Friday, May 20, 2016

And the Sign Wars go on and on

More Sign Wars news. This time, a candidate may have run afoul of the judicial ethics people, if not the law, a judge candidate no less. Read the story in the Marin IJ:

And here is the story in full: 

Marin judicial candidate accused of implying incumbency in campaign materials

A Nancy McCarthy campaign sign stands next to De Long Avenue in Novato. Critics have questioned whether the placement of “Judge” and “Nancy” on her campaign materials is meant to suggest she is running as an incumbent. (Robert Tong/Marin Independent Journal)
A Nancy McCarthy campaign sign stands next to De Long Avenue in Novato. Critics have questioned whether the placement of “Judge” and “Nancy” on her campaign materials is meant to suggest she is running as an incumbent. (Robert Tong/Marin Independent Journal)
Nancy McCarthy, who is facing criticism that her campaign materials imply incumbency, noted that rival Renee Marcelle’s website says “Marin Superior Court Judge” under her name. (
Nancy McCarthy, who is facing criticism that her campaign materials imply incumbency, noted that rival Renee Marcelle’s website says “Marin Superior Court Judge” under her name. ( 

Elections Code 18350

(a) A person is guilty of a misdemeanor who, with intent to mislead the voters in connection with his or her campaign for nomination or election to a public office, or in connection with the campaign of another person for nomination or election to a public office, does either of the following acts:

(1) Assumes, pretends, or implies, by his or her statements, conduct, or campaign materials, that he or she is the incumbent of a public office when that is not the case.

(2) Assumes, pretends, or implies, by his or her statements, conduct, or campaign materials, that he or she is or has been acting in the capacity of a public officer when that is not the case.
(b) A violation of this section may be enjoined in a civil action brought by a candidate for the public office involved.

A Marin judicial candidate running to uphold the law is facing accusations her campaign is flouting it.

Nancy McCarthy, one of nine candidates in the June 7 primary, has come under scrutiny for campaign signs and materials that prominently display the words “Judge” and “Nancy” together in large letters.
Although the two words are separated by a small star or thin vertical line on her campaign signs, her campaign website goes further. It is designed to place the words “Judge” and “Nancy” close together, unseparated by any characters, in a type size about twice as large as the other words.

Under state Elections Code Section 18350, it is a misdemeanor when a candidate, in an effort to “mislead” voters, “assumes, pretends, or implies, by his or her statements, conduct, or campaign materials, that he or she is the incumbent of a public office when that is not the case.”
Violators can be subject to civil action by other candidates.

District Attorney Edward Berberian referred the matter to the California Attorney General’s Office because his office has a conflict of interest. Three of his prosecutors are running for the same seat as McCarthy.

Brenda Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said state prosecutors are reviewing the matter.

Gonzalez said she did not have statistics on how often Section 18350 charges are filed in the state. In Marin, a records search going back to 2002 shows no Section 18350 filings by county prosecutors, said Assistant District Attorney Barry Borden.

No complaints against McCarthy or any of the other judicial candidates have been filed with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, spokesman Jay Wierenga said Thursday.

The judicial race is the most competitive in years, putting extra pressure on the candidates to distinguish themselves before the electorate. Unless a candidate wins an outright majority on June 7, the top two vote-getters will compete in the general election on Nov. 8.

In addition to McCarthy, a labor and employment lawyer, the candidates include Otis Bruce, a county prosecutor; Michael Coffino, a public defender; Beth Jordan, a family law specialist; Sheila Lichtblau, a deputy county counsel; Renee Marcelle, a family law attorney; Thomas McCallister, a county prosecutor; Nicole Pantaleo, a county prosecutor; and David Shane, a personal injury lawyer. They are running for the seat being vacated by Judge Faye D’Opal when her term ends in December.
Gigi Bibeault, a Marcelle supporter who complained about McCarthy’s campaign to the Marin County District Attorney’s Office, said the signs and online materials create the appearance she is running as an incumbent.

