that pleading guilty to 14 felonies was the best way out of his legal dilemma.
“I can’t say that it was ever said that if he pled guilty they would go easy on him,” Levine said.
Levine said he read all of the discovery provided to him relating to the case against Postmus and that he had provided Postmus with an explanation of the case the prosecution was proceeding with.
“Did he appear to understand what you were describing to him?” Lawrence asked.
“Yes,” said Levine.
Levine said he and Farquhar had developed a rapport in representing Postmus, saying he had “communicated extensively with him. I kept him apprised of my conversation with Mr. Cope [the prosecutor]. I appeared for him and he appeared for me [in matters relating to the criminal cases against Postmus]. I hope we had good communication back and forth.”
Levine testified that he was not in favor of Postmus entering into the plea arrangement as it was formulated by the prosecution and presented. He said he had recommended against taking the deal and that the move to accept it ultimately was done “at my client’s desire.” Postmus caved in, Levine opined, as a consequence of the overwhelming circumstance he faced. “A lot of pressure had been brought to bear on Mr. Postmus,” Levine said. Postmus political career had been foreclosed on him, Levine pointed out, adding that here were three criminal cases pending against him in the form of the assessor’s office case, the Colonies lawsuit settlement case and a drug case. Several of his associates involved with him in politics and government were being charged, as well, Levine said, and the district attorney’s office was on the brink of charging him with further drug offenses after he showed up to court intoxicated, was detained and drugs were found in his vehicle. “He had no money left,” Levine said. Rex Gutierrez, one of his political associates whom Postmus had hired to work in the assessor’s office had been convicted. “Throw that on the pile,” said Levine. “Enough was enough.”
Asked if he had allowed Postmus at that point to be interviewed by prosecutors or interrogated by district attorney’s office investigators alone, Levine said, “Absolutely not.”
Asked by Lawrence his “impression of your client’s mental state” at the time he entered into the plea arrangement, Levine said, “He was nervous. He was exhausted. His ability to understand things and his ability to communicate were not impeded. He was resentful of being in the position he was in.”
Lawrence asked if Postmus understood the questions the district attorney’s office investigators were asking him in the meetings Postmus was having with them in Levine’s presence at the time. Levine said Postmus did. “He was able to respond,” Levine said. “He didn’t always give them what they wanted, but he was able to respond.”
Some of the sessions were lengthy, Levine said, with one going “four or five hours” with occasional breaks. In those, Levine said, Postmus’ version of events did not deviate substantially. “I think Mr. Postmus has remained consistent throughout my time with him,” he said.
“Did you hear bizarre gibberish?” Lawrence asked.
“I didn’t hear from him anything that was contradictory to what he told me previously,” Levine said.
Levine said the prosecution team proved “hard negotiators” which led to “frustration, but ultimately we agreed on a disposition.”
“Did you promise your client he would never go to prison?” Lawrence asked.
“The only thing I promised Mr. Postmus was my best effort,” Levine said.
“Do you believe he was under the influence on the day he entered his plea?” Lawrence asked
“No,” said Levine.
Levine said that he arranged to have Postmus drug tested on a random basis. “I knew Mr. Postmus’ credibility was going to be an issue at the trial that came nearly seven years later,” Levine said. “That credibility included his attempts to remain sober. To his credit, he sits before you a sober man.” Levine said Postmus was given ”four or five” random tests over the intervening years.
“And he tested clean all four times?” Lawrence asked.
“Yes,” said Levine.
Lawrence explored with Levine the tactics used by the prosecution team to have Postmus plead guilty, which Lawrence said including filing charges against his boyfriend, Greg Eyler, and his business partner, Dino DeFazio.
Levine acknowledged, “I received discovery on both cases” and that “I didn’t think any of this was a strong case. The charges against Mr. DeFazio were not genuine.”
“What were they [the prosecution] trying to get your client to do?” Lawrence asked.
“To cooperate with regard to the Colonies case,” Levine said.
Postmus was, Levine said “looking to have the case against Dino DeFazio dismissed and the case against Greg Eyler dismissed. He was trying to salvage his political career and not plead to something that would prevent him from holding office, regardless of the sentence.”
Levine said he learned from Postmus that David Ellis was telling him he should plead guilty. Lawrence asked Levine if he knew who Ellis was.
“I know he is the campaign manager or finance manager of Mr. Ramos’s campaign. I take it with a grain of salt that he was calling Bill and telling him to plead guilty.”
“As far as the disposition in this case, were you telling Mr. Postmus that if he told the truth, he would get probation?” Lawrence asked.
“I gave him my honest assessment that if he stuck to the terms of his plea agreement, when the dust settled, if he was honoring his plea agreement, he was a successful candidate for probation,” Levine said. “I thought there was no reason he should not receive probation but I also informed him of what the maximum exposure he faced was, what I read in the plea, and that he could be subject to state prison.”
Levine said that prior to Postmus entering into the agreement, there had been some dialogue with John Vandevelde, an attorney then representing Jeff Burum. That conversation focused on, Levine said, Postmus’ deteriorating financial situation. “The nature of discussion was about going the distance [legally] and what the trial would cost, that Mr. Postmus’s sources of finance were tightening up, and that he was relying on friends and family and he needed someone to help,” Levine said. “We had heard of some deep pockets who might help in funding.” Asked if Burum was willing to “offer some assistance” at that point, Levine said, “I’m afraid not.”
Several years later, Levine said, after Burum was being represented by Stephen Larson, Larson came forward, suggesting that Postmus should withdraw his guilty pleas.
“Did you think it was unusual that Mr. Larson was approaching you?” asked Lawrence.
“I thought it was highly unusual,” said Levine.
Judge Smith directly questioned Levine, repeating a facsimile of what he had asked Postmus and Farquhar. “Do you remember the court telling Mr. Postmus that ‘If the district attorney’s office and the attorney general’s office gives notification of him having cooperated fully and you have testified truthfully and fully there is a real likelihood you will be sentenced to prison or jail on the remaining three counts?’”
Levine said he did.
Judge Smith then asked if Postmus had expressed concern or asked questions about the judge mentioning a prison sentence.
Levine said, “From the very beginning of the plea bargaining, we told him that jail was a real possibility but that cooperation would go toward limiting that jail time, if any.”
The proceedings will resume at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, November 13, with oral arguments expected to be heard that day from both Lawrence, on Postmus’ behalf, and either Dicesare or Mandel on behalf of the prosecution. In what has been interpreted as a signal that Judge Smith will not grant the motion to withdraw the plea agreement, Postmus’ sentencing hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, November 14.
ADELANTO-Rich Kerr, Adelanto’s lame duck mayor who dominated politics in this 35,000 population city for the last four years, has an illicit drug use problem that renders him at times non compos mentis, according to Cindy Herrera, Adlelanto’s former city clerk and city manager.
