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Roundtable: Candidate For Judge Posted Racist Jokes On Facebook
KPBS Roundtable / February 21, 2020
A candidate for Superior Court judge in San Diego has posted several racist and sexist photos and jokes. Plus, we've got the story of a former Navy SEAL who suffered a psychotic break after receiving an experimental treatment from a UCSD physician. And we look at Proposition 13, a statewide school bond.
Speaker 1: 00:00 A candidate for superior court judge in San Diego has posted several racist and sexist photos and jokes. Plus we've got the story of a former Navy seal who suffered a psychotic break after receiving an experimental treatment from a UCS D physician and we look at proposition 13 a statewide school bond measure tad within unfortunate name. I'm Jade Hindman and the KPBS round table starts now.
Speaker 2: 00:32 [inaudible]
Speaker 3: 00:36 welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories on Jade Hindman. Joining me at the KPBS round table today are Ameet the Sharma with KPBS news, Joe Hong, also with KPBS news and Jill Castellano with I new source. Welcome to you guys and to be here. Okay, so let's begin today with Sean McMillan. He's a candidate for San Diego superior court judge, but now it's his Facebook posts that are being judged for being anti-immigrant, racist, and sexist. The exposure has led some to question whether McMillan is fit to adjudicate the law fairly while being so openly biased now and meet that you've been covering the story. What kind of posts did you find from this superior court judge candidate? Well, Jade, I'll give you a bit of a sample of them. There's one, uh, post that he shared. It says, I was asked, are you happy with the racist president?
Speaker 3: 01:25 I said, absolutely not. We replaced him with Donald Trump. There's another post he shared from the minimum, then the Minutemen militia. And it says, when nobody knew who you were until you got on your knees. And it has three pictures. One, a Monica Lewinsky, former NFL football player, uh, Colin Kaepernick and us Senator Kamala Harris. There's another one that he shared, uh, that says stop all welfare to illegal aliens and they'll deport themselves. Now, who was Sean McMillan? Tell me. But sir Sean McMillan describes himself as a plaintiff's civil rights lawyer. He represents kids who have been molested, who had been severely physically abused, severely emotionally abused, and he sues counties across California over these cases. And he wins. I spoke to a lawyer who knows him, knows him well, and says that he takes on some of the toughest cases, the ones that other lawyers simply don't want. Sean McMillan says that he is running to be judged, uh, because he wants to restore faith in the judicial system.
Speaker 3: 02:33 But he also sees this as a natural career progression for him. And he said he was asked by a friend to run a fellow attorney who felt like Sean McMillan's opponents in this race, a woman by the name of Michelle alleges she's a deputy district attorney. He felt like, or this friend of his, a woman felt like Michelle allege IA was being set up by the San Diego legal establishment to win this race. And you know, you confronted McMillan about these posts. What did you have to say? Well, uh, I asked him if these were his posts. He didn't sugarcoat them. He owned them outright and he's like, yeah, I did it. Uh, I'm not gonna lie about it. They're out there. I asked him why he posted these, uh, which a lot of people would see as incendiary as insensitive. He himself said that they were insensitive.
Speaker 3: 03:28 Um, and he said he did it to spark a conversation. Um, I asked him if the posts reflected his views and he said some do, some don't. I walked him through a couple of them, the one of Monica Lewinsky, Colin Kaepernick and uh, Kamala Harris. The insinuation is that they Rose to their positions, gained their celebrity because of the relationships that they had. And um, the one he, he referenced Camilla Harris and said, well, everybody knows about her relationship with Willie Brown. There was a lot of stuff out there. A Willie Brown is a California democratic political broker, a former mayor of San Francisco. She had a romantic relationship with Willie Brown. Uh, Kamala Harris did at one time. I said, you do understand that this, this does come across as sexist. He said, yeah, I get it. Um, I asked him about the one basically saying that president Obama was a racist. Um, he said, those are my views.
Speaker 3: 04:25 I, I think he was a very divisive figure. I think post his tenure, the country really needs to heal. I then asked him if he thought that president Trump's comments back in 2017, uh, saying there were very fine people on both sides in reference to a white supremacist rally, uh, in Virginia and a counter rally, um, were healing. He said he was unaware of those comments. I asked him whether he thought that president Trump's comments back in 2018, uh, saying he wanted to ban, uh, immigration from mostly African countries referring to those countries as shithole countries. Whether those comments were healing, he said he wasn't aware of those comments, that he was very focused on his work and lives in what he called a very small pond. Very small probably. That's interesting. Uh, so tell me why this, these posts would be such an issue for someone running for superior court judge.
