Saying she had listened for months to “nonsense” from her political opponents, District Attorney Birgit Fladager charged that county Board of Supervisors meetings are being used for election campaigning and to level slanderous accusations against her investigators.
Fladager, who is seeking re-election in June, hinted that further mudslinging could result in a slander lawsuit. “They are on notice,” Fladager said during the public comment time at Tuesday’s board meeting, adding that DA investigators “do not deserve to be attacked in a public setting for some sort of private gain.”
Defense attorney Frank Carson, her opponent on the June 3 ballot, dropped what he considered the first in a series of bombshells at the Jan. 28 meeting, citing a state report showing that Fladager had approved 25 wiretaps in 2012 without netting any convictions. Carson and former Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino have made allegations about DA investigators during public comment periods at other televised government meetings.
Sabatino brought a laptop computer to the podium Tuesday and played an interview he claimed was about two teenage girls who had been handcuffed and detained for six hours in the Korey Kauffman homicide investigation in Turlock. A malfunction cut the recording short, and then Fladager stepped forward to comment.
She said defense attorneys accuse investigators of misconduct during trials to attack their credibility, and that’s fair game in court, but investigators are unable to respond when charges are leveled at government meetings.
She said, among other things, that her foes had made a false claim that DA investigator Steve Jacobson was sent to wiretap training at county expense. Fladager said the investigator took the training on vacation time.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim DeMartini said he hoped Sabatino would refrain from campaign tactics at county meetings. Sabatino, who is opposing Fladager’s re-election, replied that the taped interview had nothing to do with the election. To the threat of a civil lawsuit, Sabatino said, “Bring it on.”
Later Tuesday, Carson said he and Fladager had a heated exchange over wiretapping issues during a Republican Central Committee debate Monday.
“She knows we are getting traction over this and the word is getting out,” Carson said. He also has said the DA’s Office is dysfunctional and that he would cut the number of investigators while hiring more attorneys to prosecute cases.
Sabatino’s latest accusations were not the only thing that could be construed as politicking at Tuesday’s meeting. Sheriff Adam Christianson, who is seeking re-election, was given two commendations from supporters during the comment period, the second right after Fladager spoke about inappropriate stumping at meetings.
The commendations from U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, and Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, noted that Christianson has been named the next president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association.
DeMartini and Supervisor Vito Chiesa said they seriously doubted the allegations against DA investigators, but saw no way to restrict speech during the comment period, which is intended to let people raise concerns about county services or governance. “I don’t think you can limit it. I suspect that after the election, it’s all going to stop,” DeMartini said.
It was another round of squabbling in a contentious election contest for district attorney. On one side are Fladager supporters who would hate to see a defense attorney in the DA’s office. Others suggest that Fladager and Christianson should disclose more about the reason for and results of wiretap operations. The 25 wiretaps in 2012 were five times the number in the previous year and captured the cellphone conversations of more than 1,000 individuals. More than 25,000 conversations or text messages were intercepted, the state report said.
Christianson received approval Tuesday to hire back a retired legal clerk to transcribe interviews in multiple homicide investigations and internal investigations, as well as “hundreds of hours” of electronic intercept recordings, he said. The sheriff said the vast majority of wiretap requests come from his office for drug enforcement agency probes.
Christianson called them a vital tool to stop criminals who are poisoning the public with illegal drugs. Fladager has said the wiretaps have resulted in arrests, but the cases have not yet gone to trial.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321.