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District Attorney Dumanis Releases Controversial Endorsement Letter

For Weeks Dumanis Had Refused To Make The Letter Public

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis smiles amid a crowd of supporters at the U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego on the night of the primary election, June 3, 2014.

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis released Wednesday morning a college recommendation letter she wrote on behalf of the son of a foreign national who is under federal indictment on charges of illegally making campaign contributions, including to her.

Audio

Aired 7/9/14

Bonnie Dumanis appears on KUSI on July 9, 2014 to release a letter of recommendation she wrote to the University of San Diego on behalf of Edward Susumo Azano.

Aired 7/9/14 on KPBS News.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis had refused for weeks to release the college recommendation letter she wrote on behalf of the son of a foreign national who is under federal indictment on charges of illegally making campaign contributions, including to her.

Special Feature Dirty Money

All of the background information on campaign contributions illegally funneled from a wealthy Mexican businessman to local candidates.

Dumanis had for weeks refused to release the letter sought in public record act requests by KPBS and other news organizations, which this week threatened to sue her over the denial.

During a Wednesday appearance on KUSI, Dumanis released the letter. KUSI was one of the few major news organizations in San Diego not to join in the litigation to obtain the letter.

In a statement released by her office, Dumanis said, “Speculation over this letter has been without merit. Even though this is not a public record, but a personal letter, I have decided to release this letter in this case only. It is my hope that by doing so, we can all focus on holding the individuals charged with crimes responsible for their actions.”

Dumanis wrote the letter to the University of San Diego for Edward Susumo Azano, the son of Jose Susumo Azano, a wealthy Mexican businessman charged with illegally contributing to Dumanis' unsuccessful mayoral campaign and other San Diego campaigns.

The district attorney told KUSI that former San Diego police Detective Ernesto “Ernie” Encinas asked her to write the letter, and that she often writes college recommendation letters when people ask on behalf of others. KUSI did not ask Dumanis how many letters of recommendation she typically writes.

Encinas also was indicted with Azano in the federal corruption case. The ex-detective has pleaded guilty for his role in the scheme.

Before the letter came to light, Dumanis told the Associated Press that Azano's campaign contribution had "nothing to do with me or my campaign."

"No promises were asked for, nothing was asked for, and if it had been asked for, I would have kicked him to the curb," she said.

In public comments since the case involving Azano broke in January, Dumanis has never said she wrote a letter on behalf of the Mexican businessman's son.

Dumanis maintained that the letter was not subject to a public record request but said she was releasing it now because it had become a "distraction." After the news segment aired, Dumanis' office sent a copy of the letter to KPBS.

"Our legal beagles in the office looked at it, I've looked at it, and I believe it's not a public record," she told KUSI. "Therefore, it should not be released. But because in this case, everybody is so distracted about the letter … in this case and this case only I will release it in my individual capacity."

Guylyn Cummins, a media law attorney who represented KPBS and other news outlets in their effort to get the letter released, said now that the letter has been turned over no lawsuit will be filed.

"It's important that the district attorney has finally turned the letter over," Cummins said. "This was a long time in coming, it was not justifiably withheld, and our opinion is it's a public record and always has been."

Cummins said that broader requests under California's public records law also have been filed seeking documents from Dumanis, so the fight over those may continue.

Dumanis told KUSI she regularly gets requests for recommendation letters. "There are two kinds," she said. "One where I know the person, and I write a letter based on my personal experience, and I say that in the letter, and the other kind if when someone I know that is vouching for a person asks me to write a letter, I make it clear by not saying, you know, it's somebody I know."

In the letter to University of San Diego president Mary Lyons, Dumanis wrote that Edward Susumo Azano is "a bright, energetic, compassionate and genuinely well-rounded young man," and she highlights his volunteer work with charity groups "in impoverished areas in the state of Jalisco, Mexico," along with supporting "human and immigrant rights campaigns along the California-Mexico border."

She also wrote that Susomo "has shown an active interest in government and politics and as a teenager he actively participated in political campaigns throughout Mexico."

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