Herrera, who was employed with the city for 31 years and six months before she was abruptly terminated in August, made that disclosure in a claim dated November 5 she filed with the city
In that claim for damages, Herrera asserts that Kerr and council members John Woodard and Joy Jeanette, together with former City Attorney Ruben Duran and current City Manager Jessie Flores were civilly responsible for what had transpired “in their official and individual capacities” and that they “did so … as agents and co-conspirators.”
Herrera’s claim notes that Flores was hired as the city’s economic development consultant on or about January 3, 2017 and that “In reality, Mr. Flores was Mayor Richard Kerr’s agent and clandestine assistant. Mr. Flores had absolutely no qualifications to hold that job. The only qualification Mr. Flores had was that he was once the driver for disgraced former First District Supervisor Bill Postmus. However, Mayor Richard Kerr wanted him in that position to ultimately replace claimant [i.e., Herrera] as the city manager, as Mr. Flores is a younger male and would do anything for him, including break the law and city charter. From the beginning, Mr. Flores made it clear that he did not think much of what claimant had done over the past 1-1/2 years as the city manager. On January 19, 2017, a notice of discontinuation of economic development services letter was hand-delivered to Mr. Flores to terminate his services. The reason for Mr. Flores’ termination as a consultant for the city was due to Mr. Flores’ questionable dealings within the community. At the time, the City of Adelanto was receiving many individual public records requests including one from a law firm asking about Mr. Flores’ background. There were newspaper articles regarding Mr. Flores’ misconduct in his dealings within the community and his questionable past. In addition, claimant found Mr. Flores to be insubordinate in overstepping his role as an economic development consultant. On one occasion, he personally contacted an employee who was terminated by the city to tell the person the termination was a mistake and ordered that person back to work. As an economic development consultant, Mr. Flores had absolutely no authority to engage in any hiring decisions since he was merely a contract employee. He also continually gave instructions directly to city staff, despite being ordered by claimant, as city manager, to stop from giving such instructions. Mr. Flores’ termination by claimant infuriated Kerr and Flores. This immediately created a hostile work environment for claimant [who] now was in fear for her career. Additionally, on numerous occasions Kerr and then-Mayor Pro Tem Jermaine Wright ordered claimant to terminate certain employees within the city who were not allied with Kerr or Flores. When claimant refused to terminate these employees because she knew the actions to be in violation of the city charter and illegal as there was no basis for such action, Kerr and Flores became enraged and threatened claimant with her own termination.”
According to the claim, “Although Mr. Flores was not a contract employee from January 20, 2017 to April 26, 2017, he still attended meetings and made negotiations with Mayor Richard Kerr on the city’s behalf without the consent or approval of the city council. Mr. Flores took a trip to Dubai ultimately paid for by the city, purportedly on behalf of the city, under the ridiculous guise of promoting business to the City of Adelanto, at or around the time the FBI arrested then-Mayor Pro Tem Jermaine Wright on corruption and attempted arson charges in or about November 2017. Claimant reported this inappropriate conduct/illegal gift of public funds to her superiors and nothing was done about it.”
The claim alleges that “On or about May 2018, claimant reported to Mr. Duran and others within the city that the mayor came into her office to have a personal document notarized. She noticed he was acting and talking irrationally and that it appeared he was under the influence of drugs. Claimant reported this to Mr. Duran and others within the city. She also reported that the Mayor failed to report campaign funds and that he borrowed $30,000.00 from the public works manager, Don Wappler, and never repaid it or reported it. In fact, claimant also told Mr. Wappler about her meeting with the mayor and that she believed the mayor was under the influence of drugs. Mr. Wappler told claimant he knew the mayor was using methamphetamine and where the mayor was buying it from. None of these concerns were ever investigated or looked into by Mr. Duran or anyone from the city. Mr. Duran instead told the mayor and Mr. Flores about claimant’s complaints. Mr. Duran knew that claimant would be retaliated against. In retaliation, Mayor Kerr and Flores had their groupies and friends attack claimant personally at public meetings. Mayor Kerr had previously told claimant that this was the tactic he used against his enemies. Claimant reported this to Mr. Duran and her superiors, and nothing was done about it.”
The claim further maintains that “Mayor Kerr and Mr. Flores repeatedly directed city staff to waive fees for city services to people they favored and friends. Kerr and Flores also directed city staff such as code enforcement personnel to ‘stand down’ and not enforce violations of city ordinances against marijuana cultivators they favored and had personal dealings with. Claimant repeatedly told Kerr and Flores they were abusing their positions and making a gift of public funds without any authority to do so. Claimant reported this to her superiors and Mr. Duran, but nothing was done about it. Every time claimant reported these incidents she was subjected to harassment by being belittled and disrespected. She was given illegal directives by Kerr and Flores who wanted things done that would require approval by the entire city council. Claimant was humiliated, and her authority was bypassed and undermined.”
According to the claim, “Mayor Kerr and Flores repeatedly directed the contracted planning staff to put items on the planning commission agenda. Also, Flores and Kerr conducted serial meetings with the rest of the council in violation of the Brown Act. This was also done by Mr. Flores as a contracted economic development consultant.”
The Ralph M. Brown Act is California’s open public meeting law which requires that all decisions by a public board such as a city council be made either in public during a meeting at which the public can be in attendance and which has been advertised in advance or, with specific exemptions for action relating to litigation, personnel issues and negotiations relating to real estate transactions, in a pre-noticed closed session after which any action taken is publicly disclosed. The Brown Act prohibits a quorum of any such panel discussing any item to be voted upon or coming to a conclusion regarding such issues in anything other than a public forum.
The claim states that “Special privileges were given to certain developers and vendors by directing staff to prepare reports or gather certain information for the developer/vendor requests in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act and open meeting laws. Claimant notified Mayor Kerr and Mr. Flores of the illegality of the conduct, but nothing happened. Again, when claimant reported these incidents she was subjected to harassment, illegal directives by Kerr and Flores, humiliated, and her authority was bypassed and undermined. Flores would go to her staff directly to give them directives. In further efforts to harass and retaliate against claimant for reporting illegal activities, Mayor Kerr had a secretary, Rachel Suraci, file a sham and untruthful workplace harassment charge against claimant. This was purposefully released and published in the newspaper several times. The city hired an investigator who found no merit to any of the allegations Ms. Suraci claimed.”
According to the claim, “Mayor Kerr acted as if the city was a strong-mayor form of government as opposed to a city manager-run city as provided by the city charter. Claimant reported this to her superiors and Mr. Duran. Nothing was done about it. Mayor Richard Kerr consistently asked claimant to fire certain individuals because of how he and Flores felt at the time. The city charter prohibits any one council member from directing staff to be fired. The order/direction must be implemented only by the city manager. In addition, Mayor Richard Kerr asked claimant to reinstate Mr. Flores repeatedly and threatened claimant with putting her performance evaluation on for closed session and threatened her with her own job if she did not. Mayor Kerr also ignored claimant’s instructions as a filing officer for the city to file a 410 form to get a committee ID number from the California Secretary of State for his fundraiser he had in April 2018, for which he failed to report campaign contributions. Claimant reported this to her superiors and Mr. Duran, and nothing was done about it.”
