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Photograph by George Sakkestad

The Fight of His Life: District Attorney Ron Ruiz faces two challengers in an increasingly nasty campaign for his job.

Decision 2000

Local Races

Santa Cruz County District Attorney

Metro Santa Cruz strongly recommends a vote for Ron Ruiz for Santa Cruz County district attorney.

Lately we have watched with growing dismay the character assassination campaign against Ruiz by his principal opponent, Kate Canlis. Her exploitation for political purposes of Leticia Coronado's murder--and her husband's subsequent arrest--is perhaps the most egregious example.

Canlis accuses Ruiz of undercharging Isaac Coronado by settling for a single misdemeanor charge, laying the blame for Leticia's death at Ruiz's doorstep. Never mind that Leticia refused to press charges or testify against her husband. Never mind that Isaac would have made bail regardless of the charge--and been free to commit the murder. If Canlis really believes Ruiz is responsible for Leticia Coronado's death, then let her state, categorically, that she could have prevented it.

Most of all, never mind that Canlis blew a similar opportunity with Stephen Cardoza, the man accused last November of stabbing his girlfriend, Danielle Dewart, 77 times and then running her over with his car. Cardoza was arrested in 1995 for battery, and again in 1997 for assaulting his mother. In the second case, Canlis declined to press charges.

The fact is that these terrible tragedies happen, but Canlis' willingness to exploit them just weeks before the election speaks volumes about what kind of person and prosecutor she is, and voters should repudiate her for doing so.

Then there is the case of former DA Peter Chang, who was arrested last August and charged with felony witnesses tampering. Chang represented Laurie Flower, a Corralitos woman accused of having sex with a 13-year-old foster child in her care. Chang was accused of helping hide the boy to prevent him from testifying. Flower also accused Chang of abusing his influence as her attorney by coercing her to have sex with him.

There was compelling evidence against Chang, and Ruiz pursued that evidence diligently before the state attorney general took over the case after Chang filed to run against Ruiz. The AG eventually settled for a single misdemeanor count against Chang, but Canlis's supporters would have voters believe that because the charges were reduced by the AG, there must have been something politically motivated in those charges in the first place.

But the real reason the charges were reduced may have had more to do with a screw-up by the attorney general's office than with the merits of the case against Chang.

Deputy Attorney General Jerry Curtis, who was handling the case, was so unprepared for the Chang trial (due to a death-penalty case he was handling in Alameda County at the same time) that he sent Deputy Attorney General Bud Frank in his place to a trial readiness conference to ask for a delay. Virtually no one associated with the case--not Flower, not the DA investigators who had gathered the evidence in the case--were ever contacted by the AG's office.

In addition, Curtis had missed the deadline for filing what is known as a form 1050--a motion to continue--and Judge Heather Morse denied the request.

"You just don't go to a trial readiness conference and ask for a continuance," noted one local court observer. Faced with going to trial, the AG's office settled.

"It's fair to say that we failed to make a timely request," says AG spokesman Nathan Barankin. But the plea bargain, he insists, was not the result of being unprepared to go to trial. "It doesn't mean it was under duress or that we were forced to deal."

What would you expect him to say?

Ruiz had nothing to do with the attorney general's plea bargain with Chang, or with the arrangement to withhold the details of the plea until after the March 7 election. Barankin says it was Chang who wanted to keep the details of the plea bargain secret. The fact is, the AG's office got caught with its pants down and cut a deal. Yet somehow all this is chalked up to some kind of political cabal on the part of Ruiz to embarrass a political rival.

Chang is not running hard, and from the beginning his strategy has looked more political than legal. He created a conflict of interest for Ruiz in order to get the case transferred to the state attorney general's office, where Chang was more likely to get an acceptable plea bargain--and it worked. The phony Chang apologia being played out in the daily press, complete with letter-to-the-editor campaign, only makes this strategy more evident.

Ruiz started out in a credibility hole as a defense attorney turned DA. He had to earn the trust of the police chiefs, officers and sheriff's deputies with whom he works, and he has been endorsed by the heads of every law enforcement agency in the county as well as most of the line officers.

These same officials know Chang, and are even better acquainted with Canlis, with whom they worked for years when she was the chief deputy to the previous DA, Art Danner. And yet they don't support her. Canlis says this is nothing more than the "old boys network" at work--a charge that must come as a surprise to UCSC's female chief of police, Jan Tepper, who supports Ruiz.

Even Supervisor Jan Beautz, who opposed Ruiz's appointment a year ago, now supports him.

We have found Ron Ruiz to be a man of outstanding personal character, an honest man who puts the pursuit of justice above all else, who does not invest ego in decisions or play favorites, and whose convictions were formed over a lifetime of exposure to the harsh realities of a brutal and often unfair world.

Recommendation: Ruiz

Santa Cruz County Supervisor

Fourth Time's a Charm: First District incumbent Supervisor Jan Beautz makes her fourth pitch to voters.

