Overreaction To Gomez Has Cal AG Examining Her Governmental Conspiracy Claims

A week after San Bernardino County’s political and social establishment took yet another and what it hoped might be a fatal shot at Victorville Councilwoman Blanca Gomez, she has rebounded and landed, albeit somewhat unsteadily, on her feet, even as those who were celebrating her demise are scattering for the tall grass amid rumors and speculation that the California Attorney General’s Office now has them fixed within its crosshairs.
In a seemingly perpetual pattern, just as the enmity that Victorville/San Bernardino County officialdom harbors toward Gomez at each succeeding junction seems to have hit its apex, events will either transpire or conspire to create one further apogee in the arc of hate and contempt that the governmental structure and Gomez bear toward one another. So, too, has there now materialized an anticlimax to Gomez’s arrest on February 21, an arrest which the mayor and at least two members of the city council consider to be not only justified but long past due but which Gomez’s allies and free speech activists considered an orchestrated profanation of the law.
In the relatively early going of the February 21 Victorville City Council meeting, Gomez had a run in with Mayor Debra Jones when the former sought to use the public speaking lectern to make a public issue of what Gomez considers the council majority’s sidelining of her suggestions and initiatives and the elective body’s outright mistreatment of her.Such uses of the public speaking podium at public hearings are somewhat unconventional but not unheard of. Generally speaking, elected members of a city council, board of supervisors or board for a governmental agency participate in official public meetings as the representative of those who elected them. In their capacity as quasi-legislators/decision-makers, they are the only participants in the governing process for that public entity empowered to vote. Most such elected officials consider the time allotted them to speak during the normal course of the meeting when the items to be considered or voted upon are discussed along with the opportunity to vote on those issues to be an adequate forum for their views to be expressed.
In Gomez’s case, however, it is her belief that she has been marginalized by her colleagues almost from the inception of her time on the council since shortly after her election in November 2016 and her swearing-in the following month. For that reason, on previous occasions and on February 21 she has availed herself of the public pulpit, on this most recent occasion to express her contention that her input during that evening’s closed session had been too glibly disregarded by her colleagues.
Under the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open public meeting law, actions taken up by an elected governmental body are to be conducted during a meeting open to the public, with those items having been fully identified and disclosed to the public on an agenda that is openly and publicly posted at least 72 hours in advance of the meeting, with only a handful of exceptions. Those exceptions consist of the hiring or firing of personnel, negotiations on contracts or for the purchase or sale of real estate, pending or ongoing litigation involving the city and the evaluation of city/agency employees’ job performances or their disciplining. Discussions in closed sessions, which are carried out behind closed doors and outside the scrutiny or earshot of the public, are considered confidential. Closed session discussions that fall short of producing a decision by the council taken in a vote are legally withheld from public disclosure. It is only after a vote is officially taken in a closed session that the decision itself – and not the discussions – must be disclosed under the Brown Act.
On February 21, before beginning her intended remarks during the public comment portion of the meeting, Gomez manipulated a hand-held smart device/phone/video camera which she was using to livestream the meeting on a social media platform. This earned Gomez a mild rebuke from Mayor Jones even before she began her remarks. Gomez then referenced that evening’s closed session, without mentioning any issues or the substance of what was discussed. Immediately, Jones, who apparently anticipated that Gomez was going to make some unauthorized disclosure from that evening’s closed session, ordered the city clerk to mute Gomez’s microphone. There followed some contretemps between Gomez and Jones, who then suspended the meeting for more than five minutes while an apparent determination that Gomez was not going to disclose anything material from the closed session was made. The meeting resumed, at which point Jones lectured both Gomez and those assembled in the council chamber about observing the proper protocol in addressing the council. She then called upon Gomez to continue her remarks.