The claim implicates Flores directly in Herrera’s firing, stating, “On or about July 27, 2018, Mr. Flores was appointed as interim city manager. He stated to a newspaper reporter that evening that one of his top priorities would be reviewing ‘bloated’ salaries within administrative services, an obvious reference to getting rid of claimant and to retaliate against her for not concealing his conduct. This statement was at odds with the city council, which was publicly claiming there was a balanced budget. A newspaper article was published on July 31, 2018 mentioning the contentious history between Mr. Flores and claimant. In early August 2018, claimant was present at a meeting with Mr. Duran and Mr. Flores. The topic of this meeting was an allegation of harassment by an employee named Diana Lopez. Ms. Lopez reported to claimant and, in turn, claimant reported to Mr. Duran to investigate an allegation about an incident in which Ms. Lopez, Mr. Flores, Mr. Charles Rangel (the city’s contracted planning director) and two female employees from the engineer/planning department went to a marijuana cultivation facility for an unknown reason. While at the facility, they all received free marijuana edibles. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Lopez was injured at work and sent to the city doctor for evaluation and treatment. As a matter of course, Ms. Lopez was given a drug test and tested positive for marijuana. Ms. Lopez felt she was being harassed by Mr. Flores and Mr. Rangel because she had to take a drug test. She was also afraid of retaliation by them for telling people the identity of everyone that attended the event. Claimant reported the matter to the city attorney, Mr. Duran. When Mr. Flores found out that claimant reported the matter to Mr. Duran and not him, he was enraged and told claimant she should not have bypassed him and should not have reported the incident to the city attorney.”
The claim relates that “In mid-August 2018, claimant reported to the city attorney, Mr. Duran, her fears of retaliation for whistleblowing when claimant reported the non-qualifying nomination papers of then-city council candidate and now council member John Woodard. At the time, claimant reported to Mr. Duran that Mr. Woodard’s paperwork lacked sufficient valid signatures to place him on the ballot. This enraged the mayor and Mr. Flores who wanted Mr. Woodward to be elected to become part of the mayor’s majority voting block to allow marijuana companies to operate within the city limits virtually unchecked and to be able to buy city-owned property well-below the current market price. Claimant had asked Mr. Duran for confidentiality of the matters discussed. However, Mr. Duran ignored claimant’s request, saying that Mr. Flores was the interim city manager, therefore he should be made aware of claimant’s reporting. Mr. Duran questioned claimant’s mistrust of Mr. Flores, even though he was aware of the ongoing illegal activities of the two and the contentious history among Mr. Flores, Mayor Kerr and claimant regarding the mayor’s illegal activities. Mr. Duran nevertheless reported claimant’s allegations to the mayor and Mr. Flores, knowing that they would retaliate against claimant.”
According to the claim, “On August 20, 2018 at approximately 5:00 p.m., Mr. Flores ordered claimant to go to the conference room to meet with the city’s newly hired part-time HR [human resources] supervisor, Geriann Kingslan, who had started working for the city that very day. Without any sensitivity, cause, or concern for claimant’s tenured position, Mr. Flores, with only the approval of the mayor and not the rest of the council, had Ms. Kingslan hand deliver to claimant a termination of at-will employment notice, effective immediately upon receipt.”
The claim maintains that Herrera was “retaliated against by being wrongfully terminated from her job after she reported to her superiors/supervisors and the city attorney all of the above-described incidents, in violation of Labor Code Section 1102.5. [C]laimant was terminated without notice, a hearing, or good cause and she was deprived of due process of law. Claimant was wrongfully terminated in violation of public policy when she refused to participate in illegal activities.”
The claim does not quantify what Herrera’s damages are beyond stating “the amount of compensatory and other damages exceeds $10,000 and will lie within the unlimited jurisdiction of the Superior Court.”
City officials had not responded to a request for a response to the substance of the claim by press time.
One day after the date of Herrera’s suit, both Woodard and Kerr were bounced from their respective perches on the Adelanto City Council when voters elected in their steads, Gabriel Reyes as mayor and Gerardo Hernandez and Stevevonna Evans to the city council.
By Amanda Frye and Mark Gutglueck
Without citing cause, the Redlands City Council Tuesday night terminated Nabar Martinez as city manager, a month and a day after placing him on paid administrative leave.
Firing Martinez without cause leaves him eligible to collect a severance package equal to eighteen months of his $350,896.08 annual salary & add-on pay and annual benefits of $78,383.94, which totals $643,920.43, along with a cash buyout of his accumulated perquisites including unused sick leave and vacation time and equipment and vehicle allowances totaling roughly $245,000, such that the city will pay him nearly $890,000 to be rid of him. The council also agreed to continue his medical insurance until he becomes eligible for Medicare coverage.
Had the council elected to invoke cause in firing him, which some believe it could have cited given certain particulars about his actions during the eleven years of his tenure as city manager, it would not have needed to provide him with any of the $643,920.43 severance package. However, given the council’s knowledge that Martinez had kept a “black book” in which he had detailed accounts of closed door and private remarks and statements by the council, variances between public pronouncements by the council and action taken during closed door votes, miscues by council members individually and the council collectively, as well as both illegal and simply embarrassing acts by council members, the body elected to make no declaration of reason for firing Martinez in what all parties understand is an unspoken arrangement to buy mutual silence.
The efficacy of citing cause with regard to Martinez’s sacking was subject to question. The definition of what would constitute cause is relatively narrowly defined in his contract, extending to acts of moral turpitude resulting in conviction of a felony, direct and provable acts of insubordination in which he defied the legal directives of the city council, or the use of alcohol or drugs in a manner that would impact his function as city manager. As Martinez has not been prosecuted for any crime, let alone convicted, and there was no realistic evidence of his having defied the council in any actual sense nor intemperance on his part, citation of cause in terminating him would have been subject to controversion. Nevertheless, city officials had in their possession documentation to show Martinez has continued to accrue unused vacation leave on dates and occasions when he was known to have been absent from City Hall at distant destinations where no business relating to the city was being conducted. By simple definition, the continuing accrual of leave time to which Martinez was not in fact entitled would constitute fraud, which is defined as a felony, and accepting the cash-out of any such leave to which he was not legally entitled that totaled more than $950 would be considered grounds for felony grand theft charges. Without a prosecution and conviction having taken place, however, even if all of the elements of these crimes could be established, Martinez would have grounds to contend the threshold of cause had not been achieved.
The major precipitating factor in Martinez having been put on leave on October 5 and his firing this week arose from sexual harassment accusations leveled at him by the city’s former human resources director, Amy Martin-Hagan, who departed from the city last December and officially left the city payroll in February.
