City Attorney’s Hired Guns Engineer Political Hit on Four City Hall Challengers

By: 
Stephen Downing

On May 5, around 4:15 p.m. Gina Herrera, an attorney working for Best Best & Krieger (BBK) – the go-to law firm that has received millions in legal contracts awarded by City Attorney Charles Parkin – began hitting the email send button two days prior to mail-in ballots began arriving at the mailboxes of the Long Beach electorate.

A Beachcomber investigation has – thus far – established that Herrera sent at least four separate emails to candidates for Long Beach public office – who if elected – could seriously impact the decade-long status quo of governance in Long Beach.

The email recipients include Gerrie Schipske, candidate for city attorney, Dan Miles, candidate for city auditor and George Moyer and Nick Liddi, both candidates for city prosecutor.

The text in each email said: “Our firm (BBK) serves as special counsel to the City of Long Beach, and in this capacity, I am sending you the attached letter. The letter is also being sent today via Priority Mail.”

The similarities in each of the May 5 letters sent to the candidates included a statement that 1) their campaign committed violations of the City’s Campaign Reform Act, 2) a notice that “Violations of the act may be enforced as criminal or civil actions” and 3) that “Pursuant to Section 2.01.1120 Best Best & Krieger LLP, as special counsel to the City, will be filing a civil action against you…”

In the BBK letters to Schipske, Miles and Litti the attorney also notified each that “We will also be referring this matter to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, Public Integrity Division for further review,” implying that a violation of the city ordinance – which can at the most amount to a citable misdemeanor – should be considered for felony prosecution by the D.A.

The Beachcomber was unable to determine why Moyer was not threatened with a felony prosecution.

The differences in each letter included a description of the violations each of the candidates allegedly committed.

In that the City Ordinance provides a penalty “for an amount not more than three (3) times the amount of the unlawful contribution of expenditure,” each of the candidates were informed of their financial exposure in the civil suits being filed by BBK.

The limit on loans for those running for citywide office is $15,000.

According to the BBK allegations Schipske loaned $50,000 to her campaign, Miles loaned $20,000 and Liddi loaned $34,100.

The violations against Moyer alleged that two individuals donated a “combined total of $1,200” to his campaign in violation of “the Act’s individual contribution limit as adjusted for the 2022 election cycle,” which is $600.

Each of the candidates told the Beachcomber that the alleged violations amounted to nothing more than clerical errors made by their treasurers and that the errors were corrected immediately upon receipt of the BBK letter.

The Beachcomber made several attempts to reach the BBK attorney and left voice mails outlining questions related to our discovery that the BBK action in filing civil suits and threatening felony prosecution are unprecedented in the history of Long Beach elections, as errors discovered in the past were always the subject of initial warning to candidates and – according to experts experienced in such matters – no legal action has ever been initiated by the city beyond the warning/correction stage.

The BBK attorney obviously elected (or was directed) to ignore the “may be enforced” element of the ordinance.

This newspaper’s request to Herrera for a return call was also designed to learn if she or BBK management discussed if their actions to file the civil law suits was approved by Parkin or any other city official and if the potential liability to BBK and the City surrounding the likelihood of a frivolous lawsuit claim being filed against both was considered by the firm or Parkin.

Herrera did not the return the calls made to her office or provide an email response to the questions left in her phone voice mailbox.

According to multiple legal sources, Parkin is BBK’s client in this matter, as opposed to the city, because of Parkin’s conflict of interest arising from his last minute promotion of Dawn Macintosh to the position of assistant city attorney and his subsequent endorsement of Mcintosh for city attorney at the time he announced his pending retirement.

According to a May 6 Long Beach Post article by Jason Ruiz, Parkin acknowledged that “the law adopted by voters in 1994 and Parkin who’s been city attorney since 2013”, that Parkin “couldn’t recall his office issuing a notice like this in the past.”

Candidate's Response

The Beachcomber asked for and received comment from each of the candidates. They follow here:

Gerrie Schipske, candidate for city attorney: “This is clearly a political hit. My report was filed less than five days ago. As soon as the error was brought to my attention at 4:27 p.m. last night via email, my treasurer corrected it and an amended report was filed at 8:17 p.m.

“While I stepped up and corrected the report, the city attorney has yet to correct the serious mistakes made concerning Community Hospital, the Queen Mary, the water rate surcharge, etc.

“I also find it ironic that I am being cited for a violation of the very LB Campaign Finance Reform Act this city attorney has allowed every elected official to violate.

“The law clearly states that a candidate cannot raise political contributions prior to one year before an election. Yet, this city attorney told this mayor and City Council they could use their officeholder accounts to raise political contributions – which they are doing 24/7 in violation of the one-year prohibition for candidates.

