Tape of Orange County Sheriff’s Election Foe Turns Up in Office File
Despite a sworn declaration by Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates that he “has not created or maintained files” on former election opponent George Wright, audio tapes of a 1981 college classroom lecture by Wright ended up in the sheriff’s investigative files, The Times has learned.
The tapes, the latest and perhaps most significant development in a dispute over alleged surveillance by the Orange County sheriff on his political enemies, were turned over by Gates’ lawyers March 26 to an attorney for former Municipal Judge Bobby D. Youngblood. In a civil rights lawsuit against the sheriff, Youngblood and others alleged widespread spying by Gates on his opponents. The lawsuit was settled April 2, and the settlement provided payment of $375,000 to the plaintiffs.
Gates declined to comment on the tapes Friday, referring questions to lawyers who represented him in the lawsuit. Attorney Richard Simon also declined comment, saying only: “The case is settled, and as far as I’m concerned, the case is over.”
In a Feb. 6, 1985, declaration filed in the Youngblood case, Gates said under oath that “the Orange County Sheriff’s Department does not and has not created or maintained files concerning Bobby D. Youngblood, George Patrick Bland or George Wright, other than which have already been produced.”
“Neither I, nor my department, has conducted any surveillance of or have monitored the activities of . . . George Wright,” Gates said in the declaration. “Nor is it the custom, policy or practice of this declarant or of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to surveil and/or monitor the lawful activities of citizens of this county because of their political criticism of myself or my department.”
At the time of the taping, Wright, who had run against Gates in 1978, was again an announced candidate for sheriff. He later decided not to run.
County officials acknowledged that the Wright tapes were not turned over to Youngblood’s attorney with other evidence in the case last December. But they denied that turning over the tapes two weeks before trial was to begin was the primary reason for settling the lawsuit.
Wright, a Rancho Santiago College police administration instructor and co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, was dropped from the suit in March, 1986, by U.S. District Judge Richard A. Gadbois, who had reviewed documents produced by Gates, and after Gates’ sworn declaration.
Wright, a former policeman, said even though he is no longer a plaintiff, he will get $88,000 of the $375,000 settlement. Youngblood; co-plaintiff Patrick Bland, a candidate for sheriff in 1982, and Youngblood’s attorney, Michael Cisarik, will divide the balance.
Cisarik said he thinks that the Wright tapes had “a whole lot to do with” bringing about the settlement.
But John Oskins, the county’s risk management director, said the suit was settled after considering the cost of a two-month trial and the possibility of losing.
Orange County Counsel Edward N. Duran, whose office also represented the county and Gates, said: “I always tell our clients to turn over all the material to me and let me decide what should be withheld.”
Duran said that private attorneys preparing the case for trial “very recently discovered that some materials had not been turned over.”
“And as soon as they got (the tapes) they turned (them) over to” Youngblood’s attorney, he said.
Duran said there may be legitimate reasons for the tape recording.
“They might have been investigating somebody else,” he said.
Wright expressed anger that he was taped in “the last bastion of open debate . . . the classroom.”
“The reason they were in there (was that) I had just declared I might be interested in running for sheriff in 1982,” Wright said.
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