Martin-Hagan, who was then known as Amy Martin, had been hired by Martinez in 2013 to replace the city’s previous human resources director, Deborah Scott-Leistra, after the city found itself in the position of fending off litigation brought by former municipal employees alleging they had encountered untoward workplace conditions and/or had been discriminated and retaliated against or harassed by higher-ups in the city and/or constructively, unjustifiably or wrongfully terminated. Martin-Hagan was able to remedy some of those matters through negotiated settlements, conditional reinstatements or other accommodations. She won kudos both for deriving successful defenses of the city’s action in cases where litigation proceeded and her instituting of hiring procedures that were designed to ensure that the city’s newly acquired workers were a better fit for the circumstances and roles they assumed with the city, thus heading off costly terminations and lawsuits.
Early in her role overseeing the city’s personnel division, Martin-Hagan had accommodated Martinez with regard to his requests of her that went beyond the scope of her employment, in particular assisting him with the preparation and tailoring of his profiles to be submitted to on-line dating sites. According to Martin-Hagan, Martinez’s demands in this regard were continuous and took up a considerable amount of her time at home, often until late in the evening or during weekends as she spent literally hours with him on the phone or in person weekly, during which Martinez insisted upon discussing intimate personal and sexual matters. When the on-line postings to the dating sites failed to produce the results that Martinez, who is now 71, hoped would satisfy his predilection for petite women in their thirties and forties, he grew ever more demanding that Martin-Hagman further fine-tune his approach. Ultimately, after some four years, Martin-Hagan’s resentment of the circumstance boiled over and she refused to assist him any further in the preparation of his on-line dating profiles or indulge him in his sexually-laced conversations. There ensued from Martinez, according to Martin-Hagan, a series of eruptions of extremely offensive insults and vulgarisms, punctuated with threats that her then-ongoing efforts in representing the city in its collective bargaining sessions with the police officers’ and firefighters’ unions were inadequate and were on the brink of convincing the city council to insist upon her firing.
By November of last year, Martin-Hagan made clear to the city’s upper administrative and managerial echelon that she was intent on leaving the city. Despite Martinez’s representations to the contrary, the council initiated an effort, carried out by City Attorney Dan McHugh, to convince her to reconsider and remain in place as Redlands’ head of human resources. Martin-Hagan, however, disclosed to McHugh the nature of the harassment she had endured from Martinez and reiterated her intention of leaving the city’s employ. Thereafter, McHugh’s effort to convince her to remain with the city transitioned to negotiations over her exit and what sort of severance would be conferred upon her. Ultimately, Martin-Hagan and McHugh hammered out a document titled “Settlement Agreement And Mutual General Release.” That document specified that Martin-Hagan would be provided with a cash settlement of $133,981.25, derived from providing her with six months’ severance pay in the amount of $84,500 along with a $49,481.25 cash conversion of her accumulated 609 hours of vacation, illness and administrative break leave. According to language in the settlement agreement, the $133,981.25 was being tendered to her “in full satisfaction of all claims, known or unknown, asserted or non-asserted, and alleged wages due and owing to” her, with the understanding “that the payment is made to fully compromise and release employee’s claim against employer, including any employee’s attorneys’ fees and costs.” The settlement agreement further called for the city putting $4,505 into Martin-Hagan’s employee retirement account and it contained a provision which stated, “Employee shall be entitled to a ‘medical bridge’ program for herself upon separation from the city until she becomes Medicare-eligible. ‘Medical bridge’ is defined as employee-only coverage at the least expensive equivalent health, vision, and dental insurance plan as provided by employer to its then existing directors through the California Public Employee Retirement System medical plan until employee reaches the age of Medicare eligibility, at which time the benefit will cease.”
On January 5, 2018, both Martinez and Martin-Hagan signed the agreement. On the same day, Martin-Hagan submitted a voluntary resignation letter, attributing her departure to “family health issues.” Martin-Hagan departed Redlands shortly thereafter, having landed the position of human resources administrator across the California border with the Southern Nevada Health District.
The Southern Nevada Health District provided Martin-Hagan, who at that point was no longer going by Amy Martin but rather was professionally know as Amy Hagan, with health insurance. The Southern Nevada Health District’s employee health plan, however, did not include dental coverage. Accordingly, Martin-Hagan sought to invoke the medical bridge provision of her settlement agreement with Redlands to obtain dental care insurance. The coverage she selected cost $95 per month. Redlands, however, citing the phrase “the least expensive equivalent” contained in the agreement, provided her with $13 toward the monthly payment, which the city said was its cost for basic dental coverage per employee based upon purchasing dental insurance in bulk. It was over this $82 per month difference that Martin-Hagan claims that she and the city collectively slid into a much more serious dispute. Over the course of several months, Martin-Hagan said she endeavored to have the city simply cover her $95 monthly dental insurance bill. The city consistently rebuffed those efforts, offering no more than $13. Unwilling to accept the city’s interpretation of the medical bridge clause, Hagan-Martin on June 25 sent the city a demand letter which threatened the filing of a lawsuit for breach of contract. In reaction to the demand letter, the city council scheduled a closed door discussion of the matter, describing it as pertaining to potential litigation.
According to Howard Golds, an attorney representing the city, at that point Martin-Hagan’s demand had gone well beyond seeking the $82 more per month than the $13 the city was willing to provide her for the dental coverage. Golds said Martin-Hagan wanted “$1,955 within ten days” and the city to “agree to her interpretation of the medical bridge, and pay her more on a monthly basis than the agreement required.” It was at that time, according to Golds, that Martin-Hagan for the first time alleged that she “was treated differently as a woman and asked to complete personal tasks for the city manager that [were] demeaning, inappropriate and against the law.” According to the city, Martin-Hagan had purposefully misinterpreted both the rationale for and the meaning of the term “medical bridge.” Potentially, Golds implied, the manner in which the 41-year-old Martin-Hagan was interpreting that provision of her departure agreement would cost Redlands taxpayers approaching half of a million dollars to provide her with full medical coverage until she reaches retirement age, i.e., 65.
Golds maintains that Martin-Hagan attempted to file suit in Nevada against the City of Redlands in July but was informed that the suit had to be filed in California and so she instead sent an email to McHugh on July 9, 2018, seeking a pay-out from the city of $125,000. According to Golds, it was in that email, that “she alleged for the first time that she resigned due to gender discrimination. She also sent text messages to the mayor of Redlands and a councilmember on the same day, wherein she for the first time alleged the specific details of the purported gender discrimination and sexual harassment,” Golds said, providing “the allegations for the mayor and councilmember to consider as ‘background’ to her $125,000 demand for her claimed medical bridge benefits.”
Martin-Hagan insists that she had informed the city of Martinez’s treatment of her long before that, in the fall of 2017, when she announced her intention of leaving the city’s employ. It was in an effort to keep her from proceeding with a sexual harassment suit against the city and Martinez at that time which induced the city to provide her with the termination settlement, she said, since the city was not obliged to furnish her with one upon her voluntary resignation from the city.