Speaker 3: 05:22 Well, if you talk to people who study the legal system, they'll say that the best judges, the most ideal judges are the ones who are respectful, who don't just have a strong, uh, legal knowledge base, but that they are a patient and they are open minded. And again, above all respectful, uh, and while they say, look, we understand that there's been a tremendous backlash against political correctness in our society at the end of the day. Uh, these posts, uh, represent disrespect, uh, for people and for certain groups. And you spoke with the NAACP and the San Diego County bar association about McMillan. What did they have to say? Well, they were unaware at not the San Diego County bar association. Uh, I spoke with the NAACP. The, the group was unaware of these posts. They were repulsed by them. Uh, one gentleman who has their political, uh, segment of the department or of the, of the group said that he did, however, appreciate McMillan's candor, uh, about the posts that he owned them.
Speaker 3: 06:30 Uh, he liked that, um, but he, he did find them appearance. He said they were disgusting. The San Diego County bar association actually evaluates judicial candidates in order to help inform the public who generally just, they don't pay attention to judicial races. And they concluded that Sean McMillan is lacking qualifications to be judged. And what that means according to them is that he, uh, doesn't have the ability, it doesn't have the experience, doesn't have the temperament, doesn't have the competence, doesn't have the integrity to be judge. I believe, uh, the bar found his opponent, opponents Michelle alleges as being exceptionally qualified for the position. I asked Sean McMillan about the bar's conclusions and he said, you know, basically it is what it is. He said, it's rubbish. Uh, and he felt like he's extremely qualified. He's, he called those evaluations, that entire process, a beauty pageant and one that he refused to participate in. How many a superior court seats are being contested. There are four seats and there are 11 candidates.
Speaker 4: 07:44 Thank you. I know this is something you're going to continue to follow. All right. I knew source reporters, Brad Racino and Joel Castellano spent six months investigating the story of a former Navy seal. John Surmont Surmont was treated for post traumatic stress disorder by Dr. Kevin Murphy and oncologist at UC San Diego school of medicine. Surmont was treated with a modified version of a relatively new technology called transcranial magnetic stimulation, the U S food. And drug administration has approved TMS machines for some ailments, but not for PTSD. Jill start first with what his condition was like when he came back from deployment. Yeah, so John Surmont a Navy seal, he's considered a highly trained military weapon. He was in really dangerous parts of the world, even was deployed to parts of the middle East and Asia multiple times. And when he returned he had something that's very common. Hundreds of thousands of veterans do post traumatic stress disorder. It was untreated.
Speaker 4: 08:42 He had trouble sleeping, he was really irritable and it was so bad that he felt like he needed to know where there was an exit in every single room that he was in. It was a pretty, pretty bad situation. And then there was an incident? Yes, there was a truck accident he got into in March, 2013 he was a typical day for him. Uh, he had dropped his kids off and he had gone swimming at the local pool. He got back into his car and Tula Vista and his car was hit by an 18 Wheeler carrying lumber and he was sent through the passenger side window. It was really horrific accident. He was sent to the hospital, had to get emergency surgery. And when he came out, not only was he physically broken, but his traumatic stress was much worse. And he had a traumatic brain injury as well.
Speaker 4: 09:28 He could barely speak. He was in just an absolutely terrible condition. So how did Surmont find Dr. Murphy? So he found Dr. Murphy through something called the Navy seal foundation, which is a nonprofit that helps people like Surmont Navy seals and their family members and look out, looks out for them. Um, someone at the center said, Hey, you might want to consider this new and upcoming treatment. It's called transcranial magnetic stimulation. And the shorthand for that is TMS. Um, and you might want to look for a place that offers that. So he did. And he went to this place in Newport beach called the Newport brain research laboratory, which is where he met Dr. Murphy who became his supervising physician as he was treated with this technology. It seems like such a small area of study. How, I mean, tell me about Dr. Murphy and how he got involved with TMS.