As Councilwoman Liz Becerra used her laptop’s built-in videographing device to videorecord Gomez’s remarks, Gomez launched into a polemic in which she took the council to task for shutting her off and conspiring against her, thereupon appealing to the crowd present to either monitor what the council was doing to her or otherwise hold it to account, the precise nature of which could not be ascertained because Jones, as the meeting’s presiding officer, interrupted Gomez to demand that she not address the public but speak directly to the council. Gomez asserted that her free speech rights permitted her to address the crowd. A further contretemps over this between Jones and Gomez ensued, at which point Jones again had the city clerk mute the podium microphone. At that point, Gomez turned and began to engage with the crowd in the gallery without the benefit of the microphone. Jones, futilely, sought then to reengaged with Gomez, having the city clerk reactivate the microphone. When Gomez did not step up to the podium to speak but continued to interact with the crowd, Jones declared that Gomez was disrupting the meeting and verbally vectored San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies who were there in the capacities of sergeants-at-arms to remove her from the council chamber.
Before the deputies could do so, however, Gomez, having forsaken addressing the council and the public from the public speaker’s podium, made her way from in front of the council dais around its end and returned to her position seated on it. The deputies, who had begun to move toward her to effectuate the mayor’s command, retreated. After Jones checked with City Attorney Andre deBortnowsky to determine whether Gomez returning to her place on the dais obviated the earlier removal order and deBortnowsky rendered his conclusion that Gomez had disrupted and was continuing to disrupt the meeting, Jones again called for Gomez’s removal. Two deputies then went behind the dais to either side of Gomez and effectuated her handcuffing, but not before she managed to place her smart device on the dais counter. While the deputies were engaged in securing the handcuffs on the councilwoman, Gomez called upon a young woman in the audience to take up the device and use it to livestream her arrest. What appeared to be a 13-to-14-year-old girl came forward and seized the device, using it to video Gomez being bundled out of the chamber.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Liz Becerra, who had been videotaping Gomez’s actions all along, had come out of her place on the dais to get a better videoscope on Gomez’s arrest. Councilman Bob Harrington, who was elected to the council in 2022 and who in 2018 had spearheaded an ultimately unsuccessful effort to recall Gomez from office, himself stood up, gesturing to other deputies present in the room to get them to seize Gomez’s device from the girl who was using it to document Gomez’s arrest. Mayor Jones uttered into her microphone, “Ms. Gomez is not being hurt in any manner.” The girl ultimately moved out of the field of vision of the camera videorecording the council meeting.
The animus toward Gomez among Victorville city officials first manifested in February 2017, just three months after she was elected to the city council.
A basic tenet of Gomez’s philosophy is that the Anglo population in California going back six or more generations has exploited Hispanics and that the political establishment is shot through and through with racism.
Victorville represented a questionable venue for making her case.
In the 24 years before Gomez was first elected, Victorville had demonstrated itself as having a governmental structure that was among the most racially diverse not just in San Bernardino County but throughout the state, and a community where the long somnolent Latino political giant had first awoken. During the last decade of the 20th Century – from 1990 to 1999 – and the first 17 years of the 21st Century – from 2000 through 2016 – Victorville was the third most politically stable of the 24 municipalities in San Bernardino County, as there was limited turnover of the members of its city council, with 16 people having served on the council during those 26 years ending in November 2016. Six of those 16 council members were people of color. Five of those – Felix Diaz, Rodolfo Cabriales, Angela Valles, Gloria Garcia and Eric Negrete – were Hispanic. Of those five Hispanic council members, four were Republicans. Roughly 70 percent of California’s Hispanic voters identified as Democrats, with another approximate 10 percent registering no political affiliation or membership with the American Independent, Peace & Freedom, Green, Libertarian or other more obscure political parties. Only about 20 percent of California’s Latino voting population are Republicans. Nevertheless, in Victorville, a sizable element of the Hispanic community embraced Republicanism and its ideals, reciprocated by the collective community’s election of Latinos into positions of municipal governance.