Martin-Hagan did not file a lawsuit, either for breach of contract or on her claim of sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation or constructive termination, but did lodge a charge of discrimination against the City of Redlands with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Las Vegas. In the face of that proceeding, the city and Martinez put on a brave public face. It was deemed advisable, however, given the degree to which McHugh had been a participant in the issues relating to Martin-Hagan’s allegations, to bring in a different attorney to represent the city through the process before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The city turned to the law firm of Best Best & Krieger, which employs Golds, whose line of expertise includes labor & employment, labor & employment litigation and public agency labor & employment. In the course of preparing for defending the city, Best Best & Krieger and Golds carried out an investigation of the relevant issues Golds anticipates he will encounter. That investigation turned up information relating to Martinez that was “highly problematic” in the words of one city official. Accordingly, on October 5, the city council elected to place him on paid administrative leave. It then elevated Martinez’s second-in-command, Janice McConnell, to serve as interim city manager.
Five days after his suspension, Martinez, having consulted with the Woodland Hills-based law firm of Goldberg & Gage, had filed on his behalf a Department of Fair Employment and Housing complaint against the City of Redlands. In that complaint, dated, October 10 and worded by Terry Goldberg and verified by Martinez, it is alleged that the City of Redlands took “adverse actions” against Martinez, which included his being “harassed against because of complainant’s ancestry, national origin [and] age” and that he “was discriminated against because of complainant’s ancestry, national origin [and] age, and as a result of the discrimination was asked impermissible non-job-related questions, denied employment benefit or privilege [and] denied work opportunities or assignments.” The complaint further alleged Martinez “experienced retaliation because complainant reported or resisted any form of discrimination or harassment, participated as a witness in a discrimination or harassment claim and as a result was asked impermissible non-job-related questions [and] denied employment benefit or privilege.”
If Martinez had any vestige of a chance of being reinstated as city manager, the filing of that complaint sealed his fate. On Tuesday of this week, after the matter had been percolating for more than three weeks and the same day that the three incumbent members of the city council on the ballot in this year’s municipal election – Councilwoman Toni Momberger, Councilman Paul Barich and Mayor Paul Foster – were retained by Redlands voters by comfortable margins over their competitors, the city council voted unanimously in closed session to cashier Martinez.
San Bernardino Councilman John Valdivia appears to be on track to take command of the full range of the machinery of municipal government in the county seat as the consequence of this week’s election and some skillful behind-the-scenes maneuvering at City Hall and among a core of San Bernardino’s influential elite.
On June 5, San Bernardino held what was the first of its elections under the auspices of the 2016 redrafting of the city charter that had been in place since 1905. Whereas previously, San Bernardino held its municipal elections in November of odd-numbered years, the new charter moved the first round of the municipal election cycle to correspond with the California Primary, held in even-numbered years. In June, Valdivia and incumbent Mayor Carey Davis were two candidates vying in a field of seven for the city’s highest elective office. They qualified to go head-to-head in this week’s run-off by finishing first and second, respectively, ahead of Danny Tillman, Gigi Hanna, Rick Avila, Karmel Roe and Danny Malmuth. They carried out vigorous campaigns against one another beginning in August.
With the initial posting of the election results made by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters at 8:05 p.m., five minutes after the polls had closed on election night November 6, the incumbent was slightly ahead of Valdivia in the 2018 race for San Bernardino mayor. Counted at that point were the results of early mail-in ballots and votes that had been cast at the polling place maintained at the Registrar of Voter’s office itself at 777 E Rialto Avenue in the weeks and days running up to and including the day of the election. With that single precinct having reported, Davis at that point owned a slim lead over Valdivia, having notched 4,937 votes or 50.82 percent to Valdivia’s 4,778 or 49.18 percent.
At the 10 p.m. posting, at which point 77 of the city’s 178 precincts had reported, the results were trending toward Valdivia, though Davis still led, 6,672 votes or 50.13 percent to 6,637 votes or 49.87 percent.
At midnight, with 107 of 178 precincts reporting, Valdivia had pulled ahead. Davis had recorded 10,203 votes, a drop off to 48.92 percent to Valdivia’s 10,652 votes or 51.08 percent.
At 4.a.m. on November 7, all 178 of the city’s precincts had reported and Valdivia had widened his lead slightly. The challenger at that point tallied 10,816 votes or 51.2 percent to Davis’s 10,308 votes or 48.8 percent. Those results were not considered final, however, as straggling mail-in ballots were yet to arrive, and provisional ballots, that is, ones that are potentially in dispute based upon doubt as to whether those casting them are properly registered or in some measure out of compliance with voting rules, had yet to be verified, and were not tallied.
Today, the results were updated with some provisional ballots that were verified being added to the mix, along with mail-in ballots that had come in on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and earlier today. By that count, Davis had fallen even further behind, having logged 12,080 votes or 48.79 percent to Valdivia’s 12,681 or 51.21 percent. While the results are not official and some provisional votes and very late arriving mail votes are not reflected in those totals, Valdivia appears virtually assured of victory.
Of note is that two of the council candidates who were victorious on Tuesday, Sandra Ibarra in Ward 2 and Theodore Sanchez in Ward 1, had not been the top finishers in the June Primary race.
Cecilia Miranda-Dolan had registered what looked to be a substantial victory by logging 699 votes or 39.60 percent to Ibarra’s 541 votes or 30.65 percent in June, when the other candidate in the Ward 2 race, incumbent Benito Barrios, had finished third, not too distant behind Ibarra with 525 votes or 29.75 percent. Ibarra campaigned assiduously over the last two months, and appears to have picked up all of Barrios’ support and then some. As of today, she had an overwhelming margin of 1,619 votes or 63.44 percent to 933 votes or 36.56 percent for Miranda-Dolan.
In June, Gil Botello bested the three others vying against him in Ward 1, as he had captured first place in the primary balloting with 516 votes or 34.22 percent, while Theodore Sanchez lagged slightly behind with 505 votes or 33.49 percent. In the primary race, Miguel Rivera claimed 339 votes of 22.48 percent to take third place and Magie Castaneda recorded 148 votes or 9.81 percent. In the fall campaign, Sanchez proved highly aggressive, utilizing attack mailers which hinted that Botello had a criminal record and alleged he had stiffed his creditors as a consequence of a bankruptcy he had filed a little less than a decade ago. As of today, Sanchez’s vote total stood at 1,096 votes or 57.56 percent to Botello’s 42.44 percent. Sanchez and Valdivia are cousins, which is not widely known, and there were suggestions that the Sanchez campaign was aided by funding which originated with Valdivia or his supporters. Curiously, at one point early on, Valdivia indicated he was supporting Botello, though that support was apparently subsequently withdrawn.
In the one other San Bernardino City Council race held this year, incumbent Fred Shorett was reelected to represent the city’s Ward 4, pulling down 2,803 votes or 53 percent to outdistance Alexandra Beltran, who captured 2,486 votes or 47 percent.