“As a parent, as a citizen, I just feel like they’re over the line,” she said. “And I’m trying to teach my kids to be wise about marketing.”

“If it said ‘Vote President Clinton’ for Hillary, everyone would be up in arms,” she said. “It’s over the line. The more I see it, the more irritated I get.”

Tara Higgins, a defense attorney, called McCarthy’s approach “underhanded” and unbefitting a candidate for judge.

“Clearly she approved this method of getting votes but she’s vying for a job that requires the highest level of integrity and ethics,” said Higgins, who has endorsed Bruce, Coffino and Pantaleo. “She’s failed already on both counts because her method of campaigning demonstrates she’ll try to get votes at any cost.”

McCarthy, in an email Thursday, said her materials are not intended to mislead but to help her stand out. She said she emphasized her first name because she is “sandwiched” alphabetically in the middle of nine candidates, three of whom have last names that start with M.

“In fact, I would never want to be considered an ‘incumbent’ in this race because that would indicate that I was such a loser of a judge that 8 attorneys decided to run against me,” she wrote.
In addition, she said, campaign signs “are small and it is hard to see what office someone is running for, emphasizing the word Judge, makes clear the position sought.”

She noted that Marcelle’s website has the candidate’s name at the top, with the line “Marin Superior Court Judge” underneath.

McCarthy also cited the campaign materials for Lichtblau, who is pictured with endorser Lynn Duryee, a retired judge who is now a mediator. Duryee is wearing a judicial robe.

“Is that misleading?” McCarthy said. “Where did the robes ‘prop’ come from?”

Lichtblau said: “My campaign has been very careful to follow all campaign laws, including the California Code of Judicial Ethics. I’m proud to have my candidacy supported by current and former judges.”

McCallister, one of the prosecutors running for the judgeship, said McCarthy “is not alone and that other candidates have done similar things on their signs, websites, in their campaign literature, and on badges that they wear to events.”

He also said candidates are broadly violating state and local rules against posting campaign signs in medians, fences or properties without permission.

“A prime example of this contrast between me and other candidates can be found at the intersection of Sir Francis Drake and Bon Air Road and all along Sir Francis Drake leading up to that intersection from both directions,” he said in an email. “There you will find many signs posted in the medians and on public fencing. My signs are only posted on Marin Catholic property with permission of the President of Marin Catholic or otherwise with permission of property and business owners.”

“This is what our community should expect from all candidates, especially judicial candidates, who are seeking a position in our community that requires that they know our laws and that they follow and enforce them.”

Other candidates declined to comment on McCarthy’s signs or could not be reached Thursday.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sign Wars, the Saga Continues

From the Point Reyes Light, more news of the Sign Wars of 2016. This time it's the candidates for District 4, Marin County,  in the first open election (no incumbent) in twenty years. Just as an aside, I was running in that race 20 years ago. No, I did not win, but it was the last seriously contested election in that district. The fight is getting heated now. Signs are popping up like mushrooms in the public right of way. Go ahead, try to pick a "winner" out of this motley crew. Signs don't vote, people.

Candidates took sign rules lightly

 CAMPAIGNING: Signs for four supervisor candidates huddle together at the intersection of Levee Road and Highway 1. Many of the eight candidates are suspected of placing signs illegally in county and state highway rights of way, the boundaries of which require a surveyor to map.
Beau Evans
Candidates for District 4 supervisor hoping to broadcast their names and messages have picketed West Marin in recent months with a flurry of political signs, many of which violate county and state rules that prohibit signs in rights of way. Some candidates reason that the illegal placement of signs is an unfortunate byproduct of a campaign machine that has unleashed a follow-the-pack political mentality.

“Everyone’s been doing it. If everybody’s doing it, I’m going to do it,” said Wendi Kallins, of Forest Knolls.

The packed campaign season—with eight candidate’s vying for outgoing 20-year Supervisor Steve Kinsey’s seat and nine others seeking a open judge seat on the Marin County Superior Court—has prompted one of the largest outpourings of signs in recent memory. “There are more signs out this political season than I’ve seen during my time at the county,” said Ken Zepponi, a road maintenance supervisor who has worked for the county’s Department of Public Works for 26 years. “They are all over the place.”

