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Judge Seals District Attorney Office Records In Chula Vista Investigation

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A judge has sealed records wanted by a former Chula Vista city official who is trying to have his misdemeanor guilty plea dismissed. Attorneys for the official argue District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis did not disclose that she had a conflict of interest in his case.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis speaks to the media, Aug. 20, 2013.

A San Diego judge today took possession of District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis's office records concerning an investigation of Chula Vista city officials.

Judge Louis Hanoian plans to hold the records until he rules on whether to allow an aide to former Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla to try to undo his plea deal.

The aide—Jason Moore—wants the court to set aside his misdemeanor guilty plea, to contempt of court, from 2007. Moore insists he would not have entered the plea—in response to perjury charges filed by the district attorney—if he had known that Dumanis had earlier contacted his boss, then-Mayor Padilla. Padilla said Dumanis asked him to appoint her aide to a vacant Chula Vista City Council seat.

A KPBS story last month reported that Dumanis started investigating Chula Vista city officials after Padilla refused her request.

Moore's attorney Knut Johnson contends that conversation created a conflict of interest for Dumanis in the subsequent probe.

"The facts seem to be undisputed," Johnson said. "Ms. Dumanis made the phone call to the mayor. The mayor refused her request and then she investigated the entire Chula Vista government."

Dumanis's spokesman Steve Walker called the effort to set aside the misdemeanor plea, "a fishing expedition seven years after the fact."

"The defendant pleaded guilty to lying to a grand jury and was held responsible for his crime," Walker said in a written statement. "Following that plea, the Attorney General's office was made aware of issues raised in this motion and found no reason to take any action or investigate."

Patrick O'Toole, the prosecutor in the Chula Vista investigation, handed a folder of records to the court. And the judge put them under seal.

Lawyer Johnson wants to review the records.

He said he's looking for internal emails, notes and letters from the DA's office of Dumanis's conversation with Padilla. Judge Hanoian is expected to decide in mid June if Johnson should be allowed to review them.

KPBS sought the same records two months ago through a California Public Records Act request. The office mostly released material that was already publicly available.

Moore has also asked the DA's office to recuse itself from his case. The DA calls that request premature and improper.

Meanwhile, with the June 3rd primary less than two weeks away, Moore's attempt to have his plea dismissed has turned into an issue in the district attorney race.

Dumanis's campaign spokeswoman Jen Tierney said the case was "nothing more than a publicity stunt orchestrated by our opponent less than two weeks before Election Day."

"Shame on him for wasting the court's time and resources for political gain," Tierney said in a statement.

The campaign of former federal prosecutor Bob Brewer, one of two of Dumanis's opponents, responded that the judge clearly didn't think the case was a waste of time.

"Dumanis can clear everything up very easily by releasing all the documents and answering one simple question: 'Did you or did you not secretly lobby the mayor of Chula Vista to have your friend appointed to the Chula Vista City Council?'" said Brewer's communications director Alex Roth. "Instead of answering these questions and releasing these public documents, she's stonewalling and hoping to run out the clock before the June 3 election."

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Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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