Speaker 4: 10:18 Yeah, it's pretty unusual, right, because he's an oncologist. So how did he even enter this world at all? Um, he also has a military background. He was in the Navy as well, um, in the Gulf war and he came and became a vice chairman at UC San Diego and oncologists working on children and pediatric cancer care, which is a very tough field to be in. But one of the other things that was really tough in his life was that he was also, um, he had a kid at home who had really severe violent autism, um, to the point where he, the kid would run around and was literally destroying his home. And it was so hard on him and his wife and his whole family that he in interviews, Dr. Murphy told us he was desperate and he needed to do something. So he ended up taking his son to the Newport brain research lab, getting treated with this, uh, experimental transcranial magnetic stimulation and his son improved so much.
Speaker 4: 11:11 Murphy says that he became this convert and just wanted to get involved. Interesting. So does the FDA actually regulate the use of TMS on patients? Sort of. It's kind of complicated. The FDA is kind of an interest or interesting regulatory landscape. Technically what they do is they regulate the machines that, uh, administer this treatment. So there are machines that have these magnetic coils that are placed on the scalp and then they, uh, send these, these electromagnetic pulses into the brain. And that's supposed to change the way that your brain fires. And these machines have been approved so far by the FDA to treat three conditions, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and migraines. Um, so it ha they haven't been approved to treat other conditions, but the way the FDA operates, once these machines have been approved for some things, doctors are totally in the, if they want to able to go out and treat other things using those machines.
Speaker 4: 12:07 This is called off label use. It's very common. So this is kind of where Dr. Murphy fits in, is that he offers his own version of TMS where he kind of adjust the settings on the machines and he offers them to all sorts of patients suffering from all sorts of things. Autism, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer's disease. So I mean, was Dr. Murphy conducting scientific research or was it clinical trials with his version of, of this TMS? It's pretty complicated because he, he's made it complicated. So he goes around and says that he does research on his version of this treatment to see whether his version of TMS works better than the way that standard TMS that's approved by the FDA works. But the truth is that he hasn't in interviews with us, he admitted that the statements that he's made publicly, um, in lawsuits, uh, on, on his own website in interviews are not correct.
Speaker 4: 12:59 He has not conducted any research. And the reason why that matters is because he goes around a lot and says that what he offers is better than what, you know, what we've studied. Um, and what we know works for people with things like depression. But he has no evidence to support that in terms of clinical studies concerning, I mean, what's the treatment like and, and how did Surmont respond to it? This treatment lasts usually a four to six or six to eight weeks. You'll go in once a day, five days a week. And like I said, you put this kind of equipment on your head, send these pulses through your brain and it's supposed to change the way that your brain fires. So that way those learned patterns that might be responsible for something like depression, um, are eventually, uh, you know, changed that way.
Speaker 4: 13:44 You don't suffer from those symptoms anymore. When Surmont first started getting treated, treated or mid 2015 he said it helped him a lot, that his PTSD essentially went away, which was a real, you know, real improvement in his life and that he could speak clearly and think clearly, but he continued to get treated over two years. He got treated actually more than 200 times total, which is very uncommon. It's considering these treatments only last weeks. Um, but he did and over the course of that time he had ups and downs. Um, until eventually around January, 2017 he started showing symptoms of mania. Hmm. I mean, is this unapproved use of this device? Is this illegal? No, it's not illegal. Dr. Murphy is allowed to do this if he wants to do it. Um, there are, you know, he still is a physician. He's supposed to act in the best interests of his patients, but this is totally okay.
Speaker 4: 14:38 So now I'm curious to know what, what eventually happened with, uh, Surmont you said he, he had went into mania. I mean, what happened? So he started experiencing symptoms of mania, like having a really elevated mood, singing at inappropriate times. Normally when things like this happen, we were told by the president of America's clinical TMS society, that is a possible risk. Mania can happen when you get this kind of treatment. Um, they usually cut back on treatment or stop it to, to help the patients. Uh, but in this case, Dr. Murphy continued to treat Surmont day after day, week after week until eventually around the summer of 2017 he had a psychotic episode. Um, he ended up on the streets of Los Angeles. We documented this very, uh, in a lot of detail in our story that he was breaking into homes. Um, he thought he was on a secret government mission.
