Former Yolo County prosecutor Clint Parish should be admonished — but not disciplined — for making false allegations in campaign mailers during his 2012 judicial campaign, a State Bar Court judge concluded in a ruling announced Friday.
Judge Pat McElroy wrote in the ruling, filed Sept. 13, that Parish’s misconduct “came as the result of a bad decision by a first-time judicial candidate” and caused no significant harm to either the public or his opponent, incumbent Yolo Superior Court Judge Dan Maguire.
The State Bar’s Office of the Chief Trial Counsel is appealing the ruling, which will be reviewed by the bar’s court review department. Reached by phone Friday, Parish said he would not comment until that review is complete. Maguire also declined to comment.
Parish, 42, had been accused of willfully violating the rules of professional conduct while seeking judicial office and faced disbarment as a maximum punishment.
Maguire won the June 5, 2012, election with more than 77 percent of the countywide vote after Parish’s campaign released a pair of campaign mailers linking Maguire to a controversial prison-term commutation, as well as a “sordid case of corporate fraud” at a former law firm.
Neither claim turned out to be true.
“While respondent’s misconduct was reckless, it was not found to be intentional,” McElroy wrote in the 15-page ruling. “If anything, respondent’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’s decision was based on evidence and testimony presented during a three-day trial in State Bar Court in San Francisco back in July.
According to the written ruling, the events leading to the controversy began several months before the election, when the director of communications for Parish’s campaign, Kirby Wells, advised Parish to replace his then-campaign consultant with Aaron Park, “who has been described as ‘true believer’ and a ‘flame thrower’ with a right-wing blog.”
With Park on board, Parish’s campaign released a pair of campaign mailers that implied Maguire, a former deputy legal secretary to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was involved in the decision to reduce the voluntary manslaughter prison sentence for Esteban Nuñez, son of former Assembly Speaker and Schwarzenegger ally Fabian Nuñez.
The mailers also claimed that Maguire was part of a “sordid case of corporate fraud that involved payment of bribes in Russia” while working for a Denver law firm in the 1990s.
Maguire responded at the time that he had left the Denver law firm prior to the controversy involving its Russia office — a matter in which the law firm ultimately prevailed — and played no role in the Nuñez prison sentence commutation, which occurred after he took the bench in Yolo County.
In his defense, Parish described himself as a political “neophyte” who relied upon the advice of his campaign consultants as the mailers were being prepared. Parish later fired Park and suspended his campaign activities as his key endorsers — including Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto and District Attorney Jeff Reisig, Parish’s boss — withdrew their support.
Although the ads’ allegations ranged from exaggerated to reckless, and though Parish had a responsibility to determine their accuracy, “the court does not believe that respondent knew or believed they were false when he made them,” McElroy wrote. “Instead, respondent just relied on what Wells and Park were telling him.”
The ruling also noted multiple mitigating factors in the case, including Parish’s lack of disciplinary record, his community service activities and his recognition of wrongdoing, which included an open apology to Maguire during the July trial.
“And shortly after the election, respondent left his position at the district attorney’s office in Yolo County and moved to Tuolumne County,” the ruling says. “Accordingly, the court finds respondent has demonstrated remorse.”
The request for a review of McElroy’s ruling was filed Oct. 1.
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene