Judicial Watch • California

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There appears to be a serious epidemic of corrupt legislators in the nation’s most populous state, with the latest elected thug du jour getting nabbed for operating a creative bribery and mob-style firearm trafficking scheme.

Like an entertaining Hollywood movie the story is littered with drama, murder-for-hire, drugs, betrayal and money laundering only this is real-life California politics. The star of this script, Democrat state Senator Leland Yee, is a career politician well known as an outspoken supporter of gun control. Yet, he has been criminally indicted with illegally trafficking firearms along with a number of other corruption charges outlined by federal prosecutors in this whopping 137-page criminal complaint.

Yee, who represents northern California’s San Mateo and San Francisco counties in the state Senate, has been charged with seven federal felonies. Undercover agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) busted him promising political favors in exchange for money, influence peddling with fellow lawmakers and running an illicit, multimillion-dollar weapons deal via the Philippines for an operative claiming to be a New Jersey mobster. The official charges against Lee, a former public school board member and county supervisor in San Francisco, are conspiracy to traffic firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms and six counts of defrauding citizens of honest services.

On his official web site Lee, who has a doctorate in child psychology, brags about being named “Legislator of the Year” by dozens of organizations and of his work on behalf of children, education, civil rights and open government. A local paper wrote an amusing piece that lists seven ironic post-arrest Leland Yee press releases. Among them is a release that reads: “Senator Yee Named Clean Money Champion.” Another calls for a state university official to respond to corruption charges and one blasts gun rights and expresses outrage about the kind of assault weapons he’s charged with trafficking. Less than a week before his arrest, Lee posted a press release announcing that the Society of Professional Journalists honored him with the Sunshine Award for his efforts to bring greater government transparency.

Lee is simply the latest in a string of California politicians to make headlines for their corrupt behavior. Earlier this year his state senate colleague, Roderick Wright, got convicted of eight felony counts of voter fraud and perjury, including fraudulently voting in elections in 2008 and 2009. The Democrat lawmaker represents the largely poor, minority communities in Los Angeles County that include Inglewood, Lawndale, Compton, Gardena and West Carson yet he’s keeping his $90,525 public salary during an extended “leave of absence” to work on appealing his conviction.

Another California state senator, Democrat Ronald Calderon, could also be on his way to the slammer and is receiving full pay while he fights federal corruption charges. The feds say Calderon accepted nearly $100,000 in cash bribes as well as plane trips, gourmet dinners and trips to golf resorts in exchange for supporting legislation that would benefit those paying the bribes. The lawmaker thought the bribes were coming from a hospital owner and independent film studio but instead it was the FBI, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). A federal grand jury has indicted Calderon with mail fraud, wire fraud, honest services fraud, bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering and aiding in the filing of false tax returns.


Under New Policy Police Officers Will No Longer Impound Vehicles of Unlicensed Drivers for 30 Days in Violation of California Constitution and California Vehicle Code

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced that it filed a taxpayer lawsuit yesterday against the Los Angeles Police Department, Police Chief Charlie Beck and members of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners over Special Order 7, a new policy that seeks to regulate the impounding of vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers (Harold P. Sturgeon v. City of Los Angeles et. al (No. BC484190)).  Under Special Order 7, police officers will no longer immediately impound the vehicles of unlicensed drivers for 30 days, as long as they meet certain conditions.  The policy change was made to specifically help unlicensed illegal aliens.

Judicial Watch’s lawsuit, filed May 8, 2012, in the Superior Court for the State of California, County of Los Angeles, seeks to stop the use of taxpayer funds to implement the new policy:

Plaintiff, a taxpayer and resident of the City of Los Angeles, seeks to enjoin Defendants from expending taxpayer funds or taxpayer-financed resources to implement, enforce, maintain, or otherwise carry out the provisions of Special Order 7, which was issued by the Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”) on April 10, 2012 and which became effective on April 22, 2012. Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment that Special Order 7 is preempted by article XI, section 7 of the California Constitution and California Vehicle Code § 21, and therefore is unlawful and void.

Under the California Vehicle Code, vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers can be impounded for 30 days and, in some circumstances, must be impounded for 30 days.  According to the Los Angeles Daily News, however, under the new policy “vehicles of unlicensed drivers will only be impounded for a day, if that person has insurance, valid identification, has not caused an accident and has not been cited previously for unlicensed driving.  An exception may be made in some cases if a licensed driver is immediately available to drive the vehicle away.”

As Judicial Watch alleges in its complaint, according to the California Constitution and California Vehicle Code § 21, “a local government has no authority to regulate or control any matter covered by the California Vehicle Code unless such authority is expressly granted by the State of California….Because the provisions of Special Order 7 are not within the purview of any express authorization granted by the State of California Defendants…were without authority to enact Special Order 7….”

The city’s police union, The Los Angeles Police Protection League, has also filed a lawsuit challenging the new policy.

“This is yet another example of the Los Angeles Police Department’s unlawful use of taxpayer dollars to further Los Angeles’ status as a sanctuary city,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.  “Special Order 7 is illegal and dangerous.  Unlicensed drivers – whether unlawfully present aliens or not – are a menace to the public safety.  The Los Angeles Police Department is once again putting politics and ideology before the safety of citizens, police officers and the rule of law.”

Judicial Watch previously sued the LAPD over Special Order 40, a policy that prohibits police officers from “initiat[ing] police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person,” on behalf of a taxpayer.  Despite an obvious conflict with federal law, California state courts refused to let Judicial Watch’s taxpayer legal challenge against Special Order 40 proceed to trial.

Obama Administration Pledges $3.3 billion in funding for California High-Speed Rail Project Labeled an “Immense Financial Risk” by an Independent Audit

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit on February 29, 2012, against the Obama Department of Transportation (DOT) to obtain records concerning the construction of the proposed California High-Speed Rail (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Transportation (No. 12-324)). The Obama administration has pledged $3.3 billion in federal funds to construct the first leg of the project, which is planned for California’s sparsely populated Central Valley. An independent audit recently concluded that the project is an “immense financial risk.”

Judicial Watch filed its original FOIA request on January 4, 2012, with the Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”), a component of DOT, seeking access to the following public records:

All documents, communications and correspondence (including electronic email) transmitted between the Federal Railroad Administration and the California High Speed Rail Authority addressing or relating to the route alternatives under consideration for the proposed California High Speed Rail within Madera County and Merced County, California.

The FRA acknowledged receipt of Plaintiff’s request by letter dated January 5, 2012, and was required by law to respond by February 3, 2012. However, as of the date of Judicial Watch’s lawsuit, the FRA has neither provided documents nor any indication why the documents sought by Judicial Watch should be withheld. The agency has also failed to indicate when a response is forthcoming.

Construction of the California High-Speed Rail is estimated to cost anywhere from $45 billion to $117 billion. In 2008, California voters passed a referendum authorizing nearly $10 billion in bonds to seed the project. At that time, construction costs were estimated to be much lower. The Obama administration also announced that it would allocate $3.3 billion in federal stimulus and transportation funds to aid in the construction of the first 130-mile stretch of the rail with two conditions. First, construction must begin by September 2012. And second, the first segment of the rail must be constructed in California’s sparsely populated Central Valley, an area hit hard by the failing economy.

However, from the start, the project has been beset with delays and controversy due to the ballooning projected costs of constructing and operating the rail. On January 3, 2012, a Peer Review Group, established by the 2008 California referendum authorizing the initial seed funding, issued a report criticizing the fiscal solvency of the project and refused to recommend authorizing the legislature to approve the appropriation of the bond proceeds: “[M]oving ahead . . . without credible sources of adequate funding, without a definitive business model, without a strategy to maximize the independent utility and value to the State, and without the appropriate management resources, represents an immense financial risk on the part of the State of California.”

Officials now say construction on the project will not start until 2013. However, as reported by the Fresno Bee, this delay “isn’t expected to endanger the [federal] funds.” California taxpayers are now concerned that if the project commences with the assistance of the Obama administration’s funding, but without assurances of future funding, the end result would be an incomplete “train to nowhere.”

Affected communities and residents in California have challenged the controversial project in court, including whether the U.S. and California laws related to the project’s funding are being violated.

“The California ‘train to nowhere’ is a multi-billion stimulus boondoggle. The residents of the Central Valley could pay an especially high price for this wasteful project, as the first segment will go right through their backyards and farmland. Instead of stonewalling the release of records, the Obama administration should obey FOIA law so that taxpayers can assess this massive expenditure of taxpayer money for themselves. The California High-Speed Rail project makes the Solyndra scandal seem like small potatoes,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

A new law forcing public schools to develop a curriculum that portrays minority figures—including gay, bisexual and transgender—positively and forbids all negative depictions is being challenged in California, where state law allows citizens to achieve a sort of people’s veto.The measure (SB 48) was passed last month and requires that social studies instruction include the positive role and contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, and other ethnic and cultural groups, to the development of California and the United States.Any teaching that reflects negatively on these groups is prohibited in all of California’s 9,324 public schools which have more than 6 million students. Even the state’s largest newspaper, notoriously liberal and always politically correct in its coverage, is disturbed by this. In an editorial blasting the new measure, the Los Angeles Times points out that California has been “politicizing its textbooks for years,” therefore creating an “unwanted intrusion into academic issues.”The editorial appropriately asks; “… Do we really want textbooks to include the details of a historical figure’s sexual orientation even when it might have nothing to do with his or her role in history? And does it make sense to require that portrayals of gay people focus on contributions and not anything that could be construed as negative?” The paper’s conclusion: “Real history is richer and more complicated than feel-good depictions.”If that characterization has been made by the notoriously leftwing mainstream media, imagine what the average American thinks? Fortunately, California law allows for a referendum or so-called people’s veto of objectionable legislation. The process requires a certain amount of valid registered voter signatures (in this case more than 500,000) to be gathered within a deadline (in this case the end of September).When the signatures are gathered the law is suspended temporarily until it is voted on next year. A conservative coalition is spearheading the effort in an attempt to block SB 48 and its preposterous requirements. To fill out a petition and learn more about the drive, visit  http://stopsb48.com/

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