Kamena Recall - Interview of DA Candidate Van Zandt
By Louis Nuyens
On May 22, Marin voters will decide whether to recall County District Attorney Paula Kamena. If the recall succeeds, the one alternate candidate, Mill Valley attorney Tom Van Zandt, would fill the position. Interviewer's questions are in bold, Van Zandt's responses in plain text.
Is there any particular way you would like to open this conversation?
Just by saying that there are two separate issues, here: Why a recall is appropriate and should happen; and why I am a reasonable alternative.
They are separate because, except for being one of over 20,000 people to sign the petition, I was not involved in the recall effort. I did not participate in gathering signatures or financially. The recall would be happening whether or not I had filed to be the alternative candidate.
It is also right to establish whether I am adequately qualified to be District Attorney, and whether I would better protect the interests of Marin residents.
By virtue of being the person who would replace the District Attorney if the recall is successful, I am often asked to speak to the many different issues related to her recall. I can't possibly represent the unique views of everyone who thinks she should be recalled, but I share many of the concerns out there, and I'm willing to address them from my own point of view.
From your own point of view, then, would you summarize the Family Law Court issue?
There have been numerous allegations of wrong-doing, even bribery, in Marin's Family Law Court system. The District Attorney's office has the power and every right to commission an independent investigation into these allegations, even if there were no criminal allegations. In spite of her vague claims of having referred the matter, no independent investigation into wrong-doing has been commissioned by the District Attorney.
These claims led to the issue coming before the civil grand jury, which was told it could not investigate. One of the grand jurors, Martin Silverman, was so moved that he participated in funding an independent investigation, called the Winner Report, which found serious problems and called for follow-up action. Still no investigation.
Kathryn Ballentine Shepherd, an insider in the Family Law Court system came out in public and independently corroborated much of the Winner Report. Still no investigation.
Yes, other agencies could look into it. But the DA can, and should. The issue should be resolved, one way or the other. She can. She didn't. She won't - she won't do her job to protect the interests of Marin residents. One reason: political favoritism.
What Kamena did do was start a secret, unfounded investigation of Silverman, in order to silence County government criticisms with intimidation. This is one of a pattern of legal actions intended to silence critics of the County; the Hannigan and Mardeusz cases are among the others. She also helped to deflect scrutiny in the press.
The next issue would be local implementation of Proposition 215, legalized use of medical marijuana.
The main issue here, is that Paula Kamena has set guidelines that directly conflict with the will of the electorate as expressed by their passage of Proposition 215. In other words, she is leading an organized effort that violates state law.
She should support state law regardless of her personal feelings about the issue. The law is very clear - it essentially says there shall be no force of law applied to medical users of marijuana and their caregivers. It is not enough that Kamena drops charges after people have been arrested or had their supply destroyed. There should not be tear-outs of plants when it is the supply of a legitimate medical user. Return of dead plants does not replace the steady supply of living ones for desperately sick people.
Part of the criticism of Kamena's guidelines her limits on number of plants and weights that may be possessed are too low. What limits would you set?
Actually, the law does not specify limits. But in places like Oakland and San Francisco, patient advocacy groups have made the voluntary concession to agree to limits in order to help law enforcement to do their job. While advocacy groups cannot give up the rights of any individual, these agreements seem to be working.
I am looking closely at the Oakland guidelines, which set a limit of five pounds and 30 plants. This sounds like a lot to some people, but many patients cannot smoke, and getting the same effect out of marijuana when ingested, requires 5-20 as much by weight. The key is that this would be agreeable to local patient advocates, and has worked well for law enforcement.
Is Paula Kamena right that there was no case against the Supervisors for their use of County credit cards?
No. The District Attorney had both a moral and a legal imperative to pursue this case.
Moral, for the same reason the Family Law Courts should be investigated: Marin needs to know whether it can trust its local government.
Legal, because her claims that there was tacit approval or insufficient proof of intent are fallacious. For the purposes of embezzlement, intent can be established by the action itself. Approval in this case could only come from the board or by law. Practice makes policy in the private sector, but not for government officials using public funds. She was also required by state law to sue for 20% in damages for the misuses, and did not. This case should have been given to a jury to decide.
You have been accused of putting the emblems of law enforcement organizations on your website to imply that you have the endorsement of those organizations. How do you respond to that accusation?
The emblems used represent the law enforcement organizations in our community. I wanted to display them in order to show my intention to work with and be supportive of these groups. There was never any intention to imply endorsement. As soon as it was evident that there was potential for misinterpretation, I had them removed the same day.
Kamena uses the phrase "mere patent attorney," implying that you are not qualified to be a criminal prosecutor. Is that true?
When she says that, she is preying on popular mythology. Although television tends to glorify criminal law practices, criminal law is a relatively straightforward field. Patent law, in fact, is generally far more challenging.