Speaker 4: 15:31 There were news reports at the time because there were so much concern that someone who is a trained government weapon is running around the streets somewhere thinking that he, uh, you know, is on a mission that that could be potentially dangerous. Um, he lost contact with friends and family eventually. Uh, after a few weeks he was arrested at gunpoint in Los Angeles, put in LA County jail. Um, and you know, has since then been dealing with a lot of court cases. Why did Dr. Murphy continue the treatment? Um, after Surmont started, uh, experiencing mania? Yeah. We asked Murphy a few times and he said, I something like, I'm here to treat these patients. These people are sick. I don't stop treating them. Um, and he also said things like, I can't be responsible for what people like Surmont do outside of my facility. Did he can see that there might be a correlation between the mania and this treatment?
Speaker 4: 16:28 Not exactly. He said it's, it's technically possible that his treatment could have caused this psychotic break, but he doesn't think that it did. He thinks that it's more likely for someone to be hit by lightning than it is for his treatment to have caused a psychotic episode. Um, and he really takes offense to the idea that his treatment is unsafe. So it was perfectly legal for him to do this. What, what, what are the consequences of what's happened to Surmont in terms of Dr. Murphy? Well, that's a good question. It's not totally clear because he wasn't performing research. No, there are no obligations necessarily for him to report this to a federal agency. Um, there is an ongoing dispute though. Surmont has filed a California medical board complaints against Dr. Murphy that is ongoing. Um, the two of them in our interviews, they didn't talk to each other, but when they spoke with us, they exchanged some, some harsh words about one another.
Speaker 4: 17:27 And, um, the claims that they've made are, um, you know, pretty severe. Right. So where are Murphy and Surmont now? Where are we at with this? Well, Surmont finally, we were there in the end of last year when, uh, Surmont finally got rid of his last charge from that psychotic episode. Um, he, it was dismissed. So he's finally recovering and getting his life back and he still calls Dr. Murphy a hero, someone who helped him and still loves him in a way. Um, as for Dr. Murphy, uh, we did kind of a separate investigation as well with this where we looked at UC San Diego his time, they're a $10 million donation that he was using to study this treatment and now an ongoing investigation by the UC president's office in Oakland into whether he misused that $10 million to benefit his personal financial situation and businesses. So he's still got a lot ahead.
Speaker 1: 18:22 Wow, Jill. Very eyeopening work there. Uh, you know, I just want to tell our audience that this story takes many fascinating twists and turns and we just don't have time to cover it all here, but the entire saga is available on, I knew source.org I knew source is a partner of KPBS news. Switching gears a little bit here. Uh, proposition 13 on the March primary ballot bears little or no resemblance to the notorious prop 13 of 1978 that one completely changed the property tax structure in California, but many voters believe that the 2020 proposition 13 will do away with the 1978. Proposition 13 confused. Well KPB has education reporter, Joe Hong is here to straighten us all out. Joe, tell us exactly what is proposition 13? I, I mean, how much money will it raise and how much of that will come to San Diego?
Speaker 5: 19:15 Yeah, it's a really, uh, unfortunate like numbering system, but they, the two prop 13 is really cannot be more different. So prop 13 on, uh, this marches ballot is a $15 billion statewide bond measure that local school districts can apply to, um, to receive additional funding to fix, uh, facilities. And so it's a $15 billion bond. Nine of that 9 billion of that will go to, uh, preschools to 12th grade. So, um, public schools and then 6 billion will go to colleges and universities.
Speaker 1: 19:47 Okay. And how, how will it work? Will the tax payers have to foot the bill on this at all?
Speaker 5: 19:51 Yes. So, uh, if your local school district does get some of his funding, your property taxes will go up and, and property taxes are the way that local school districts will pay for this. But the one, the one thing that makes, uh, this bond unique is that it prioritizes, uh, the neediest school district. So school districts with more low income students, school districts that have the most severe safety and health, uh, health needs will get priority in getting the state money.
Speaker 1: 20:23 So is there any guarantee that the funds raised will actually be used?
Speaker 5: 20:27 Yeah, so there's a, a couple of measures in place within, within, um, sort of the ballot language of prop 13. Uh, the state will conduct regular audits of local school districts that you get state funding just to make sure that they are, uh, using the money for what they said they would.
Speaker 1: 20:45 Is there any understanding of this proposition that's so different from the prior proposition 13 ended up with the same number? I mean, it seems pretty confusing. Yeah.