Signs located in county and state highway rights of way violate signage codes—a fact that requires them to be taken down by the candidate or already taxed county and state road maintenance staff. And though pinpointing the boundaries of a right of way is difficult, Mr. Zepponi is confident that most supervisor candidates have been disregarding the rules.

“I can say, with reasonable certainty, that pretty much every candidate in West Marin has a sign in a right of way,” said Mr. Zepponi, who noted that the only way to verify a right of way’s existence would be to hire a surveyor to map it.

Under Marin County Development Code, political signs may only be placed by a property or business owner on his or her private property. Likewise, Caltrans prohibits signs on rights of way along its highways and anywhere else on state property without approval—which none of the supervisor candidates have obtained.

Candidates should know they cannot place signs in county or state highway rights of ways, said Dan Miller, the county Election Department’s candidate filing officer. All candidates, upon filing candidacy papers, were handed a booklet on general information, including signage restrictions.

All but two supervisor hopefuls—Mari Tamburo and Tomas Kaselionis—told the Light that they, their volunteers or supporters have put up scores of signs in West Marin. (Al Dugan, of Novato, could not be reached for comment, though his signs appear in West Marin and Novato.)

Many of those candidates said they are familiar with right-of-way rules and that some of their signs may violate those rules. Like Ms. Kallins, several said they chose certain locations because others were putting them there, too.

Dominic Grossi, of Novato, said violations might originate from an unclear understanding of what constitutes a right of way. “From what I’m hearing, there have been a few [in rights of way]…But the legal definition of a right of way—I’m not sure. We were just putting them where everyone else has been putting them up,” he said.

Lagunitas resident Alex Easton-Brown stressed that undefined right-of-way boundaries make proper sign placement a challenge, though he echoed Ms. Tamburo and Mr. Kaselionis in his view that “philosophically, I don’t like signs.”

Brian Staley, of Woodacre, said the same. “Unfortunately, because of the nature of the race, I was forced to make a sign commitment,” said Mr. Staley, who began putting out his signs just last week. “The goal is to keep them modest.”

Dennis Rodoni, of Olema, was the only candidate not to claim responsibility for placing some signs set in potential rights of way. Out of roughly 250 signs, all “bar a few” were set up by supporters, he said, and were meant to be placed on private property.

“It is tough to tell what rights of way are,” said Mr. Rodoni, whose signs were the first to appear in West Marin. “I know some of my supporters have them out on what they believe to be their property, but whether they have or not….”

Mr. Rodoni acknowledged that his signs went up “a little bit early,” in violation of a county rule that requires signs to be placed no sooner than 45 days prior to and 10 days after the primary election, which this year is on June 7.

But enforcing that rule is tricky, said county counsel Steve Woodside, given a 2013 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on free-speech issues related to signs that has called into question whether the 45-day period is too short.

Mr. Woodside said the county plans to update its decade-old sign code to reflect the court’s decision. “I think there would be an interest in looking at that issue after the primary is over,” he said. “But no one is going to retroactively apply a 45-day limit.”

He added that sign violations do not rank high in enforcement priority for the Sheriff’s Office. Nor do those violations often stir the Community Development Agency, which is tasked with fielding public complaints.

“It is not on the top of our priority list because of staffing,” said Tom Lai, the agency’s assistant director. “We always get complaints each campaign season, and we try to point people toward the language of the ordinance if they inquire with us.”

So far, the agency has logged just one complaint about signs in West Marin—about Mr. Grossi’s signs “in the Pt. Reyes area,” Mr. Lai wrote in an email. He declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality policy.

At the Olema Campground, just a stone’s throw from Mr. Rodoni’s residence, Mr. Grossi’s signs have been the target of vandalism in recent weeks. On two occasions, signs were ripped down from a barn and a tree, and some at the campground have pointed to Mr. Rodoni as the alleged culprit.

