Campaign mud is flying as the Sacramento mayor’s race enters its final days.
In the Department of Boneheaded Moves, attorney Darrell Steinberg turns out to have quietly been working for months as a paid adviser to the Delta’s arch-enemy, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Meanwhile, City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby never technically “worked as a public defender,” as her story on her district website claims, but was only an intern in that office. Also, minor detail, she couldn’t have been at the county public defender’s office as a licensed attorney because she never passed the bar exam.
The days just before an election are always a prime time for opposition research and dirt dishing. And neither set of revelations – documented, respectively, by The Bee’s Ryan Lillis and KCRA – is likely to be a deal breaker for the candidates’ core supporters.
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That said, Sacramento voters can and should take them under advisement and consider them seriously.
Ashby has made her rise from single mother to law school graduate an integral part of her story. And though her public pitch has implied otherwise, she has acknowledged, when asked directly, that she failed the bar exam the one time she took it.
She’s in good company there – the California bar is one of the toughest in the nation, and lawyers including Gov. Jerry Brown, former Gov. Pete Wilson and Kathleen Sullivan, the former dean of the Stanford Law School, have flunked on their first try.
Ashby was only an intern in the public defender’s office, not a public defender, and Steinberg’s clients include an advocate for the Delta tunnels. Voters may now consider themselves advised.
But when she talks publicly about her decision not to become a practicing attorney, she doesn’t mention that she would have had to retake the exam in order to actually have that option. And she has refused to take the public defender line out of her official city bio, insisting in a statement that she acted “in that role” during her 13-month stint in 2002 and 2003 as a legal research assistant working under a public defender.
Sorry, councilwoman. A legal research assistant isn’t a public defender, just as a medical research assistant isn’t an M.D.
As for Steinberg, we understand that he has an obligation to his law firm as a partner and rainmaker. He signed a $10,000-a-month contract to represent the MWD last year before he announced his candidacy, and it runs until the end of June.
The contract poses no legal conflict, and explicitly says Steinberg won’t lobby for the MWD priority, the twin tunnel project that many of the region’s voters view as a plain-and-simple water grab by those south state guzzlers.
But as MWD General Manager Jeff Kightlinger noted to Lillis, “everything, of course, has an inter-relationship,” which is no doubt at least part of why MWD sought Steinberg’s counsel. And, as Kightlinger also pointed out, the folks at MWD “are not always the most popular people” in Northern California.
Kightlinger said he gave Steinberg a chance to terminate the contract after Steinberg announced his mayoral campaign, and Steinberg declined the offer. Worse, he didn’t disclose the ongoing relationship to voters. The information, in fact, wouldn’t have come out had a well-known local opposition researcher not filed a Public Records Act request and unearthed the contract.
Steinberg should cut this arrangement short, if only out of respect for the terrible political optics, and limit his outside work, if elected. And if he decides to maintain his law practice, he ought to go beyond the city’s requirements and disclose each client publicly, and the amounts they pay him.
Being mayor is a full-time job; it pays $120,218 a year, plus $14,200 for expenses. That’s not nothing. And the fewer surprises the better, when it comes to mud.