Nine years ago, Marshall F. Norris was the courtroom clerk who read the jury verdict sending former Assessor Andrew J. Hinshaw to jail for misappropriating county property in his 1972 congressional race.
Thursday, Norris was criticized for allegedly misusing county telephones in his own campaign for county clerk. And he was attacked for obtaining the endorsement of California Angels owner Gene Autry while the Angels have a case pending against Anaheim in the courtroom where Norris works.
Superior Court Judge Frank Domenichini and attorneys for both the city and the ball club approved the Autry endorsement in an in-chambers conference more than a month ago. Still, several lawyers and judges said they believed that Norris’ actions may have embarrassed the judge in the legal community.
‘An Outrageous Thing’
“I think it was an outrageous thing for him (Norris) to do because it places his judge in a very embarrassing position,” Superior Court Judge Jerrold S. Oliver said. “If I were the judge, I would not have gone along with it.”
“It’s totally outrageous,” lawyer Verlyn S. Jensen said. “Even though Mr. Norris is not an attorney, there are standards of conduct for what is appropriate political behavior whenever the legal system is involved, and this gives the appearance of a conflict of interest even if there isn’t one.”
Domenichini was unavailable Thursday after he left his court “feeling ill,” according to court officials. The judge did not answer repeated phone calls to his home.
Norris said, “I don’t feel that I’ve done anything unethical, illegal or immoral.”
And Bill Campbell, attorney for the Angels in the lawsuit against Anaheim, said, “No conflict of interest was ever intended, and I know there isn’t one.” He said Autry had endorsed Norris, but added, “We never saw the campaign literature beforehand. . . . We had nothing to do with that.”
County Clerk Gary Granville, whom Norris is seeking to unseat in the June 3 election, said he had taken “all of the appropriate administrative actions” to deal with Norris’ use of the courthouse for a campaign photo session with Autry and Norris’ listing of two courthouse phone numbers in campaign literature.
An invitation to a $50-per-person Norris fund-raising reception listed Domenichini’s courtroom phone number for replies, and a news release also listed the phone number of Norris’ supervisor in the county clerk’s office.
Granville did not elaborate on the measures he has taken, saying, “Personnel matters are confidential.”
‘Everybody Does That’
Norris is one of Granville’s employees. He has based his campaign against Granville on allegations that the county Board of Supervisors appointed Granville, a former journalist, to the once-vacant post because Granville was Supervisor Ralph B. Clark’s press secretary.
Norris said he had the judge’s permission to take the photo in the courthouse and, when asked about the use of county phones for campaign purposes, replied:
“Everybody does that around here. . . . It’s been going on for years.”
Norris said he intended that people only use the numbers to let him know that they wanted to speak to him, and then he would call them back from another location, on his own time.
So far, he said, nobody had used the county phone numbers to call him about his campaign except newspaper reporters.
County Counsel Adrian Kuyper said use of county facilities for personal purposes violates county ordinances. He referred to the use of a county phone number for political fund raising as “egregious by implication” but cautioned that he was not commenting specifically on Norris’ actions.
“It’s a matter of degree,” he said. “If there was constant use, then it would be very bad.”
But Kuyper said occasional use of a county phone for personal purposes doesn’t offend him. “It’s just like what happens in private business, when your wife calls you at the office to tell you to stop off and buy some milk or a loaf of bread, or when a CPA calls you to tell you to have certain documents ready before next Tuesday.”
Kuyper said it would be up to the district attorney’s office to investigate the matter further.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Maurice L. Evans said Thursday that there would be no investigation until someone filed a complaint, and none had been received.
However, several county officials said letters of complaint would be filed with both Evans and the Orange County Grand Jury some time this week.