With Gomez’s election to the council in 2016, three-fifths of the city council was Hispanic – herself, Mayor Gloria Garcia and Councilman Eric Negrete. In 2018, another Hispanic, Rita Ramirez, would supplant Negrete on the council, such that at that point, seven of the council’s members over a period of 26 years had been or were Latino. Two years later, in 2020, when Gomez was reelected, Garcia was voted out of office, replaced by another Latina, Liz Becerra. Also victorious in the 2020 race was Leslie Irving, an African-American. In this way, at that time over the last 30 years, eight of 21 or 38.1 percent of Victorville City Council members had been Hispanic and 10 of 21 or 47.6 percent of the Victorville City Council members over those three decades have been people of color.
Those statistics render generally unsupportable Gomez’s position that the Hispanic population in Victorville has been disenfranchised. Gomez’s persistent accusations that Victorville’s political and governmental structure is a hotbed of racism has proven galling to the vast majority of those who have inhabited the city’s political and governmental establishment. Moreover, among virtually all of the Latinos who have achieved elective office in Victorville to become part of that establishment, Gomez’s public comportment is perceived as embarrassing and counterproductive.
Complicating the situation in general is that the panel to which she was elected – the Victorville City Council – is one of relatively modest authority in comparison to Gomez’s grand political objectives, one that is dedicated to overseeing municipal government in Victorville, with its most notable reach being the ultimate authority on local land use decisions and having last say with regard to the city’s budget. Gomez’s focus was elsewhere, as she was intent on promoting the interests of Hispanics and crusading against the injustices – within the legal system, economically and at large – she was convinced were being perpetrated against disadvantaged minorities by the white establishment.
Gloria Garcia was mayor when Gomez first assumed her position on the council. Within the first three months after Gomez was sworn in, both Garcia and Councilman Eric Negrete had repeated confrontations with Gomez on issues of both substance and form. Gomez’s lack of knowledge and respect for parliamentary protocol was the basis of multiple heated exchanges with the mayor. There were occasions where Garcia called upon deputies with the sheriff’s department, which serves as Victorville’s contracted police department, to forcibly remove Gomez from the council dais and the meeting chamber, though those did not involve an arrest, booking or criminal charges being leveled against her.
Elected to the Victorville City Council in 2018 along with Rita Ramirez, a Democrat, was Jones, a devout Republican. On some issues, Ramirez was in consonance with Gomez, and Ramirez’s presence on the council to a degree reduced Gomez’s isolation. In the 2020 election, in which a total of 22 candidates competed, the voters returned Gomez to office, while turning Garcia out. Also elected in 2020 were Leslie Irving, a Democrat, and Becerra, a Republican.
In December 2020, for the first time in more than a generation, the Democrats, after the new members of the council were sworn in, were in ascendancy on the Victorville City Council, holding a 3-to-2 numerical advantage over the rival Republicans. That would have seemed to bode well for Gomez, who at that point was the senior member of the council in terms of tenure. The tradition in Victorville, which does not have a directly elected mayor, is that the mayoralty is rotated among the council members, with the honorific gravitating to that person with sufficient experience on the panel who has not yet served in the mayoral capacity. Thus, in December 2020 the heir apparent as mayor was Gomez. Nevertheless, Jones was able to capitalize on Gomez’s by-then burnished reputation as an establishment outsider to outmaneuver her, garnering the support of her sister Republican Becerra and brokering a deal with Irving to provide her with the vice mayor’s position, known as mayor pro tem, in exchange for her vote to make Jones mayor.
Gomez’s antagonistic and contentious style often involves provocative acts, as when she draped herself in a Mexican flag during a council meeting, and this has further alienated her from her elected colleagues.
Oftentimes, her and her supporters’ use of video-recording devices, which is an essentially legal activity, has exacerbated things. In recent months, her rivals have taken to utilizing that tactic against her, videotaping virtually her every move.
In June 2021, less than seven months after her reelection, which had confounded her political opponents, Gomez involved herself in something her enemies thought for sure they would be able to exploit to her detriment.