District 1

On two issues of critical importance--transit and affordable housing--incumbent Jan Beautz has taken positions which we find short-sighted and parochial. She opposes light rail, favors widening Highway 1, and has fought needed higher-density affordable housing which would also make public transit more viable.

Challenger Art Pearl favors light rail, and would push aggressively for more affordable housing. But he also supports reopening recently concluded salary negotiations with the county's main union--a bad precedent and a disaster waiting to happen. If union members are unhappy with the contract, they could have voted it down, or its leadership could have pushed for a better deal when it had the chance.

We're not convinced that Pearl, while strong on many issues, would represent district residents as well as Beautz, who has been tireless in that regard. She is also a strong supporter of the county's new logging rules, and listened carefully before eventually coming out against a planned Wendy's and a Home Depot store in her district. She has brought more parks to the area, improved streets, and has been a reliable coalition builder on the board.

She has also shown flexibility on issues such as the Biotech goat ranch on the north coast, whose activities she has, to her credit, begun to question more firmly. We hope that trend continues, and that she will work more aggressively toward solutions to the county's pressing affordable housing crisis and be more willing to listen to environmentally friendly transit options.

There is more to being an elected official than progressive credentials. While Pearl is bright and knowledgeable, he has not given voters a compelling reason why voters should cut Beautz loose.

Recommendation: Beautz

First Time's a Charm: Political newcomer Ellen Pirie brings the right skills and attitude to her quest for the 2nd District supervisorial seat.

District 2

This is a race without an incumbent, without a front runner, with virtually no voting records to analyze, and without controversial issues. There are issues, of course: Water (not enough); growth and traffic (too much); rents (too high); school test scores (too low). There just isn't much to distinguish in this bunch, and their published answers to questions have been bland and confusing.

Fortunately, that still leaves the one issue that seems to matter in just about every other political contest this year: character. And in this regard, it is possible to arrive at some conclusions.

Two candidates we dismiss as unqualified: Doug Deitch and Sharon Gray.

Deitch, a property manager, is running a bizarre campaign that employs 20-year-old rejection letters from public officials which he touts as evidence of his long-time interest in public service. His speaking style is haphazard and unfocused, and even the Sierra Club, of which he is a member, supported rival Ellen Pirie over him.

Sharon Gray is a member of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board. Gray supports secession from the district for Aptos schools--a move which is likely illegal and in any case morally repugnant, as it would segregate white and Latino portions of the district. Gray has also been noted in the past for being unwilling to stay late for district meetings.

That leaves McGuire and Pirie.

In a feature on McGuire ("Truth and Consequences," Jan. 26), this paper drew attention to McGuire's past ethical lapses as a prosecutor. The fact that she has minimal support among her colleagues in the district attorney's office speaks to the low esteem in which she is held inside that office, and to her failure to measure up to the character issue.

In addition, her campaign has yet to articulate what would make her a good supervisor. Her two main ideas--flex time for county workers to help alleviate congestion, and providing financial assistance to seniors to buy their mobile home parks--are not new. As a candidate, McGuire has more ambition than sense.

Ellen Pirie strikes us as a candidate with the right motivations. As the directing attorney for Senior Legal Services, her career has been devoted to an unselfish desire for public service. She is not always clear on the issues, but she is learning fast, and is a person who can work with people on all sides of the issues.

Recommendation: Pirie

Send Him Back: Former George W. Bush school chum Jeff Almquist wants another term on the Board of Supervisors. Voters should give it to him.

District 5

Incumbent 5th District Supervisor Jeff Almquist has a solid voting record and a long list of supporters, including the Santa Cruz Action Network, the Sierra Club, Assemblyman Fred Keeley, the entire Scotts Valley City Council and the majority of the Santa Cruz City Council. During his five years in office, he's supported efforts to limit timber harvesting and build youth facilities and low-income housing.

Challenger Patrick Dugan ran unsuccessfully for supervisor in 1992 against now-Assemblyman Keeley. He's campaigning against redevelopment and increased taxes, favors private property rights and road improvements, and supports logging interests.

Almquist says Dugan has no particular vision for the district. "He's spent most of his time talking about things I've already accomplished--transportation and water issues, both of which I've worked on significantly," Almquist says.

While both candidates say improving county roads and water supply are top campaign issues, the two differ in their views on maintaining the water supply.

Almquist talks about protecting the Santa Margarita Aquifer and the need to form a new replenishment district to serve the Santa Margarita Basin. Dugan says he wants the water districts to remain autonomous.

Recommendation: Almquist

Superior Court Judge

Challenges to sitting judges are rare, but incumbent Superior Court Judge Kathleen Akao faces a challenge from family law attorney Jeff Bosshard. Bosshard is an experienced attorney but a very conservative one. Akao, on the other hand, threatened to throw a Sentinel reporter in jail last year over a story about a screw-up by the county's Child Protective Services that involved legally acquired confidential information. We hope Akao will take a remedial course in the First Amendment.

Recommendation: Akao


Election 2000 Introduction

State Races

Local Measures, Propositions

Useful Voter Information, Ready Reference Endorsements


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From the February 23-March 1, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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