By Ken Stone
A Superior Court judge Friday kept alive a civil case against Assemblyman Todd Gloria, accused of using his “Assembly 2020” fundraising committee to illegally pad his mayoral campaign.
Judge Ronald F. Frazier agreed with Gloria on several technical matters but gave plaintiff Mat Wahlstrom a chance to file an amended suit — setting a deadline of Oct. 9.
“He’s still exposed,” Wahlstrom attorney David Kenney said of Gloria in a phone interview. Frazier OK’d a demurrer motion by Gloria to throw out the lawsuit but not the case.Gloria denies using any money from his “Assembly 2020” committee to help his race against fellow Democrat Barbara Bry, and his legal team points to a $200 fine over a late filing settled the case with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.
Wahlstrom, active in the Rescue Hillcrest group, also alleges that Gloria committed perjury when he signed a state form that he was running for re-election in the 78th District.
But Frazier ruled: “Even assuming it is true that Gloria filed his declaration under penalty of perjury while at the same time never intending to run for the Assembly, … it is not clear how this could amount to anything other than a violation of Section 85200.”
(That law says, in part: “Prior to the solicitation or receipt of any contribution or loan for a specific office, the individual must file a statement, signed under penalty of perjury, of intention to be a candidate for the specific office.”)
But since the FPPC fined Gloria $200 for violation of its rules, Wahlstrom can’t sue, the judge said.
Kenney, 67, called the ruling — made final after a morning phone session that neither side attended — “extraordinarily reasonable.”
“I’m thankful we have a seasoned and veteran judge on the bench,” he said. “We can address the judge’s concerns and make the complaint better — to focus the statutory and regulatory arguments.”
The new suit, he added, “can address the court’s concerns and also articulate a cause of action more precisely.”
Said Wahlstrom via email: “The court gave me the opportunity to improve my complaint by including additional facts…. More importantly, Judge Frazier consolidated my petition for writ of mandate against the [Fair Political Practices Commission and Gloria attorney Stephen] Kaufman into the existing action against Gloria. I look forward to having all of these issues resolved together.”
Gloria’s team thus will be dealing with the suit for months.
“This case will continue to persist, notwithstanding the election,” Kenney said.
Nick Serrano, Gloria’s campaign manager, reacted via email Friday: “Mr. Wahlstrom has now filed multiple frivolous lawsuits against Assemblymember Gloria and has even sued the California Fair Political Practices Commission. Today was a victory for Todd since his demurrer to throw out the lawsuit was granted. Mr. Wahlstrom has failed in court at every turn. We feel certain the ultimate resolution will be the same.”
In his ruling, Frazier said: “Whether the allegations [of using Assembly 2020 funds for illegal political purposes] may ultimately be proven false is not for the court to determine at this stage.”
However, he agreed that Wahlstrom’s allegations were vague and didn’t clearly state a cause of action. So he granted Gloria’s request to dismiss a second lawsuit on those grounds.
But then the downtown San Diego judge said Wahlstrom can file a third complaint.
Wahlstrom sued Gloria and the San Diego County Democratic Party on Aug. 19, 2019, and then filed an amended complaint Feb. 28.
“My objective is not to penalize anyone,” said attorney Kenney. “It’s not to prosecute anyone. It’s just to make sure our public officials are conducting themselves honestly and with integrity. And if they’re not, they shouldn’t hold office.”
Updated at 12:34 p.m. Sept. 18, 2020
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