On June 2, 2021, Gomez and her significant other, Robert Rodriguez, were at the Panera Bread Bakery café in Victorville when Rodriguez, had a confrontation with cafe employees over Rodriguez’s insistence on vaping within the establishment. A contretemps between Rodriguez and some of the Panera Bread Bakery café employees ensued, and the sheriff’s department, which serves as the police department in Victorville, was summoned. Upon the deputies’ arrival, Gomez, who was using her cell phone/smart device to videorecord what was occurring, became confrontational, which included one of her patented accusations of racism against the Panera Bread Bakery café employees and the responding officers. As a consequence, each of them was charged with one misdemeanor count of PC148(a)1, resisting, obstructing or delaying of a peace officer, Rodriguez was charged with trespassing for vaping inside the establishment and Gomez was charged with a misdemeanor count of PC242 – battery, stemming from her use of the videorecording device in recording the employees.
A little more than a month later, during the Victorville City Council meeting on July 6, 2021, at which Rodriguez was in attendance, he involved himself in activity that Mayor Jones deemed disruptive, which resulted in his being charged with disturbing a public meeting. Two weeks later, at the July 20, 2021 Victorville City Council meeting, Rodriguez used his cell phone to video the proceedings. Also present at the meeting was Mayor Jones’ husband, Gene Jones. Like Rodriguez, Gene Jones was using his cell phone to video the council proceedings. When Mayor Jones demanded that Rodriguez desist in his videotaping without issuing a similar order to her husband and deputies approached Rodriguez to enforce the mayor’s order, Gomez came out of her place behind the dais and went into the gallery. A tussle between Rodriguez and Gomez on one end and the deputies on the other ensued, with Rodriguez and Gomez being arrested.
On November 2, 2021, Rodriguez was charged with six misdemeanors alleged to have occurred in connection with the June 2, July 6 and July 20 events. He was nicked with being in violation of PC148(a)1 – misdemeanor resisting, obstructing or delaying a peace officer and one count of violating PC602(m) – trespassing with regard to the June 2 incident. He was charged with a single count of violating PC403 – misdemeanor disturbance of a public meeting growing out of what occurred at the July 6 meeting. He was further accused of violating PC148(a)1 – resisting, obstructing or delaying a peace officer, violating PC403 – disturbance of a public meeting and violating PC182(a)1 conspiracy to commit a crime in regard to the events of July 20.
The same day, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office charged Gomez with one misdemeanor count of violating PC148(a)1, resisting, obstructing or delaying of a peace officer and one misdemeanor count of violating PC242 – battery, both stemming from what happened at the Panera Bread bakery-café and with a misdemeanor count of violating PC148(a)1 – resisting, obstructing or delaying of a peace officer and one count of PC403 – disturbance of a public meeting and violating PC182(a)1 conspiracy to commit a crime relating to her action on July 20.
Rodriguez, who did not waive his right to a speedy trial, went before a jury in December 2021 on the charges against him. On December 29, 2021, Rodriguez was convicted on the cases pertaining to the June 2 and July 20 incidents but acquitted on the charges relating to the July 6 meeting.
Gomez consented to delays in the trying of the case against her and the case languished throughout 2022.
Meanwhile, Gomez had coordinated with a Northern California attorney, Scott Rafferty, becoming with Neighborhood Elections Now, a front group that is an extension of Rafferty’s law firm, an applicant and potential lead plaintiff in a lawsuit Rafferty was threatening to file against Victorville under the auspices of the California Voting Rights Act. Alleging that racially-polarized and ethnically-polarized voting was occurring in Victorville, Rafferty demanded that the city dispense with the at-large voting system Victorville has used since its inception as an incorporated municipality in 1962.
The basis of Rafferty’s and Gomez’s contention was that Victorville had been, with its at-large voting system, “diluting the influence of Latino voters.” The cure, they claimed, was to adopt a ward or by-district voting map, which would result, they asserted, in more Latinos being elected to the city council. Rafferty and Gomez made that charge despite the consideration that three of the city’s five most recently elected council members were Latinas, that one of the council members was an African-American woman and thus a member of another “protected minority” under the California Voting Rights Act and the Federal Voting Rights Act, that a single member of the city council is a Caucasian woman and that all five members of the council were women, what is widely alleged to be an underrepresented element of the electorate.
