Reaction to the federal civil rights verdict against Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates came quickly Wednesday from his friends and foes, with politicians generally agreeing that Gates had not been badly damaged.
“I think the fact that there were no punitive damages means he’s pretty safe . . . ,” state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) said Wednesday. “He’s not going to be hurt in the long run. . . . I think he’s pretty well entrenched.”
Mission Viejo City Councilman Robert A. Curtis, a former state Republican Party secretary still active in party politics, said he doubts that Gates need worry much about the verdict. “If it was a million-dollar punitive verdict, it would be a different story,” he said.
Preston Guillory, a Gates opponent, was awarded $189,894 in damages but no punitive damages.
Gates, a prominent local Republican, was first elected in 1974 and won reelection to 4-year terms by easy margins of 57%, 75% and 64%.
‘Won’t Have an Impact’
Eileen Padberg, who has managed Gates’ past campaigns, said the sheriff was not really tried by a jury of his peers and “people who know him and support him will understand . . . ,” she said. “It won’t have an impact in a reelection campaign at all.”
Those with a stake in the verdict had varied reactions.
County government was also held liable and will pay the judgment if it stands. County Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley expressed relief because “I guess it could have been a lot more . . . ,” he said. “They were talking $5 million at one point--although $190,000 is rough at a time when the county is in its current financial situation.”
Supervisor Don R. Roth said he wanted to reserve comment on the verdict but pointed out that Gates is “elected by the people and, you know, because of that I can’t really tell him what to do. . . . He’s responsible to the people.”
Former Anaheim Police Chief Jimmie D. Kennedy, a co-defendant with Gates, said the verdict exonerating him and other Anaheim officials was “a tremendous relief to me.” He took the opportunity to endorse the Sheriff’s Department as effective and committed.
Mark A. Logan, Anaheim’s chief prosecutor, said he was “grateful” that the jury cleared the city for its role in prosecuting Guillory.
Another lawsuit against Gates, one filed by newsman Chuck Cook, is pending in U.S. District Court. Cook alleges that Sheriff’s Department intelligence unit investigators illegally tape-recorded one of his telephone conversations in an attempt to discover his sources for articles critical of Gates’ operation of County Jail.
Cook, who was a reporter for the Orange County Register at that time but now edits a newspaper in Newhall, said he believes that his case is stronger than Guillory’s. He said he does not expect Gates to escape punitive damages in that suit.
“If I were still a voter in Orange County, I would have some serious concerns that the sheriff, one of our highest elected officials, was conducting illegal acts with a unit that is supposed to be guarding the community from organized crime and drug activity,” Cook said Wednesday after the verdict.
He said the unit is no more than “a political spy unit” and “basically a dirty tricks unit.”
Times staff writers Steve Emmons in Los Angeles and Eric Lichtblau in Santa Ana contributed to this story.