“Two wrongs do not make a right – but it certainly illustrates the legal hypocrisy and lengths the special interests at City Hall will go to keep things the way they are.”

Dan Miles, candidate for city auditor: “On May 5, 2022, I received a letter from the City of Long Beach’s outside counsel that I had loaned my campaign an excess of $5,000 past the allowable loan amount for an individual running for office. I take full responsibility for this clerical error and would like to take this opportunity to explain to the residents of Long Beach how this clerical error was made:

“On March 8 2022, I made a personal loan to my campaign of $10,000. In following with campaign rules, I processed the loan through my campaign treasurer. On April 27, I made another loan of $5,000 and an additional donation of $10,000. While I provided one check, I noted to my campaign treasurer, via phone and on the check, that I was providing $5,000 as a loan and $10,000 as a donation. My campaign treasurer incorrectly coded the $10,000 donation as a loan.

“I have worked incredibly hard to stay independent, not accepting donations from individuals or groups that have business in front of the city. It is important that the city auditor be independent and transparent with the residents of Long Beach. I am fortunate to be able to largely self-fund my campaign and maintain my independence.

“People make mistakes. I make mistakes. The real test is what you do when you make them. Personally, I take full responsibility. I accept nothing less from anyone currently running for election or sitting in office. It is time we bring accountability back to the City of Long Beach.”

Nick Liddi, candidate for city prosecutor from his representative, Tim Lineberger: “Mr. Liddi made fully legal and statutorily compliant personal contributions to his campaign. Through no fault of Mr. Liddi, the contributions were incorrectly reported as loans by the campaign treasurer, who has since completely rectified the situation. In what is likely not a coincidence, numerous candidates who are challenging entrenched incumbents somehow wound up with the same exact reporting mistake and are now being unfairly targeted with potential enforcement action.

“This is not the first time Mr. Liddi has dealt with suspicious and concerning activity since launching his campaign to unseat failed career politician Doug Haubert. In January, Mr. Liddi’s campaign filed numerous public records requests for Doug Haubert’s salary increases, reimbursements and expenses, and calendar. Mr. Haubert’s office initially requested a 14-day extension, but four months later, we have still yet to receive even one responsive document despite repeated attempts to follow up. Based on the stonewalling, we can only assume there is something in Mr. Haubert’s records that he does not want the public to see before the election.

“In a separate instance, the city attempted to improperly disallow Mr. Liddi’s ballot designation as gang prosecutor. It was only after the campaign elevated the issue to outside council that Mr. Liddi was ultimately given permission to use his actual occupation as his ballot designation – something that should have never been in question. It is the campaign’s understanding that Mr. Haubert attempted to influence the city clerk directly regarding this decision. Mr. Haubert clearly does not want voters to know they have a real choice between a career prosecutor or a failed politician, whose inflated salary has continued to go up alongside the rising crime rate in Long Beach.

“Something fishy is going on, and it smells rotten.”

(Editor’s Note: The Beachcomber asked Haubert via email in the late afternoon on May 6 to respond to the Litti allegations concerning his office. A response was not received prior to publication).

George Moyer, candidate for city prosecutor: “These are political attacks against the candidates, pure and simple.

“This could have been easily resolved by asking the candidates to file amended campaign finance forms reclassifying the loans as donations and returning any excess donations.

“Instead, we have the establishment machinery bringing formal allegations of misconduct.

“The referral to the district attorney is pure theater. And the press release on the eve of ballots being released makes it all the more obvious.

“I condemn the city's tactics. We need transparent, fair, and professional government in Long Beach.”

(Editor’s Note: Moyer subsequently informed the Beachcomber that his campaign refunded the two double-donations previously and when notified BBK said they would not be taking further action in his case.”)

Q&A with an Expert

On May 6 the Beachcomber posed several questions to David Gould, the treasurer for Dan Miles and Nick Litti.

Gould is one of the original authors of the Political Reform Act of the State written in draft form in 1971 and became the law in 1974. He is president of the California Political Treasurer’s Association that is made up of all the Professional Political Treasurer’s that operate in the state and has worked in the field since 1970.

Gould has lived in Long Beach for the past 32-plus years and has been the freasurer for the mayor, the city attorney, the city auditor and many current and past members of the City Council.

Gould said that he also “worked with the city attorney’s office some years ago in cleaning up the (existing) City Ordinance which seems to need more cleanup.”

In speaking to his relationship as treasurer for Dan Miles and Nick Litti, Gould agreed that Mile’s statement “Is correct” and that “our office made a mistake and corrected it.”

