Editorials : On Wrong Side Again

Over the years, Sheriff John Duffy has become famous for charging into one political controversy after another, often on the wrong side.

But Duffy's recent decision to allow on-duty deputies to carry and distribute postcards urging the resignation of state Chief Justice Rose Bird shows uncommonly bad judgment even for him.

The postcards, which are addressed to Bird, are produced by Crime Victims for Court Reform, a statewide organization that plans to campaign against Bird and two associate justices if they stand for confirmation in 1986. Duffy has drawn the amazingly fine distinction that because the postcards do not specifically urge a vote against Bird they are "educational," not political, and therefore not in violation of a county policy prohibiting campaigning on the job.

The 3,000 postcards Duffy received are being distributed to the public at sheriff's substations, and deputies on duty are being allowed to give them out upon request.

For Duffy to deny that this is a political activity is hypocrisy of the basest sort. What is especially appalling is that the sheriff is using his more than 1,000 deputies, some of whom may not even agree with his sentiments about Rose Bird, to do his political bidding.

The American Civil Liberties Union has threatened a lawsuit to halt the on-duty distribution of the cards. Before it comes to that, the Board of Supervisors should take the strongest action it can to persuade Duffy to call it off, even if that means asking the county counsel to seek an injunction against him.

Duffy's action is intolerable. If it is allowed to go unchallenged, what is to prevent the district attorney or the county assessor from using their employees to disseminate "educational" material for a political purpose?

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