Though several backers of Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach remain steadfast in their support, others indicated today they’re wavering, waiting to see whether he’ll ultimately face criminal charges for allegedly tearing down and stealing his opponent’s campaign signs while on county time.
“I am disappointed by the alleged behavior of our district attorney,” Supervisor Marion Ashley, whose Fifth District stretches from Moreno Valley to Desert Hot Springs, told City News Service.
But Ashley said that despite mounting concerns, he’s not prepared to yank his endorsement for Zellerbach’s re-election bid, as Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff Stone did on Tuesday after the Indio Police Department announced
it had requested that charges be filed against the county’s top prosecutor. The California Attorney General’s Office is reviewing the case.
“I want to see how the judicial process plays out first,” Ashley said. “I want to see what they come up with.”
That consensus largely prevailed among Zellerbach’s remaining supporters, several of whom told CNS they had endorsed the district attorney after he approached them close to a year ago.
“I’m fine with my endorsement right now,” said county Auditor- Controller Paul Angulo. “This election has turned very nasty. There are charges and counter-charges. But everybody is due their day in court. Mr. Zellerbach has made a lot of positive impacts.”
Assessor-Clerk-Recorder Larry Ward, who has known Zellerbach for years, told CNS that he found it hard to separate the “wheat from the chaff” in reading and watching media coverage concerning the D.A.
“When it gets hot and heavy like it is now, it’s hard to really know what’s happening,” Ward said. “Paul has done a good job for Riverside County. He’s not been convicted of anything. He’s in the heat of the campaign, and a lot of strange things happen.”
Corona Mayor Karen Spiegel said she was “in limbo, but I’m not going to change my endorsement until I talk to him personally.”
“It’s a tough situation,” she said. “Would I have handled it differently? Probably. I’m struggling with this. But you’re innocent until proven guilty, and there seem to be other factors above and beyond the charges that I’m concerned about.”
Norco Mayor Berwin Hanna said he had faith in Zellerbach’s “past record” and that was sufficient to keep him in the D.A.’s camp.
“I know Paul, and that’s what I’m going by,” Hanna said. “I have to actually see something happen before I’ll pass judgment. We’ve had some dirty elections in Norco, so I know how it gets. I’m not going to go by what might
happen or what somebody wants to have happen. You can’t form an opinion like that. I make up my own mind about people; I don’t rely on what I hear.”
Zellerbach’s endorsement list as of Friday comprised the names of 92 organizations and individuals standing by the district attorney. Website screenshots of Zellerbach’s online endorsement page, recorded by CNS on April 28, showed 104 names. Some of those that have disappeared continue to be used in the incumbent’s campaign literature.
In a four-page circular titled “Law Enforcement News,” mailed this week and paid for by the Zellerbach for District Attorney campaign, the D.A. touted an endorsement from Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff.
The sheriff rescinded his support Wednesday and told CNS he will remain “neutral” in the D.A.’s race.
In the same newspaper-style mailer, the D.A. celebrated the “coveted” endorsement of the California Police Chiefs’ Association. However, the organization has also pulled its endorsement.
Following a nearly month-long investigation, Indio police Tuesday disclosed that they had submitted a case packet to the AG’s Los Angeles field office seeking felony charges of misuse of public funds and embezzlement by a public official, as well as misdemeanor charges of petty theft, vandalism and trespassing to place unauthorized signs.
Zellerbach dismissed the action as politically motivated, saying he had the “utmost faith” state prosecutors would find that “no crime was committed.”
A law enforcement officer in an unmarked car said that on the morning of April 23, he witnessed Zellerbach knocking down a large Mike Hestrin campaign sign at the intersection of Indio Boulevard and Jefferson Street. Security cameras mounted outside an am/pm store at 42-334 Jefferson, just off Interstate 10, also caught Zellerbach uprooting three smaller Hestrin signs that same morning.
Zellerbach called the first incident an “accident” in which he bumped into the Hestrin sign while erecting one of his, and later suggested the witness was a disgruntled investigator from the D.A.’s Indio office trying to smear him.
In the second instance, the D.A. said he received permission from the store owner to pull down the Hestrin signs, though that account remains in dispute.
On April 25, Zellerbach wrote a $203 personal check to the county as reimbursement for using a county-owned Ford Escape SUV to conduct political activity while on official business.