Despite City Attorney Andre deBortnowsky’s contention that racially polarized voting had not occurred in Victorville, he recommended that the city simply comply with Rafferty and Gomez’s demand, since under the California Voting Rights Act, plaintiff’s alleging racially polarized voting are allowed to recover all of their legal costs if they prevail but are not liable for the city’s legal costs if they lose. Thus, the City of Victorville transformed its voting process from an at-large system, by which voters voted for candidates for the city council who needed to merely live within the city limits to qualify their candidacy to a district voting system by which the city has now been divided into five districts with approximately the same population which are represented by a councilperson who lives in that district. Victorville residents are allowed to vote only for a candidate representing his or her own district and have no say over the representatives of other districts.
As both Rafferty and Gomez contended that the changeover to district voting would raise the prospect of ensuring Hispanic representation on the council, both of them as well as Gomez’s supporters celebrated the change as a victory.
Ultimately, however, the switch to district voting proved disastrous insofar as Gomez’s hope of creating a political reality that would be more favorable to her. In the 2022 election, Jones, Gomez’s chief current rival on the council, was elected to represent the newly formed District 2. In the other district race up for election, the newly created District 4, Robert Harrington, who had championed the ultimately failed effort to recall Gomez from office in 2018, scored a come-from-behind victory over Lizet Angulo, a Latina. In this way, the community, quite possibly in reaction to what many of its members saw as Gomez’s spurious accusations of racism permeating Victorville, kept in office her primary existing political counterweight and put onto the dais one of her most committed foes. In the same election, using the very electoral system Gomez maintained would undo the domination of the Anglo males who were victimizing the oppressed racial minorities and women of the community, the council saw itself transformed from one entirely composed of women and four-fifths composed of protected minorities to one that involved a man, and a man who was her implacable enemy at that, and is now three-fifths composed of protected minorities.
Gomez had been scheduled to go to trial in January on the matters pertaining to the charges against her stemming from the June 2, 2021 and July 20, 2021 incidents. The trial was delayed, however, first over difficulties in impaneling a jury and then as a result of Gomez filing a writ of challenge against Judge Katrina West, who was scheduled to preside over the case, as well as differences that manifested between her and her attorney, Raj Maline, and further difficulties she experienced with the attorney appointed by the court to represent her, David Goldstein. At the time of her arrest in Victorville on February 21, Gomez was next scheduled for a pre-trial court hearing the following morning, February 22, in Rancho Cucamonga, where her trial had been moved to avoid any conflicts that might arise at the Victorville Courthouse because of pretrial publicity. Gomez, however, was yet in custody in the High Desert Detention Center in Adelanto on the morning of Wednesday, February 22.
With Justin Crocker, the deputy district attorney prosecuting Gomez, and Goldstein present, Judge Joseph Widman reset the pre-trial hearing for February 27 in Rancho Cucamonga. Gomez was neither physically present for the hearing nor were arrangements made for her to appear by video link from the jail. The subject of bail or a recognizance release was raised but not resolved.
Two days later, on Friday, February 24, a hearing for Gomez was held before Commissioner Arthur Benner II in which she was not physically present but appeared by video from the jail. Deputy District Attorney Linda Metz was present, but there was no legal representative for Gomez. Commissioner Benner vacated the pre-trial hearing that was set for February 27 and reset it as an in-custody pre-trial on March 1 in Victorville to trail the case of MVI23001156, that being the matter relating to Gomez’s February 21, 2023 arrest.
Meanwhile, Gomez remained in the custody of the sheriff’s department, under a no-bail hold.
