State Bar judge chides former Yolo prosecutor but withholds disciplinary action

A California State Bar judge has stopped short of disciplining former Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Clinton Parish, recommending that he be admonished for mudslinging in his unsuccessful bid for Yolo Superior Court judge last year.

State Bar Judge Pat McElroy found that Parish, now a prosecutor in the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office, made a “false assertion in a campaign mailer, with reckless disregard for the truth,” during his 2012 campaign against sitting Superior Court Judge Dan Maguire. But McElroy said the act was not intentional.

State Bar attorneys alleged Parish knowingly misrepresented Maguire and used false and deceptive campaign materials in the judgeship race. Parish faced consequences ranging from admonishment to disbarment. Admonishment is not considered formal discipline.

Parish chased away plum supporters during the June 2012 election with campaign mailers issued a month earlier that sought to tie Maguire to corporate bribery while Maguire worked for a Colorado law firm.

“If anything, (Parish’s) misconduct primarily harmed himself, as his controversial advertising put him at the center of a political firestorm and caused him to lose several key endorsements,” McElroy wrote. “As a political neophyte, (Parish) ... to some extent ‘played fast and loose with his facts.’”

Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto, Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig, Woodland’s police union and the Yolo County Republican Party were among those who withdrew their Parish endorsements in the mailers’ wake.

Maguire said the claims were false, and Parish later said he did not thoroughly vet his accusations.

“This assertion was false and made with reckless disregard for the truth,” McElroy wrote, saying the bribery mailer’s assertion “clearly had the potential to cause significant harm to (Maguire) and the public.”

McElroy said a second Parish mailer implying that Maguire played a role in former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to commute the sentence of Esteban Núñez was within the bounds of political campaigning. Núñez, the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the 2008 stabbing of a San Diego college student but had his 16-year sentence reduced to seven years by Schwarzenegger.

Maguire served as Schwarzenegger’s deputy legal affairs secretary before the governor appointed him to the bench in 2010. Maguire asserted that he left the Governor’s Office before the 2011 commutation and played no role in the decision. McElroy said it was reasonable to speculate that Schwarzenegger made his decision before Maguire left.

“While it appears that (Parish’s) assertion was strong and exaggerated political rhetoric, the court does not find it to be patently false or reckless,” McElroy wrote.

Parish sacked his political consultant, suspended his campaign and blamed political inexperience. Maguire later won the judge’s race in a romp. Parish garnered about 23 percent of the vote.

At trial, Parish represented himself and apologized to Maguire, according to McElroy’s decision.

McElroy’s September decision followed a rare three-day trial in July on the allegations. Parish’s case was one of only two misconduct cases since 2000 to proceed to a hearing, State Bar officials said.