A Ventura Municipal Court judge has told Ventura County district attorney investigators that Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) asked him to give favored treatment to Assemblywoman Cathie Wright’s daughter when she appeared in court on traffic violations last year, sources familiar with the investigation said Tuesday.
Municipal Judge Herbert Curtis III said Brown told him that “we were entirely too harsh in the way we handle cases in Ventura County and that (Wright’s daughter) was a good person trying to get her life in order and deserved a break in the case,” said one official.
Brown responded Tuesday evening, “I don’t represent Cathie Wright or her daughter.” Earlier Tuesday, referring to the Wright matter, Brown’s press secretary, Susan Jetton, said: “He did not talk to a judge for her. He said it’s not true.”
Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury’s office opened an investigation last week into allegations that Wright (R-Simi Valley) improperly sought “to influence the outcome” of Victoria Catherine Wright’s numerous traffic offenses, which include 16 moving violations between December, 1986, and December, 1988, sources familiar with the case said.
Brown has said in the past that he helped Wright, an occasional Assembly ally despite their different party affiliations, only by referring her to an attorney to represent her daughter. Curtis’ reported statement to investigators is the first allegation that Brown tried to influence the case. Investigators were told that Brown made the call at Wright’s request.
One source said Tuesday that investigators are looking into Wright’s numerous contacts with Ventura County municipal judges and the state Department of Motor Vehicles concerning as many as 26 citations issued to her daughter over the past several years and “dispositions that one would not normally expect.”
Sources familiar with the case said Tuesday that investigators had not yet determined whether Brown’s or Wright’s intervention might have violated any law.
Wright, meanwhile, who declined to comment Tuesday, has previously acknowledged that she contacted various officials, including DMV Director A.A. (Del) Pierce and Simi Valley Police Chief Paul Miller, on her daughter’s behalf. She said she did so as a concerned mother and a lawmaker representing a constituent. She has denied that she did anything improper.
Wright also has maintained that Dist. Atty. Bradbury, a fellow Republican, is trying to destroy her politically to boost his own image.
Bradbury declined Tuesday to discuss the case.
Investigators were also told that John Paventi, a recently appointed Ventura County Municipal Court commissioner, secretly tape-recorded a visit that Wright made to his Newbury Park home last fall to seek leniency for Victoria Wright, 24.
Wright sought “some preferential treatment” from Paventi, investigators were told. Wright acknowledged Monday that she spoke to Paventi, a former Republican chairman for Ventura County whom she has supported for a judgeship, but said she did so only for advice.
Paventi, who subsequently disqualified himself from the case, declined comment Tuesday. Wright also went to the Ventura home of Municipal Judge Bruce A. Clark to discuss her daughter’s tickets, sources said. Clark declined comment Tuesday.
Victoria Wright, a high school graduate who lives with her mother, works as a cashier and clerk at a Thousand Oaks supermarket.
Speaker Brown said last month that Wright came to him early last year for the name of an attorney to represent her daughter in a court hearing last April. He referred her to Frederick Rosenmund, an Oxnard lawyer and a periodic Democratic Party fund raiser. Wright said the referral was the full extent of Brown’s involvement in her daughter’s driving problems.
Wright and Brown’s relationship attracted considerable attention in December when Wright abstained from voting with her GOP colleagues who sought to oust Brown as speaker. She said she did not want to back their choice, Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon (D-Whittier), because she had promised her constituents she would not vote for any Democrat for Speaker. Calderon is one of five dissident Democrats who have challenged Brown’s leadership.
A subsequent effort by the Republican caucus to remove Wright from her coveted Rules Committee appointment failed when Brown and the Democrats refused to go along. Brown then appointed Wright to another much sought post on the Ways and Means Committee.
Rosenmund and his partner represented Victoria Wright in an appearance last April 18 before Judge Curtis, a Democrat and former deputy Ventura County district attorney who was appointed by Republican Gov. George Deukmejian in 1984. Curtis fined Victoria Wright, placed her on a three-year probation and gave her a 30-day suspended jail sentence. He told her that another violation would result in jail.
Victoria Wright’s three convictions on April 18, all for speeding, gave her 10 moving violations in the previous 18 months. She has since received four additional tickets for six offenses; Curtis said he expects her to come before him for sentencing in the next two weeks.
Victoria Wright also faces revocation of her license Thursday for violating terms of a DMV probation with two tickets in September and a third in December. A hearing on the revocation is scheduled for today in Van Nuys.
Asked Tuesday about Brown’s reported phone call on Victoria Wright’s behalf, Curtis replied: “I can’t comment on that. If that statement was true, it sure didn’t do much good” for her.
Attorney Rosenmund, who responded on Cathie Wright’s behalf Tuesday, said the allegation that Brown called Curtis was “particularly ridiculous because none of us knew who the judge was going to be” in the case until arriving at court on April 18.
Bradbury’s investigators are also exploring two traffic violations that were expunged from Victoria Wright’s DMV record after she attended traffic violator’s school in June, 1988, a source said. State law allows only one violation per year to be removed through traffic school attendance. State DMV officials have said that Cathie Wright sought no preferential treatment for Victoria Wright and the younger Wright received none.
Times staff writers James Quinn and Mark Gladstone contributed to this story.