Over the less than three days that had elapsed from the time of Gomez’s arrest on evening of February 21 until February 24, a strategy for being done with Gomez once and for all as a political entity had emerged. It was recognized that Gomez, who was at that point at odds with her former attorney Raj Maline and even more antagonistic toward her current lawyer David Goldstein, had little in the way of financial means at her disposal and would thus be unable to retain an attorney on her own or post bail. Prosecutors, it was decided, would cite her disruptive behavior at the February 21 meeting, assert that she had engaged in a serial set of disruptions of the public order and was unwilling to change that pattern of behavior and should therefore be subject to a substantial bail or bond requirement or otherwise be held without bail until her trial was held and concluded. This, it was calculated, would very likely result in her remaining in custody for an interminable duration, as her discomfiture with her legal representatives, as expressed in her filing to recuse Judge West, would lead to further multiple delays in getting the matter before a jury. Upon Gomez missing four consecutive city council meetings from which she would not have been given an official excuse to miss, the mayor and council would declare her position on the council vacant, effectively removing her from office.
It appeared Gomez had no one to intervene on her behalf in the ineffable process militating against her, as both Maline and Goldstein were disinclined to do so and were only ethically and legally bound to represent her with regard to the MVI21007253 case and not the MVI23001156 matter. Rafferty, whose reputation had taken a drubbing following the outcome of the 2022 Victorville election and who therefore was anxious to distance himself from Gomez and in any case did not practice criminal law, was unwilling to come to her defense.
As the final chapter on Gomez’s political career was about to reach an ignominious end, seemingly out of nowhere, David Loy, an attorney with the First Amendment Coalition, on February 24 wrote a letter to Jones and the remainder of the city council, which was electronically carbon copied to San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson. On behalf of the First Amendment Coalition, Loy asserted that the Gomez’s removal from the February 21, 2023 council meeting and her arrest violated the Brown Act and both the federal and state constitutions. Loy noted that Mayor Jones’ interruption of Gomez almost from the outset of her attempt to speak constituted prior restraint or a command to prevent speech before it occurs, which Loy said, in citing multiple U.S. Supreme Court rulings, constituted the “most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.”
In the course of his letter, Loy cited the precedent state and federal cases of Alexander v. United States; the Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart; Southeastern Promotions, Ltd. v. Conrad; Galbiso v. the Orosi Public Utility District; Acosta v. City of Costa Mesa; Leventhal v. Vista Unified School District; Hamburg v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.; Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach; and Texas v. Johnson.
Jones’ order to have Gomez muzzled and the subsequent orchestration of the councilwoman’s removal and arrest was done without requisite legal authority, Loy propounded, as Gomez had not disclosed any confidential information gleaned from the city council’s closed session proceedings and was merely expressing an opinion concerning the propriety or legality of actions taken by the council, action which she did not specify and therefore did not disclose.
Gomez had not ventured outside the province of addressing matters that fell under the purview of the city council and was therefore on point in her comments, Loy asserted, such that she did not meet the description of disrupting, disturbing, impeding or obstructing the council meeting as defined in Government Code § 54957.95(b)(1) and Government Code § 54957.95(a)(2). “Regardless of any alleged violation of decorum rules, removal is justified only if an individual does ‘not promptly cease their disruptive behavior,’” Loy wrote. “Once Council Member Gomez returned to her seat, she had ceased any allegedly disruptive conduct and her removal was not necessarily justified.”
Loy cited “serious questions” with regard to Gomez’s arrest and booking on Penal Code section 403 charges, which he said “requires that a person ‘willfully disturbs or breaks up’ a lawful meeting. Such disturbance requires conduct that ‘substantially impairs the effective conduct of a meeting,’ based on the ‘actual impact’ on ‘the course of the meeting,’ not the subjective opinion of ‘persons present at the meeting.’ To the extent Council Member Gomez remained within her allotted time while protesting interruption of her comments and the events ‘continued for only a few minutes,’ it is far from clear there was ‘substantial impairment of the conduct of the meeting,’ as required to support charges under section 403.4.”
Loy maintained that “It is also far from clear that arrest was justified under Penal Code section 602.1(b), which applies only to a ‘person who intentionally interferes with any lawful business carried on by the employees of a public agency open to the public, by obstructing or intimidating those attempting to carry on business, or those persons there to transact business with the public agency.’ By speaking within her allotted time, Council Member Gomez was not interfering with the city council’s ‘lawful business.’ Indeed, she was engaging in ‘lawful business’ by exercising her right to speak under the Brown Act, the First Amendment, and its California counterpart.”