More than that, the DA position is primarily one of management and administration: guiding and managing the expertise of her staff and addressing policy-related issues. For example, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer never tried a single case before becoming AG.
However, I am no stranger to criminal law. For over tens years I acted as a labor representative in cases that would have been in criminal court if not for the employer-employee relationship - in virtually every way, this work was analogous to criminal work. It was that work that led me to attend law school, during which time my focus was on criminal law. And, when I opened my practice, it was in criminal law.
When it comes to management and leadership experience, I have a solid background.
It may also be worth mentioning that Paula Kamena has made serious blunders in major cases. If I ever made a mistake like that in my practice, I would have been sued by the client, fired from my firm, and disbarred.
Can you give an example of a case you would say that Kamena botched?
Sure. One of the bigger ones had to do with a contract killer and the woman who hired him to kill her husband - both got away clean when Kamena made the baffling choice to give the woman total immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony against the "hit man".
Paula Kamena characterizes the recall as purely the work of a "small [or small-minded] group of disgruntled litigants who had their day in court and lost." How would you address this statement?
The truth is just the opposite.
When she says that, she is attempting to limit the discussion to the Family Law court issue, and ignore the fact that people are also troubled by her violations of Proposition 215, her failure to pursue illegal use of County credit cards by County Supervisors, her failure to protect the rights of inmates in the County jail, and so on, all of which are easily within her power and jurisdiction as District Attorney.
The fact is, the recall came about because a large group of concerned, open-minded citizens is potentially dissatisfied with the way Kamena is or is not doing her job. That's what it means when 20,000 people sign a petition to get her recall on the ballot.
Dissatisfaction, by the way, is absolutely sufficient grounds for a recall - there does not have to be proof of illegal action, or even suspicion of illegal action - just dissatisfaction. And - I'll tell you what - in the case of Paula Kamena, we have all three.
What is your primary motivation for running for this office at this time?
It's really pretty simple. My kids ask me regularly what I have done to make the world a better place-they ask me that because I ask them. What I always want to be able to tell them is, "Everything I could." In this case, it is clear that there needed to be a qualified alternative for District Attorney, and not one appointed by the Board of Supervisors.
More than that, my wife and I have been here a long time. This is our community. I had to ask myself, "Are we going to raise our children in this place and ignore problems like this?" The answer has to be, "No."
Does the fact that Carol Mardeusz is your sister have anything to do with your candidacy?
Only in the sense that it is through watching her case that it became clear to me that back-room political deals and favoritism are a part Marin legal system. That opened my eyes to the host of other problems in Marin County government, our Family Law Court system, and, in particular, crucial shortcomings of integrity in our District Attorney.
So, you would deny the claim that your candidacy is based on a desire for revenge for your sister's prosecution?
Yes, I would deny that. Carol's case is over. If I wasn't interested in being part of the solution, I could have just worked for recall. I believe the District Attorney should commission an independent investigation into wrong-doing in the Family Law Court system, and by Judge Dufficy, but that motive doesn't fit that, either, since Carol case was never in Marin's Family Law Court, but in Sonoma's. I am here because I want to be part of the solution.
Do you think that Carol Mardeusz being your sister will hurt the recall effort?
I am not sure that it hasn't; but I saw appointment of a replacement by the Board of Supervisors less than acceptable, since her cover-ups for their various alleged illegal activities is a substantial part of the reason for the recall.
The DA points to a number of new progressive programs as an indication that she is doing a good job and should not be recalled. What would be your response to that?
If a person who is a DA has, even once, failed to pursue appropriate legal action due to political favoritism, or has, even once, inappropriately or wrongfully prosecuted someone for political purposes, then that person is not a good DA - period. Paula Kamena has done both, and more than once.
What about the claim that most of the recall petition signers were misled?
I don't believe it. After aggressively scouring the county for people who would say they felt misled, the county has found only, I believe, four people who would make a complaint. Out of 20,000 signers, it seems pretty unlikely that there was a wholesale effort to mislead people.
The Family Law Court issue may be what got this started, but there are a lot of other issues people should look at before they vote. Signature gatherers were correct to say that the recall has the potential to affect medical marijuana policy and other issues in Marin. And, in all cases, the actual wording of the petition was right there for anyone to read before signing the petition.
Is there anything you would like to say in summary?
When Paula Kamena ran for the District Attorney's seat, she misled a lot of people.
Primarily, she campaigned on the slogan, "Prevention, Prosecution and Protection." She should have said, "Selective Prevention, Selective Prosecution, and Selective Protection," and she should have mentioned that the selection criteria was going to be political favoritism.
I will bring integrity and fairness to the office of Marin County District Attorney, without regard to political consequences.
I hope Marin will agree that injustice is not the kind of justice we want, and vote "Yes" on May 22, to recall Paula Kamena.
Other articles and letters about the District Attorney recall can be read in the February, March, and April editions of the Coastal Post, at the Coastal Post website (www.coastalpost.com).
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