In one suit, Mat Wahlstrom of Hillcrest (inset) said the Fair Political Practices Commision should have fined Assemblyman Todd Gloria (shown in 2018) much more for submitting a form late. Photos by Ken Stone and Alexander Nguyen

Thirty months after Barbara Bry sparked a war of words with Todd Gloria at a mayoral debate, leading to lawsuits against the eventual winner, a lawyer ended the cases in San Diego Superior Court with four words:

“We’re submitting on this.”

Judge Ronald Frazier's tentative rulings in Mat Wahlstrom lawsuits (PDF)
Judge Ronald Frazier’s tentative rulings in Mat Wahlstrom lawsuits (PDF)

With that legal jargon for surrender, Cory Briggs threw in the towel Friday for his client Mat Wahlstrom — at least for now.

They wouldn’t challenge Judge Ronald Frazier’s tentative rulings in the Hillcrest man’s lawsuits against Gloria, the San Diego County Democratic Party and the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

Frazier sustained, or granted, demurrer requests by Gloria and the state’s political watchdog agency to toss Wahlstrom’s fourth try at holding Gloria accountable for signing paperwork, under penalty of perjury, that indicated he was running for re-election to the state Assembly and mayor of San Diego at the same time.

“Plaintiff’s sole cause of action for Illegal Campaign Financing still fails to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action,” Frazier wrote.

Wahlstrom also alleged that Gloria was using his Assembly fund-raising committee to “launder” money to the county Democratic Party, which endorsed him, thus getting around city limits on campaign spending.

The FPPC fined Gloria $200 for late filing of mandatory paperwork, which his campaign called an “administrative oversight.”

But a second Wahlstrom suit, against the FPPC in September 2020, wanted the court to “void” the “paltry” fine and consider harsher penalties. It also asked the judge to remove attorney Stephen Kaufman from Gloria’s legal team because Kaufman was once chairman of the FPPC Enforcement Review Task Force.

In his tentative ruling in the FPPC case, Frazier didn’t take sides on whether Kaufman was violating a state law to prevent state employees from lobbying their former agencies less than a year after leaving.

“Even assuming the facts as alleged by [Wahlstrom] are true – that Mr. Kaufman was subject to the restrictions of [state law] and violated one or both of those Code sections – [Wahlstrom] has cited no legal authority to suggest the remedy would be to declare the November 1, 2019, [FPPC] Stipulation, Decision and Order signed by Todd Gloria is ‘null, void, and/or ultra vires,'” Frazier wrote.

After quickly leaving the downtown Hall of Justice courtroom about 9 a.m. Friday, Briggs responded to a Times of San Diego request for comment.

Briggs suggested he would appeal in both cases.

“We will have to see whether the appellate court agrees that corporate donations to a state politician may be laundered into that politician’s local campaign in a city that bars corporate donations, and whether the FPPC representative writing the enforcement rules may wear two hats and simultaneously represent the politician in an FPPC enforcement proceeding,” Briggs said via email.

“We think that such corruption will not be countenanced at the appellate level.”

Gloria launched his “2020 Gloria for Assembly Committee Feb. 19” about six weeks after he set up “Todd Gloria for Mayor 2020.” In the first six months of 2019, it had raised $25,000 and spent $44,000 — leaving $275,000 in the bank. Much of its money came from a March 19 transfer of $293,000 from the terminated “Todd Gloria for Assembly 2018” committee.

Wahlstrom filed suit against Gloria and the county Democratic Party in August 2019, and a fourth version of the complaint wanted Frazier to order Gloria and the Democrats to refund or reimburse at least $10,000 in donations made out of Gloria’s Assembly 2020 committee and issue a ruling that they broke campaign-finance laws.

But Frazier, who had ruled against Wahlstrom three times, made it a fourpeat Friday. (Neither Wahlstrom nor Gloria attended the hearing.)

Nick Serrano, Mayor Gloria’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement: “We’ve said all along that these claims have been baseless and nothing more than a biased political attack – and now we have the court ruling to prove it. We’re glad to finally put his ridiculous court case behind us and get back to the business of serving the people of San Diego.”

Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, local Democratic Party chairman, said Saturday: “Not once, not twice, but on numerous occasions a Superior Court judge has told the plaintiff and his attorneys that this case is meritless. With this behind us, our party will continue the very important work that is central to our mission: To elect Democrats in order to advance equality, opportunity, sustainability and prosperity for all”

And Richard C. Miadich, chairman of the five-member FPPC, told Times of San Diego: “We’re pleased with today’s events in court. We sought to have the case dismissed because we always believed it lacked merit and the court agreed. We feel this is and always was the proper outcome.”

Asked when he might file an appeal, Briggs said: “The deadline is 60 days after entry of judgment.”

On Aug. 9, 2019, Bry challenged fellow Democrat Gloria about his dual fund-raising committees late in a debate at San Diego City College: “Mr. Gloria, I want to know what office you are running for.”

Three days later, La Prensa San Diego pointed out that Gloria had failed to file the mandatory Form 501 Candidate Intention Statement before launching his Assembly 2020 fund-raising committee.

On Friday, Bry was asked her reaction to the latest court rulings. The candidate for county assessor/recorder/county clerk offered two words.

“No comment.”