Loy said Gomez was neither “obstructing [n]or intimidating anyone else from lawfully continuing with the meeting by attempting to exercise her public comment rights within her allotted time.”
Loy’s four-page letter concluded, “Whatever one might think of Council Member Gomez’s views, she had the fundamental right to speak within her allotted time, no matter how objectionable her claims might be. The charges against her should be dismissed immediately.”
Faced with the prospect that Gomez would not need to face the weight of the San Bernardino County social, political and legal establishment on her own, county officials released her from custody on Saturday, February 25.
The worm has turned.
Previously and as recently as February 21, Gomez had maintained that the San Bernardino County and Victorville political and governmental establishments have conspired against her. In December 2020, Gomez filed a federal lawsuit against Victorville, Victorville City Manager Keith Metzler, Jones, former Victorville Mayor Gloria Garcia, former Victorville Councilman Jim Cox, deBortnowsky, City Clerk Charlene Robinson, Assistant City Clerk Marcie Wolters, Deputy City Manager Sophie Smith, Victorville Spokeswoman Sue Jones, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and Hesperia City Manager Nils Bentsen.
Gomez, represented by La Jolla-based attorneys Marc Applbaum and Bryan Gonzales, in the lawsuit alleged she had been disenfranchised by current and former city officials “as a result of her alliances with pro-immigration and homeless nonprofit organizations” and her championing of causes on behalf of “homeless, low income, Hispanic, minority individuals and businesses not popular, or of any interest to” the defendants.
The suit alleged that the city had utilized taxpayer money to hire attorneys to protect the city’s establishment politicians from political attacks lodged against them by citizens and that Gomez “is locked out of city council meetings and denied access to city business and documents in an arbitrary and capricious manner.” The suit alleged the defendants had deceitfully conspired to interfere with her ability to represent her constituents and discredit her, “systematically disrupting her from performing her duties” as a city council member by “physically and electronically blocking access to meetings and to her city government emails for the sole purpose of keeping her silent and for asking questions about the fraud and corruption agenda being systematically and strategically coordinated” by the defendants. In addition, the suit alleged Bentsen had, while she was in the process of assisting Hispanic candidates running for the Hesperia City Council in that year’s race, on August 2, 2018 arranged for her to be wrongfully arrested for trespassing while she was at Hesperia City Hall. Bentsen, who had formerly been the Hesperia San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Station commander before he was city manager in that city, had used his cell phone to capture images of her arrest which he provided to the media, according to the suit, to discredit her with the public. Though Gomez was arrested on Penal Code § 834 charges at Hesperia City Hall, the district attorney’s office declined to file charges relating to the arrest.
The suit stated that “defendant San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department commenced a legal action without probable cause solely to embarrass [Gomez] for political reasons as requested by defendant city manager that is intent on harming [Gomez] in retaliation for being independent and honest.”
Gomez’s familiar pattern of having a falling out with her legal counsel manifested during the prosecution of that suit, however, and both Applbaum and Gonzales requested that they be dismissed from representing her. U.S. Federal Judge Jesus Bernal, who was presiding over the matter, granted their request. Thereafter, Gomez, whose command of legal process lags behind that of her understanding of parliamentary procedure, was left to represent herself. On her own, Gomez was unable to navigate the court system, and was incapable of martialing evidence in a format acceptable to the court to establish her case. For more than nine months, no documents from the plaintiff beyond the original pleading were seen in the court docket. In January 2022, Judge Bernal ordered the councilwoman to show, by January 18, 2022, why her action shouldn’t be dismissed for lack of prosecution and ordered Gomez to file proof of service to demonstrate she had served the summons and complaint on the defendants within 90 days after the complaint had been filed.
When Gomez made no response, Judge Bernal ruled that Gomez had failed to prosecute her case and the suit was dismissed.