Mr. Grossi told the Light that Mr. Rodoni called him to complain about the campground signs. “He had a very serious problem with that,” Mr. Grossi said. “He said it was very rude, but I didn’t even know they were there.”

Mr. Rodoni denied any involvement with the vandalism, stating that he does not “get involved in that sort of petty stuff.” He noted that 12 of his own signs disappeared Friday night between Olema and Point Reyes Station.

Aside from violations and vandalism, many view the proliferation of signs as an eyesore. Though reluctant to join the fray, Mr. Staley said he is keeping close watch over his signs to make sure they do not become garbage.

“Many of the early-placed signs have since become litter, which was one of the reasons I waited till later to place mine,” he said. “As you drive through certain communities like Novato, there are many signs that have disintegrated.”

It’s for this reason that Ms. Tamburo and Mr. Kaselionis decided from the start not to incorporate signs into their campaigns, they said. Instead, Mr. Kaselionis—a Novato resident who said he is “adamantly opposed to mailers and signs”—drives a Ford Excursion with his name plastered on its flanks. That approach, he said, serves as a more effective advertisement that has garnered him some votes.

“It’s not wasteful, and it catches people’s eye,” he said. “I don’t appreciate the littering on the side of the road.”

Ms. Tamburo, meanwhile, said she may distribute a few recycled “I Love Marin” bumper stickers she’s collected from the county fair and repurposed as an advertisement. “Just a few creative snips here and there, and now it says ‘Mari’ on it,” she said. “I don’t believe in littering our beautiful landscape with signs.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sign Wars!

About this time every election cycle, the sign wars start to heat up. This year is about the worst I can recall in recent memory for proliferation of signs, like weeds, along the roadways of Marin County, down the median strips, over the highway on overpass bridges, every empty space is now filled with signs for every candidate in this most crowded campaign year.

Two notable races are the one for Marin Superior Court - 9 people for one seat - and the one for Supervisor, District 4 - 8 people for one seat.

And almost all of them have signs. Big signs, little signs; signs that proclaim their coveted Sierra Club endorsement (this year shared by two of the District 4 candidates, just to further confuse the issue.)
Letters to the editor have started too, a recent one calling out a judicial candidate for signs that appear to imply she is the incumbent (there is no incumbent). Another candidate whose signs could also have been interpreted that way, has changed them for ones that more closely comport with the canons of judicial ethics, which all judge candidates must follow.

Soon the complaints of stolen signs, defaced signs, obscured signs, will begin. Already some of the candidates are moving their signs up higher on the poles than their opponents.

Of course, seasoned campaigners and readers of this blog know that signs don't vote; they don't influence voters (at least no more than 2.5% according to one, overly optimistic - in my opinion - study.).

But I have lost the sign wars. My candidates like all the others, spends  time slapping up the signs, rather than talking to potential donors, so that she can pay for that all important mail, with a message that actually gets into every voter's' hands.

So go ahead and put up your signs. But please, do it legally. Know the rules in your jurisdiction. Try to get them on private property, in neighborhoods or shop windows, where at least passersby and customers can register that someone they know supports you and not the other myriad of candidates vying for attention.

In the meantime, the weather is warming up and it might be a nice time for a soothing cucumber martini to calm your nerves after a tough day battling the Sign Wars.
  • 2 ounces Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Lime Juice (1/2 lime)
  • 2-3 slices of Fresh Cucumber
  • 2 mint leaves
  • 1/2 ounce Simple Syrup

  • Simple Syrup:
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
    Simple Syrup:
  1. Bring the water to a boil.
  2. Dissolve the sugar into the boiling water, stirring constantly.
  3. Once the sugar is dissolved completely, remove the pan from the heat.
  4. Allow to cool completely and thicken, then store in refrigerator for up to one week

  5. Cocktail:
  6. In a martini shaker, add 1 cucumber slice and 1 mint leaf and crush with spoon. Add fresh ice vodka, lime juice and simple syrup. Shake vigorously and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with a cucumber slice and 1 mint leaf.