Over the last several months Valdivia has put the final touches on arrangements to conform key players within city government to his will or move them out and bring in an administrative and management team that will be beholden to him and amenable to his direction. In this regard, Valdivia is reported to be purposed to jettison City Manager Andrea Travis-Miller, and to be looking toward replacing Police Chief Jerrod Burguan or forcing him into retirement.
Of note is that Valdivia is on the brink of effectuating a dynamic power transition in which the balance of control that is gravitating to him will more than make up for the attenuation of the mayor’s power that occurred with the aforementioned charter change. Previously, as now, the mayor had no voting power except in the case of a tie among the council. The mayor had before, as now, veto power over council votes of 4-to-3, 3-to-2 or 3-to-1. Under the previous San Bernardino Charter, the mayor’s position was an uncommonly strong one in terms of managerial authority. The mayor and city manager served as co-managerial regents, such that the mayor had the authority to hire and fire, or at least have final say-so in hiring or firing, the city manager and department heads and lower city employees. The new charter dispensed with that mayoral authority. The mayor still possesses the power to put any item onto the council agenda at his/her own discretion, and remains as the presiding officer at city council meetings, controlling the ebb and flow of council discussion and debate.
San Bernardino’s mayor is provided with a salary and benefit package of roughly $125,000 annually, which will free Valdivia up to devote the totality of his daily life to politics and governance. It so happens, as well, that in September, the city council voted to up its members’ salaries from $600 yearly to $14,000, bringing their individual annual compensation total, when benefits and perquisites are included, to $34,340. That makes serving on the council almost as much of a plum as an honor. Historically, San Bernardino’s mayor has had significant political sway, and has often extended it to impacting council elections and influencing whom donors will support. Valdivia is now positioned to have more leverage than any of his predecessors, as those who now occupy the council have even more of a personal financial stake than ever before in remaining on the council. Accordingly, it follows that future members of the council will be more likely to align themselves with the mayor’s agenda, given Valdivia’s leverage in militating politically against their re-election prospects.
As it stands, Valdivia already has a ready-made coalition willing to carry out most, if not all, of his bidding. On the existing council, the one that has been serving under Davis the last two-and-a-half years, Valdivia, Councilman Henry Nickel, Councilman Benito Barrios and Councilwoman Bessine Richards have voted, if not in lockstep with one another, then in what might be termed consistent unison. Barrios is now departing but is to be replaced by Ibarra, who appears to be aligned with Valdivia. Sanchez will replace Councilwoman Virginia Marquez, who generally lined up with the faction on the council that could be said to be the minority opposition, which also included Shorett and Councilman Jim Mulvihill. It thus appears that Valdivia has the four votes it will take for him to sustain control of the council. Moreover, upon Valdivia moving into the mayoral position, his departure as Ward 3 council member will necessitate a replacement for him in that post be selected. His growing political reach and the momentum in his favor makes it likely he will be able to influence events to ensure that his replacement will find himself or herself in consonance with his philosophy, goals and agenda.
Asked to characterize his approach to governance, Valdivia said he was a four-pro: pro –business, pro-growth, pro-development and pro-safety.
In the cities of Chino Hills, Ontario, Fontana, Rialto, Barstow, Redlands, Yucaipa, Apple Valley and Twentynine Palms, all of the incumbents running in the various mayoral and city council races emerged victorious in Tuesday’s voting. In Montclair, where two incumbent council members vied against each other for mayor, the loser will yet remain in her position on the city council.
In Chino Hills, Mayor Ray Marquez was unopposed is his electoral effort, which required that he stand for election within the city’s newly created District 1. As of today, with all six of District 1’s precincts having reported and a significant number of the mail-in ballots having arrived and been counted, Marquez claimed 2,678 votes against no opponents. In District 2, incumbent Councilman Peter Rogers pulled in all 2,805 votes cast at the districts six polling stations and from the arriving mail-in ballots, as he too had no opposition.
In District 4, appointed incumbent Brian Johsz claimed electoral victory with 1,257 votes, or 47.96 percent, besting Gabriel DeLuna with 566 votes, or 21.59 percent, former councilwoman Rossana Mitchell-Arrieta with 701 votes or 26.75 percent and Ronald Eaton, who garnered 97 votes or 3.7 percent.
In Montclair, two council incumbents, Carolyn Raft and John Dutrey, both of whom were last elected two years ago and who thus have two years remaining on their council terms, competed against one another to determine who will serve as mayor over the next four years. The mayoral post is now held by Ginger Eaton, the widow of the late mayor, Paul Eaton, who passed away earlier this year.
Dutrey gathered 2,312 votes, or 49.4 percent to Raft’s 1,734 votes or 37.05 percent. They ran well ahead of third place finisher Sousan Elias, with 357 votes or 7.63 percent and Kelly Thomas Smith, who polled 277 votes or 5.92 percent.
In the Montclair City Council race, incumbent councilwoman Trisha Martinez, with 2,336 votes or 32.9 percent, and incumbent councilman Bill Ruh, with 1,711 votes or 24.1 percent, were reelected, outdistancing challengers Benjamin Lopez, who received 1,388 votes or 19.55 percent, Juliet Orozco with 772 votes or 10.87 percent, Omar Zamarripa and the 649 votes or 9.14 percent he claimed and Remoushell Henry, who polled 244 voter endorsements or 3.44 percent. Montclair will need to fill the soon-to-be vacant council post now held by Dutrey after he accedes to the mayoral position.
In Ontario, where all 91 precincts have reported, the well-financed trio of Mayor Paul Leon and councilmen Alan Wapner and Jim Bowman were handily reelected.
Leon’s 11,999 votes or 55.93 percent swamped former Councilman/city attorney Sam Crowe, who placed second with 5,469 votes or 25.49 percent, Rudy Favila, who claimed 2788 votes or 13 percent and Richard Galvez, who managed to bring in 1,198 votes or 5.58 percent. Wapner, a former Ontario Police Department detective, with 11,298 votes or 36.34 percent, and Bowman, one of Ontario’s previous fire chiefs who captured the endorsement of 8,329 city residents or 26.76 percent, trounced challengers Norberto Corona, who claimed 5,936 votes or 19.09 percent, Josef Nikyar, who pulled down 2,961 votes or 9.52 percent and Paul Mim Mack, who received 2,575 votes or 8.28 percent.
In the Fontana mayoral contest, conducted at-large among the entirety of the city’s 84 precincts, incumbent Mayor Acquanetta Warren clobbered the field by capturing 15,233 votes or 58.3 percent to the 4,659 votes or 17.83 percent of her closest challenger, incumbent councilman Jesse Sandoval. Other also-rans in the race were Lorena Corona, with 3,247 votes or 12.43 percent; Carlos Sandoval, who was put up as a candidate by Warren as a ploy by Warren to divert votes from Councilman Sandoval and who managed to bring in 1,291 votes or 4.94 percent; and Hafsa Sharafat, who captured 997 votes or 3.82 percent.