With the events on the evening of February 21 and Gomez’s incarceration over most of the next four days, including the no-bail hold on a relatively minor misdemeanor and the court’s scheduling of her in-custody pre-trial hearing on misdemeanors that stemmed from her assertion of her First Amendment rights, the accusations of a conspiracy against her have taken on a renewed meaning and life.
Reports are that California Attorney General Rob Bonta has taken an interest in the effort to gag Gomez, an elected public official, during the course of a public meeting. The Sentinel is told that Bonta could not ignore the extraordinary move to utilize the court system to extend Gomez’s incarceration after what in the current post-prison realignment atmosphere would have been a routine cite release on a minor public disturbance infraction or, at most, misdemeanor.
In public at the February 21 council meeting, Mayor Jones made repeated assertion of needing to ensure a rigid adherence to protocol in her explanations of and justifications of thwarting Gomez’s efforts to speak. This week, however, in the aftermath of Gomez’s release from jail, the praetorian guard at Victorville City Hall was preventing any efforts by the press and public to have Jones and/or the city respond to the substance of Loy’s letter, and phone calls to the mayor at City Hall were not patched through to her.
The Sentinel submitted to Jones questions in writing relating to the February 21 incident and the strategy she and other city officials have taken in dealing with Gomez.
Those question included why Jones cut Councilwoman Gomez off when she first began to speak at the public lectern, whether she was now prepared to acknowledge that cutting Gomez off the first time was an overreaction and, if she had it to do over again, would she not have cut Gomez off. The Sentinel also sought to have Mayor Jones expound upon what her and the City of Victorville’s set regulations are as to how someone addressing the council must orient himself/herself and how that person’s comments or questions uttered must be vectored, specifically if there is a requirement that the speaker address the council, exclusively. The Sentinel sought from Jones whether she considers those taking part in public comment at Victorville City Council meetings to be addressing merely the council or everyone present and the council and the community at large. The Sentinel asked Jones if a speaker using the public forum at a council meeting could do so for the purpose of putting a statement or information on the record for the benefit of the entire community. The Sentinel asked Jones about the appearance or common perception that as mayor she had proven less indulgent of Councilwoman Gomez’s idiosyncrasies in making her public comment than she was of other members of the public speaking before, or to, the city council.
The Sentinel asked Mayor Jones, in the light of Gomez’s arrest for disrupting the February 21 meeting, how she defined disruption, that is what she considered disruption to be. The Sentinel asked if Mayor Jones viewed the way Councilwoman Gomez conducted herself to be disruptive; whether she believed being rude was in itself disruptive; if she considered a speaker not immediately obeying her command, as the meeting’s presiding officer, to be disruptive; if she considered her interruption of Gomez to be disruptive; if she considered someone saying something that is offensive to someone’s sensibilities as being disruptive; if she held that someone uttering something that was untrue or disturbing or contentious to be disruptive.
The Sentinel sought to ascertain from Mayor Jones the degree to which she considered her interruption of Gomez during Gomez’s effort to address the council to be a contributory factor to the disruption of the meeting. The Sentinel asked Jones if the person presiding over a public meeting, as in the case of Victorville the mayor, is the final determiner of what can be discussed or done during a meeting and if someone deviates from what the person presiding over the meeting intends whether that person is being disruptive.
The Sentinel inquired of Jones as to the necessity of having Gomez arrested.
The Sentinel asked Mayor Jones if, upon reflection, she could not conceive of a better way to deal with Councilwoman Gomez. The Sentinel asked Jones why she could not allow Gomez to make her statements as she chooses and allow whatever she says compete in the marketplace of ideas. The Sentinel asked Jones why she was not willing to allow Gomez the opportunity to express herself, leaving all of the idiosyncrasies and the excesses in her mode of expression unfiltered, and let the public and her constituents judge for themselves the quality and integrity of her ideas or lack thereof.
The Sentinel asked Mayor Jones about the perception of some in the community that she and the San Bernardino County and Victorville political establishments were involved in an effort to punish Gomez for exercising her freedom speech and how she would respond to those who feel that is the case.
Mayor Jones did not respond to the Sentinel’s email inquiry by press time.
-Mark Gutglueck

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