Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury said Friday that his office is investigating an allegation that Assemblywoman Cathie Wright improperly sought preferential legal treatment for her daughter, who was convicted of 16 traffic offenses in a two-year period.
“We are conducting a special investigation into allegations that she may have used her position in attempting to influence the circumstances surrounding citations to her daughter,” Bradbury said in an interview.
Bradbury said that in the past week, his office received an allegation that Wright (R-Simi Valley) had sought to intervene on her daughter’s behalf on at least two occasions. He declined to disclose the identity of Wright’s accuser or to provide additional details. Neither would he specify what law she might have broken. He said the inquiry, opened earlier this week, is expected to take at least 30 days.
Wright Lashes Back
Wright, who is involved in a growing public squabble with fellow Republican Bradbury on another matter involving her daughter, responded Friday that he was grabbing headlines at the expense of her and Victoria Catherine Wright, 24.
Wright acknowledged that she has contacted Simi Valley and state officials on behalf of her daughter in the past year but said she did so as a concerned mother. The veteran lawmaker said she had never sought to intimidate officials, seek favoritism or fix tickets.
“If I was doing that, I’ve done a very poor job,” said Wright, an ex-Simi Valley mayor and councilwoman. “First of all, she’s paid all her tickets. Secondly, she’s going through the process with her license. Vicki’s stood up and taken her medicine.”
Victoria Wright is in danger of losing her license because of the 16 moving violations between Dec. 4, 1986, and Dec. 9, 1988, including 12 for speeding, according to state Department of Motor Vehicles records. In 1988, she was convicted of running a stop sign, tailgating and twice driving without a license. Her mother said Victoria has paid more than $1,000 in fines.
In addition, the younger Wright was involved in three accidents between June, 1987, and December, 1988, none of which caused personal injury or led to a citation, DMV records show.
The DMV has moved to suspend and revoke her license effective Thursday because her two September speeding tickets violated her one-year probation, during which she was driving with a restricted license, said DMV spokesman William N. Gengler. She has appealed the actions; a hearing is scheduled for the day the revocation is scheduled to take effect.
Victoria Wright was placed on probation after a July hearing. Cathie Wright said she asked to represent her daughter at the hearing. The assemblywoman also sent a letter to DMV Director Del Pierce before the hearing, according to Gengler.
“He received a letter asking that we review the case to determine that everything was done properly,” Gengler said. He added that Wright exercised no undue influence.
Wright also contacted Simi Valley officials about her daughter’s driving travails.
Simi Valley City Manager Lin Koester said Wright raised the subject of her daughter’s speeding tickets Oct. 5 during one of their periodic meetings to discuss legislative and city issues.
“I’d like to have you look into something,” Koester quoted Wright as telling him. “I believe my daughter’s being harassed or picked on by the Simi Valley Police Department.”
Koester said he asked Police Chief Paul Miller to investigate Wright’s complaint. Miller found that “there was no clearly discernible pattern that would indicate that she was being picked on by us or any particular group of officers,” particularly since the citations had not been issued at the same locations, Koester said.
Koester said he concurred with Miller and informed Wright that her concern was unfounded. At no point was there any “insinuation at all that she wanted any type of favoritism,” he said.
Wright said she had previously contacted Miller after her daughter had received tickets for speeding Sept. 7 and for speeding and running a stop sign Sept. 12. She recalled mentioning a statistic that she had seen on the odds against being cited for a traffic offense.
“I said, ‘Your chances of being stopped are 1 in 7,000, and I can’t believe that 7,000 stops have been made for my daughter to be picked up that frequently,’ ” Wright said.
Miller, who has confirmed Koester’s account and Wright’s September call, said Friday that he would not comment further until Bradbury’s investigation is completed.
The legislator, who said she was not initially aware of her only child’s mounting driving problems, called Victoria “a better driver than I am.” The younger Wright, a high school graduate, works as a cashier and clerk at a Vons supermarket in Thousand Oaks. She lives with her mother in Simi Valley.
Wright said she had also contacted DMV officials to get information about her daughter’s options and in June or July asked to appear at a hearing on Victoria’s behalf. Victoria was unable to attend because of her work schedule, Wright said.
“They weren’t real happy about that,” Wright said. Subsequently, the DMV scheduled another hearing that Victoria Wright attended, which led to her probation.
Wright also obtained the name of an attorney for her daughter last year from Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) for a court appearance relating to Victoria’s driving problems. Wright said that was the full extent of Brown’s involvement.
The lawmaker’s flap with Bradbury arose this week over her decision to contact State Police on Jan. 27 with an allegation that she had been threatened by her daughter’s former boyfriend.
Wright said her daughter had been attempting to end a yearlong relationship with Alan Wayne Keel, 32, when he became increasingly violent. On Jan. 27, Wright said, Keel grabbed Victoria by her neck during an argument.
Cathie Wright said that a week later Keel confronted her in her driveway, cursing her and making an obscene gesture. Before he left, he warned, “I’ll get you,” she said. Wright notified the State Police, the agency responsible for investigating threats against legislators, judges and other constitutional officials.
State Police investigators found insufficient evidence to charge Keel with threatening Wright, but the probe led Bradbury’s office to charge Keel with battery, exhibiting a deadly weapon, reckless driving and making an annoying telephone call. Keel pleaded no contest to the battery and reckless driving charges Wednesday; he is being held in Ventura County Jail and will be sentenced Monday.
In mid-February, Bradbury said, he sent a letter to the State Police chief questioning the agency’s authority “to investigate what was basically a problem between the assemblywoman’s daughter and the daughter’s boyfriend without contacting local authorities.”
Bradbury was quoted in newspaper interviews suggesting that Wright had sought to circumvent Simi Valley police because of the traffic tickets the department had issued her daughter. Many of the tickets have been issued by the Simi Valley Police Department, but some were written by other law enforcement agencies.
Wright denied that she was sidestepping Simi Valley authorities. Curt Sanders, assistant to Acting State Police Chief Larry Maher, called Wright’s conduct appropriate and his agency’s actions routine. Moreover, Simi Valley police were contacted by State Police detectives at the investigation’s outset, he said.
“There’s no issue,” Sanders said. “We have filed charges in similar instances in other counties and do not have problems.”
And, he added, “We would have no argument that Ms. Wright felt threatened.”