In Fontana’s first-ever by-district council election, incumbent Councilman John Roberts prevailed in District 4, which features 21 precincts, by hauling in 2,422 votes or 42.1 percent to Patricia Gonzlez’s 2,24 votes, or 38.66 percent and Glenda Barillas’s 1,107 votes, or 19.24 percent. In District 1, which entails 26 voting precincts, no incumbents competed. Phil Cothran, one of Warren’s political allies, came out on top with 4,691 votes or 52.79 percent, while Shannon O’Brien polled 1,946 votes or 21.9 percent, Jocelyn Aguirre collected 1,315 votes or 14.8 percent and Lourdes Goñi received 934 votes or 10.51 percent.
In neighboring Rialto, which boasts 56 precincts citywide, incumbent councilmen Joe Baca, Jr. and Ed Scott were reelected, with 7,454 votes or 38.23 percent and 5,092 votes or 26.12 percent, respectively, placing them ahead of Karla Perez’s 3,617 votes or 18.55 percent and Ana Gonzalez’s 3,333 or 17.1 percent showing.
In Barstow, incumbents Tim Silva and Merrill Gracey managed to stay in office by vying in separated contests in the city’s first by-district city council elections in its 71-year history as an incorporated municipality.
Competing in newly-drawn District 1, which consists of nine precincts, Councilman Tim Silva overcame a spirited challenge by David Mendez, who had the benefit of the Barstow Firefighters Association’s endorsement. Silva received 391 votes or 53.05 percent to Mendez’s 346 votes, or 46.95 percent.
In the Barstow District 2 race, where voters cast ballots at 18 polling places, Merrill Gracey eked out a 12-vote victory over James Noble by a margin of 268 votes or 32.56 percent to 256 votes or 31.11 percent. Brianna Martinez captured third with 186 votes or 22.6 percent and Bennie Fedrick claimed 113 votes or 13.73 percent.
Redlands returned to holding by-district elections this year after experimenting with the concept in the 1990s and then resuming at-large elections. In the city’s newly-drawn District 1, no incumbents competed on Tuesday in the voting conducted at 16 precincts. Denise Davis, who occupied the first position on the ballot, claimed victory with 1,376 votes or 51.04 percent. Trailing her were Priya Vedual, with 452 votes or 16.77 percent; Andy Hoder, who received 432 votes or 16.02 percent; Renea Wickman, who gathered 323 votes or 11.98 percent; and Eric Whedbee, who was supported by 113 of his would-be constituents or 4.19 percent.
In Redlands District 3, incumbent Paul Barich managed to stay in office in the face of a challenge by three political outsiders. With 4,516 residents casting votes at the district’s 28 polling stations or voting by mail, Barich captured 2,024 votes or 44.82 percent, significantly outdistancing Joe Richardson, who captured second place with 1,303 votes or 28.85 percent, followed by Mike Saifie with 720 votes or 15.94 percent, and Enriquue Estrada, with 469 votes or 10.39 percent.
In Redlands District 5, which is comprised of 11 precincts, Paul Foster, who is currently the city’s designated mayor selected to that position by his council colleagues, blasted past his lone challenger, Ryan Johnson, 2,981 votes or 63.22 percent to 1,734 votes or 36.79 percent.
Additionally, the Redlands City Council last year appointed Toni Momberger to serve within its ranks after the untimely death of Councilwoman Pat Gilbreath, who had most recently been reelected in 2016 to an at-large term. The council scheduled a special election to correspond with Tuesday’s polling to allow the electorate to weigh in on whether Momberger should remain in that billet. Michael Teneyck and Brian Seghers cast their hat in the ring. The voters by a solid margin elected to keep Momberger in place, giving her 9,405 endorsements or 56.87 percent approval to 4,484 votes or 27.11 percent for Seghers and 2,650 votes or 16.02 percent in favor of Teneyck.
In Yucaipa, incumbent Greg Bogh, who currently is serving as that city’s appointed mayor, resides within the city’s District 2. No challengers to Bogh emerged, and the council in August simply appointed him to the position for the next four years.
The other incumbent scheduled to stand for reelection this year, David Avila, drew a single opponent, Wyatt Patrick Padgett. Because of an error by the city clerk, both Avila and Padgett were credited with being incumbents, a status which did not apply to Padgett. Despite that error, Avila gained reelection when District 1’s voters went to the polls at the district’s 14 precincts or mailed in their ballots. Avila, though, prevailed by a relatively narrow margin of 1,460 votes or 53.21 percent to 1,284 votes or 46.79 percent.
In Apple Valley, the four-year terms of three incumbents, Barb Stanton, Scott Nassif and Curt Emick, elapse this year. Stanton opted out of running. Ten challengers joined Nassif and Emick in the contest.
Nassif outpolled everyone voting in the at-large affair at the town’s 48 precincts, getting 6,597 votes or 16.16 percent. Emick finished second, gathering 5,523 votes or 13.53 percent. The other victor was Kari Leon, who came in third with 4,971 votes or 12.18 percent. In descending order thereafter were Roger LaPlante with 3,497 votes or 8.57 percent; one-time Victorville City Councilwoman Angela Valles, who snagged 3,429 votes or 8.4 percent; Amanda Hernandez, with 3,365 votes or 8.24 percent; Richard Bunck, whose 3,347 votes translated to 8.2 percent; Michael Karen, who took in 2,740 votes or 6.71 percent; Bryen Wright, who landed 2,447 votes or an even 6 percent; Matthew Pautz, who captured 1,955 votes or 4.79 percent, Janate Valenzuela, supported by 1,547 voters or 3.79 percent; and Xavier Ariza, who received 1,395 votes or 3.42 percent.
In Twentynine Palms, which this year transitioned to district elections, incumbent Daniel Mintz faced no opposition in District 3, and 350 voters went to the five polling places in their district or asserted suffrage by mail to support him. At District 4’s nine precincts, incumbent Councilman John Cole survived a challenge by Karmolette O’Gilvie, 273 votes or 52 percent to 252 votes or 48 percent. In District 5, former Councilwoman Cora Heiser sought to oust the current incumbent, McArthur Wright. That effort fell short, as Wright claimed 203 votes or 55.62 percent to Heiser’s 162 votes or 44.38 percent.
No election was held in the City of Big Bear Lake, where no one came forward to challenge incumbents Rick Herrick in newly-formed District 2, Randy Putz in the just-created District 3 and Dave Caretto in District 4. The city council on August 20 by acclamation appointed the trio to those posts for the next four years and thereby forewent a municipal election this year.
In June, the City of Loma Linda held its election in correspondence to the California Primary. Incumbents Phillip Dupper and Ron Dailey turned back challenges by Gabriel Uribe and David Sanner in that race.
The county has conveyed the grounds of the Asistencia, California Historical Landmark 42 located in Redlands off Barton Avenue near the Redlands/Loma Linda City Limits, to the Redlands Conservancy.