Speaker 5: 20:53 So I, I had the same question. So I asked the, I talked to someone from the secretary of state's office and they said, you know, every 10 years we just restart the numbering. And uh, here we are. Yeah.
Speaker 1: 21:04 Is it possible for them to just banish a particular number and just run every, tried it didn't have that issue. All right, well, Hey, you know, 13 it is. So let's take a look at a school board races for San Diego unified school board races. You know, they're usually not the highest profile races. Um, but the unified board of trustee says the stakes are really high in the March primary. Um, three seats are up this year on the five member board. So tell us first, you know, Joe, why are the stakes so high for this March primary?
Speaker 5: 21:35 So, uh, San Diego unified is an, is an interesting district. It's the second largest in the state. And um, lately in the past year it's gotten a lot of national recognition. It was the subject of two big studies at Stanford and UCLA that sort of applauded the district for making progress in test scores, graduation rates, college readiness rates. Um, but if you look closely at data and if you separate by schools, you see some achievement gaps growing between, um, schools like Lincoln high school and schools like a Scripps ranch high. And, uh, if you're running for board, uh, if you're running for San Diego unified school board, you kind of have to deal with both of these things. Right? Um, and then secondly, there's a huge fiscal, uh, problem in school districts statewide, and that's a declining enrollment, growing special ed costs and, um, and teacher pensions that I keep going up every year. So, and lastly, you know, this is the first question I ask all the candidates, you know, why should people care about the school board elections? And you know, they, they all said the same thing they said, because it's a, it's a longterm investment because these students will become, you know, the future residents of San Diego.
Speaker 1: 22:49 All right. Uh, you know, so it's really going to be up to the elected board members to really fix these problems or at least address the concern. So let's first start with a familiar name incumbent Richard Barrera, and tell me a bit about him.
Speaker 5: 23:01 Yeah, so he's a runner. He's running unopposed and he's run unopposed since 2008. He's, uh, he has strong union backing. He represents a sub-district D, which covers Logan Heights and city Heights, that area. Um, and yeah, he just has a lot of name recognition. He's out in the community and has strong support overall.
Speaker 1: 23:21 All right. Three candidates competing for sub district a quickly a, there'll be, it'll be vacated by John Lee Evans. What's that district like?
Speaker 5: 23:28 Yeah, so a, it's one of the more higher income sub districts. It's just East of LA Jolla covers neighborhoods like mere Mason, Claremont. Um, you have three candidates running, you have a Sabrina Bazo, crystal troll and Steph gross. Both, uh, are all three of them are parents that are very involved in their children's schools. They've all served on PTs and parent groups and things like that.
Speaker 1: 23:51 All right. And incumbent Sharon Whitehurst pain is being opposed and sub-district E she's been in office one term. What's been her focus while holding that seat?
Speaker 5: 24:00 So if you talk to Sharon about what she's most proud of, it's a, it's special education and, um, she's, uh, really focused on doing a better job of meeting individual student's need so that that might mean, you know, certain students might not actually qualify for special education, but um, and so you have to make sure they're getting the appropriate services, but at the same time you have to make sure that those who need special education services are getting them. And, uh, earlier in 2019, she actually was the only board member to vote against, uh, renewing the superintendent's contract because she was very critical of the lack of progress at Lincoln high school in our sub district.
Speaker 1: 24:41 All right, let's take a listen to what Whitehurst Payne had to say here.
Speaker 5: 24:44 Okay.
Speaker 6: 24:44 Children come to our schools and, and district ease community, not with the same set of resources that children in a say. Districts see the coastal areas we're going in. We, we have coaching for individual teachers, for individual students
Speaker 1: 25:02 and quickly she's being opposed by the one of Richmond. Um, what did she, what, what's her?
Speaker 5: 25:08 So her focus is very much on, um, on transparency and focusing on this achievement gap, uh, between, uh, schools in her sub district and the rest of the district.
Speaker 1: 25:20 All right, Joe. Thank you very much. These races are something we'll continue to watch. We appreciate it. You know, that wraps up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. Thank you to all of our guests and meet the Sharma of KPBS news, Joe Hong, also KPBS news and Jill Castellano of I new source. A reminder, all of the stories we discussed today are available on our website kpbs.org I'm Jade [inaudible]. Thanks for joining us today on the round table.
Speaker 2: 25:58 [inaudible].