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Ethics Commission Fines Councilwoman Emerald $3,000

Councilwoman Marti Emerald was fined $3,000 today by the San Diego Ethics Commission for two campaign disclosure violations that she claims were mere paperwork mistakes.

Emerald failed to promptly report two so-called "win bonuses" totaling $50,000 to consultants stemming from her November 2008 campaign for the San Diego City Council's District 7 seat.

According to the Ethic's Commission, Emerald didn't report the payments until July, about six months after the deadline.

The fine followed two public administrative hearings before the Ethics Commission requested by Emerald and her attorney, Bob Ottilie, to challenge a recommended $10,000 fine.

It was the first time an elected official has publicly challenged an enforcement effort by the Ethics Commission.

During today's hearing, Emerald acknowledged "a couple of honest paperwork mistakes," but denied any intentional wrongdoing.

She said her reputation had been "sullied" by a "long and winding" Ethics Commission investigation.

"Since I took office, I have lived under a shadow, an investigation that apparently wasn't authorized," Emerald testified. "I have been accused of committing crimes. I have been, for want of a better term, I have been blackmailed."

Stacey Fulhorst, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said it was a "straight-forward matter."

"The failure to disclose $50,000 in post-election debts is not a technical violation and is far more than a paperwork mistake," Fulhorst testified. "It is a serious violation that involves a substantial public policy."

Emerald told the Ethics Commission that in September she had tried to negotiate a settlement with the commission.

"One week later, I am accused of conspiring to commit fraud," Emerald said. "That's why we are here today, not because I made a couple paperwork mistakes. It's because your staff tried to pressure me into signing a confession to something I didn't do, tried to pressure me into paying a $5,000 fine (per instance) for an offense I did not commit and threatened me with public humiliation here."

It was unclear if Emerald would appeal the Ethics Commission's decision to the Superior Court, the only remedy she has to getting rid of the fine.

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