Originally, the Asistencia was established in 1819 as a part of the Mission San Gabriel’s Rancho San Bernardino. Referred to at that time as an estancia, it functioned as an outpost for cattle grazing activities. In 1820 native Americans, directed by Pedro Alvarez, began digging an irrigation ditch, in the Spanish parlance of the time called a zanja. Simultaneously, Carlos Garcia, then the Spanish majordomo or overseer of the Rancho, directed construction of an enramada, a bower/arbor, for worship, as well as an adobe administration building with storerooms, and a residence. Juan Alvarado, who was the majordomo from 1826 until 1834, relocated the Estancia to its present site in 1830, where he constructed a new 14 room complex of adobe and timber. By 1834 the facility was abandoned by the San Gabriel Mission, and the Mexican Decree of Secularization ended mission control in California.
In 1925 the county took possession of the property.
The remnants of the Asistencia were eventually built over and replaced with what succeeding generations intended to be a replica and enhancements to the historical landmark.
On Tuesday November 6, on the recommendations of Terry Thompson and Melissa Russo, the county’s director of real estate services and the director of the county museum respectively, the board of supervisors signed off on the
conveyance of the fee simple interest in The Asistencia to the Redlands Conservancy, a nonprofit corporation, for preservation purposes in accordance with Government Code Section 25376.
According to report coauthored by Thompson and Russo, they considered it to be in the county’s interest to “declare the Asistencia landmark surplus and authorize its conveyance to the Conservancy for preservation purposes” while simultaneously terminating a lease agreement with the Footlighters for joint use of its parking lot. “The Asistencia is a complex of adobe buildings that reflect the rich agricultural and entrepreneurial spirit of early California between 1819 and 1925,” according to Thompson and Russo. “The Asistencia was initially constructed about a mile and a half west of its current location as an outpost for cattle grazing, but then relocated around 1830 to its present site on which a chapel, storeroom, and residence were constructed. It also served as an early polling place when San Bernardino County was newly organized. Previous owners and occupants of the property included the Lugos, Bishop and Mrs. Tenney, and ultimately Dr. Benjamin Barton.”
Those references are to the Lugo family, which had control of the property from 1842 until 1851; Nathan Tenney and his wife, who were officials with the Mormon Church, which had sway over the property from 1851 until 1857; and Dr. Benjamin Barton and his family, who took possession of the Asistencia property from 1857 until 1925.
Brothers Jose del Carmen Lugo, Jose Maria Lugo and Vincente Lugo, along with their cousin Diego Sepulveda, were granted title to the San Bernardino Rancho by the Mexican Governor of California in 1842. Included in the property’s inventory were the abandoned Estancia, a grist mill, a tile kiln, and a lime kiln. Jose del Carmen Lugo repaired the rancho structures and resided at the Estancia until 1851.
In 1851 the Mormon Church purchased Rancho San Bernardino from the Lugos, and that year established the town, later city, of San Bernardino, and in 1853 the County of San Bernardino. Bishop Nathan C. Tenney was assigned to oversee agricultural operations and moved into the Estancia with his wife. Mrs. Tenney became a teacher in a newly organized school located in one room of the complex. The Estancia also served as a polling place for the newly organized county. The area became known as the Mission District, or Old San Bernardino.
In 1854, Lewis and Henry Cram established a furniture factory near the Estancia using the flowing water from the zanja to power their machinery. For two years they manufactured chairs with cowhide seats, tables, cupboards and bedposts from timber that grew along the zanja and in the foothills.
In winter of 1857-1858, the leader of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young, anticipating that the sect he led would soon be at war with the U.S. Government over differences with the James Buchanan administration, called all of the Mormon faithful back to Utah to make a stand in Salt Lake City, and the Mormon Church and most of its members abandoned San Bernardino. In 1859 Dr. Benjamin Barton purchased the Estancia and surrounding lands from the Mormons. He resided in the Asistencia’s adobe buildings, practicing medicine there, until the completion of his own home. The tools, equipment and furnishings in the Asistencia were removed over time for use elsewhere, and the adobe buildings gradually deteriorated.
In 1925 the Estancia lay in ruin. The County of San Bernardino, assisted by the San Bernardino County Historical Society, acquired it from the Barton family. The remaining historic materials were removed, and construction of a new six room structure began in 1926 under the direction of Horace P. Hinckley. Construction was completed in 1937 as a combined effort by the California Emergency Relief Administration and the federal Works Progress Administration.
According to Thompson and Russo, “The property was conveyed to the county… in 1925, and a community group including George Beattie, the Redlands Chamber of Commerce, the Redlands Daily Facts, and the County Historical Society, raised $15,000 for restoring the site after the county’s purchase. The Asistencia has been remodeled over the years, albeit with certain artistic liberties. In 1960 it was dedicated as California Historical Landmark #42. The county museum has been operating this facility for historical tours and special events since that time. The Asistencia is a historically significant landmark, but the complex has been difficult for the county to maintain. The conservancy is an active, local nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Redlands’ heritage through its noteworthy buildings as well as its natural and agricultural open spaces. The conservancy considers acceptance of The Asistencia to be consistent with its mission for preserving unique features within the City of Redlands. The county museum reviewed the opportunities this conveyance presented and determined that it served the public interest and that the conservancy would be accountable for preserving the Asistencia. The conveyance also will include documented personal property and artifacts associated with the site such as pottery, bells, dioramas, artworks, furnishings and tools related to its historical occupancy, as well as traditional furnishings used to operate the facility. Prior to recommending this conveyance, the county did perform significant repairs and upgrades to the facility to ensure it was conveyed in reasonable condition. Those repairs were completed in September 2018, at which time the real estate services department was directed to complete the conveyance to the conservancy. The conveyance can be made to the conservancy in accordance with California Government Code section 25376. However, in the event the conservancy fails to restore and preserve the historical nature of the property for the benefit of the citizens of San Bernardino County; or attempts to sell, lease or otherwise convey the property to any person or entity which is not a nonprofit corporation involved with preserving and researching the history of San Bernardino
County, the county may exercise a right of termination and recover the property. Lease Agreement No 79-719 between the county and the Footlighters, previously approved by the board of supervisors on October 8, 1979, and subsequently amended, provides for visitors to the Asistencia to use approximately 1.2 acres of the adjoining Footlighters’ parking lot.”
Footlighters is a community theater located at 1810 Barton Road in Redlands that has been providing live entertainment since 1945.
According to Thompson and Russo, “As a condition for using the Footlighters’ property, the county agreed to construct and maintain the parking lot, which contains approximately 130 spaces. The parking lot was constructed around 1980 with funds provided by the State of California Park and Recreation Department. The county has provided maintenance for the parking lot as well as contributed a pro-rated share of the property taxes associated with the parking lot area. Early termination of the agreement, which is slated to expire on December 14, 2029, eliminates the county’s continuing obligation to maintain the parking lot and contribute towards the property taxes. The agreement can be terminated with delivery of a notice 120 days’ prior to the effective termination date. The Footlighters have been made aware of the pending termination request and have raised no objection, which may provide that the termination date commence immediately, but no later than 120 days’ from the board approval, which is March 6, 2019.”