With regard to his representation as treasurer for Nick Litti, Gould wrote a letter to “Whom it may Concern” stating “Mr. Liddi received the letter attached (the BBK letter) on May 5, 2022 apprising him of certain violations (of the) city campaign reform act.

“These issues were brought to our attention on May 6, 2022.

“We have discovered that the overstatement of the loan amounts was due to our clerical error and was no fault of Nick Liddi. We have corrected the error and have filed an amended California Form 460. If you have any questions, please call our office.”

In response to Beachcomber questions Gould said that these kinds of errors are “more common with first time candidates” as compared to incumbents.

When asked about prior elections in which he served as treasurer for candidates if it was a common practice for jurisdictions – including Long Beach – warn candidates about errors found as opposed to immediately filing lawsuits. Gould responded: “Yes, that has always happened in every jurisdiction.”

Gould also said that in his long experience with Long Beach that the city has “never” filed a civil action against either a new or incumbent candidate.

When asked if he believed his clients were treated fairly and believed that the actions taken amounted to an effort to protect the status quo, Gould said that the entire episode is “totally outrageous” and added that the $15,000 loan limit imposed on candidates “has not kept pace with inflation and should be higher.”

Gould offered his opinion that the lawsuit is frivolous and that “the Political Reform Act was not established/created to punish anyone making mistake.” He said, “That is why there is a simple mechanism in place to amend reports. “

Gould said he had not discussed the matter with the city attorney yet, “But I will.” He added that “frivolous prosecution is a misuse of the Political Reform Act an should result in significant punishment by anyone doing it. Disbarment comes to mind.”

When asked to comment on Gerrie Schipske’s statement that City Attorney Parkin allowed officer holders to use their office holders accounts for reelection – which receive contributions year round while new candidates have to wait until one year prior to the election to begin raising campaign funds, Gould said: “Raising funds into office holder accounts is supposed to be for the purpose of the office holder having funds to do proper office holder expenses, not campaign expenses.”

He further stated, “The actual raising of funds into office holder accounts is not the problem. The problem is that the city attorney has authorized transfers between office holder accounts and candidate accounts other jurisdictions do not allow. (Schipske stated that Long Beach is the only jurisdiction in California that permits this corrupting practice.)

Gould said that campaign finance law as practiced in Long Beach gives “an advantage to the incumbent.”

When asked if he believes – as does one of his clients – that the actions taken by BBK suggests a City Hall conspiracy to protect City Hall status quo, Gould said, “I agree that BBK is way out of line and should not have been brought into this by anyone.”

Gould added, “This is an abuse of process. BBK should be barred from any entity in trying to create havoc. They had no business doing what they did.”

On May 7 Gould wrote an email to the Beachcomber stating, “I am filing a complaint with the FPPC against BBK and the city for gross violations of the Political Reform Act.”

 

Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired LAPD deputy chief of police. Stephen.Beacomber@Gmail.com.

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Comments

More than a week after I filed my candidate designation "Architect, Community Advocate" the City Clerk got back to me and said that it had been disallowed by their attorneys, and I was given less than 8 hours to contest their ruling. It turns out that by "the attorneys" the city clerk meant Best Best & Krieger. I asked for a face to face meeting at City Hall, followed by a series of emails. During our meeting I asked for and was promised a copy of BBK's ruling in order to properly contest it.

Later via email they retracted the promise of the BBK letter. I was left to argue my case without knowing exactly what I was arguing against. All they would tell me is that I needed to comply with a requirement that does not exist anywhere in the California Election Code, a city ordinance, or in the candidate information guide, that says that I need to prove I work 30 hours or more as a community advocate by providing a time sheet from the non-profits I work for.

When the City Clerk mentioned that one candidate had filed "homemaker" I asked if that candidate was required to prove they're a homemaker by providing a time sheet. "No," the city clerk said, "it was substantiated by a narrative describing their life as a homemaker." Then I will do that, I told them. I followed with a 4 1/2 page detailed breakdown of the advocacy work that I do, which was promptly rejected.

My candidate designation now reads "Architect" without the "Community Advocate" work which has been the primary focus of my efforts these last few years. Clearly this was an attempt to remove an advantage I have over the incumbent.

The Fix Is In. The LBPost article on Cinco de Mayo dropped in the late afternoon. It took Stephen Downing to get to the core of that rotten apple. There's a ton of fear at city hall that the cabal could get broken up. Let's make sure that fear remains through the machine's June 7th failures. They must NOT succeed in stopping honest, apolitical candidates from working for the people of this city, not the service unions, developers and self-proclaimed elites.
Thank you Stephen Downing and the Beachcomber.

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