By the time Assemblywoman Cathie Wright’s daughter was ordered off the roads this month, she had received 27 traffic tickets--including 24 for speeding--had been in at least six accidents and was the subject of 10 hearings by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, public records show.
Even the DMV official who reinstated Victoria Wright’s license to drive to and from work last July, after it had been suspended the previous month, wrote:
“This young lady’s record is horrendous. Contacts in the past have had apparently little or no effect on her driving practices.”
This extraordinary driving record has become the subject of public scrutiny because Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury’s office is investigating allegations that Wright (R-Simi Valley) improperly sought to use her political clout to keep her daughter, 24, behind the wheel despite the mounting violations.
The inquiry is focusing on the lawmaker’s intervention with Ventura County Municipal Court judges and the DMV and what investigators consider the unusual handling and outcome of some of the cases, sources say. Investigators are also exploring Wright’s reported attempts to influence the Simi Valley police, who issued many of her daughter’s tickets.
2 Tickets Dismissed
In an analysis of Victoria Wright’s court and DMV records dating to 1981, The Times found that Ventura County Municipal Judge Bruce A. Clark dismissed two speeding tickets issued in May, 1988, in return for her attendance at a traffic school--even though she had been convicted of 12 moving violations in the previous three years.
Under state law, violators can use the traffic school option as often as a judge permits, but most judges allow an offender to do so only once each 12 months, DMV spokeswoman Gina McGuiness said.
Clark’s decision followed a visit by Cathie Wright to his home, a sequence of events that investigators are reportedly reviewing. Citing the inquiry, Clark has declined to discuss the reported meeting or the reason for his actions.
Clark’s dismissal of the two violations, furthermore, occurred a month after Judge Herbert Curtis III placed Victoria Wright on probation and gave her a 30-day suspended sentence for driving without a license. He also fined her for two speeding convictions, told her that she would go to jail for her next conviction and indicated in the record that future citations should be heard in his court.
Instructions Not Followed
That did not happen. Court authorities say they cannot explain it, but Curtis’ instructions and Wright’s probation were not in the record that went to Clark.
Curtis said he learned of the subsequent convictions from a reporter this month; Victoria Wright is to be arraigned Wednesday on charges that she violated probation.
Investigators are also exploring a phone call that Curtis, a Democrat, reportedly told them he received from Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) at Cathie Wright’s behest. The judge said Brown told him that Victoria Wright “was a good person trying to get her life in order and deserved a break in the case,” said a source close to the inquiry.
Cathie Wright maintains that she aided her daughter as a concerned mother and responsive lawmaker and has done nothing improper.
She also asserted that fellow Republican Bradbury’s probe is motivated by personal and political spite. Brown has suggested that Bradbury is trying to destroy Wright politically for the benefit of rival GOP lawmakers.
Role of Others
Others linked to the investigation have also denied wrongdoing or declined comment. DMV officials say they did nothing inappropriate, although James E. Dunn, a DMV traffic safety manager who gave Victoria Wright a restricted license permitting travel to and from work last July, acknowledged that the “sensitivity” of the case led to his involvement. Brown denied calling Curtis but added, “even if I had, it wouldn’t be improper.”
A Wright adviser said Victoria Wright is “very scared by all this and feels she’s been pulled into something way beyond her capabilities to handle.” She declined to be interviewed.
Acquaintances describe her as a headstrong young woman plagued by troubles. “Vickie was a tough kid and hard to control,” said one person familiar with the family who requested anonymity.
Political associates say Cathie Wright, 59, has fought a rear-guard action to resolve her only child’s troubles after the death in 1982 of her husband, Victor Wright, a blustery former state police trooper from Chicago.
Except for a semester at Cerritos Community College, Victoria’s formal education ended in 1981 with graduation from Apollo High School in Simi Valley, a program for students considered at risk of dropping out of the conventional school system. She is a supermarket cashier.
Cathie Wright’s political associates say she has expressed particular frustration about her daughter’s friends. Recently, Victoria Wright was involved for a year with Alan Wayne Keel, who was recently sentenced to 60 days in the Ventura County Jail after pleading no contest to battery charges for grabbing her by the neck. Another acquaintance was charged last week with possessing property stolen from the Wright home Feb. 3.
Wright said she has shielded her daughter, with whom she shares a modest three-bedroom home, from her public life.
Since 1980, Cathie Wright has juggled the demands of motherhood and representing the 37th Assembly District, which spans parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
“Her father was ill for 10 years and her mother lives in a political fishbowl,” Wright recently said of Victoria. “You’re darned right she’s had problems.”
The assemblywoman, a former mayor of Simi Valley, has also accused Simi Valley police of harassing her daughter, a charge city officials say is untrue.
“Vickie has grown up believing that her last name could circumvent some of the problems that she’s been involved in,” Wright said at a DMV suspension hearing in June, 1988.
“Also, my husband, who has passed away, instilled upon Vickie that she could use her last name to avoid citations. Unfortunately, Vickie believed this and drove accordingly. Now, the local law enforcements are citing Vickie for offenses whereby she’s only traveling with the flow of traffic. Local law enforcements were upset with my deceased husband’s attitude.”
Victor Wright often invoked his wife’s political offices to badger Simi Valley officials, several people who knew him say. Yet, Victoria seemed to bring at least some troubles on herself.
Twice she received speeding tickets the day after she had an accident.
No one was injured in any of her accidents, records show, and she was never found to be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The DMV first moved to suspend her license on Nov. 21, 1981, after she received four speeding tickets in 11 months. She has since been the subject of nine more hearings. Her license was suspended in 1986 and in 1988, but was restored on appeal.
When Curtis placed Victoria Wright on three years’ probation for driving without a license on April 18, 1988, he instructed her to inform the court of future offenses within 10 days. She did not report five subsequent tickets.
On May 18, 1988, she was cited by Simi Valley police for speeding and not possessing a vehicle registration. Police Chief Lindsey (Paul) Miller has told investigators that Cathie Wright called him that day and said Victoria faced losing her license.
Favor Allegedly Asked
“She then asked if we would ‘take back the ticket,’ ” Miller said in a March 2, 1989, letter to Bradbury.
After Miller replied that a 1987 law, which Wright supported, made it illegal for police to dismiss a ticket, Wright “expressed words to the effect, ‘Well, why can’t you have your officer call in sick?’ ” the chief’s letter said. A traffic ticket is usually dismissed if the police officer who issued it fails to appear in court.
Four days later, the California Highway Patrol ticketed Victoria Wright for speeding and not wearing a seat belt. The two May citations were handled by Clark, who was assigned to the Simi Valley Traffic Court; Curtis was sitting in the Ventura Traffic Court.
Clark has said that if he had known that Curtis had put Victoria Wright on probation, he would have sent the case back to Curtis. But, Clark said, “It wasn’t in the files.”
The DMV record on Wright includes a notation that she was on probation. But it was not on the computer printout sent to Clark last spring. “Nobody knows” why it was omitted, said Florence Prushan, the Municipal Court manager.
Clark, generally considered a tough judge, agreed to the unusual step of dismissing both speeding counts in return for Victoria Wright’s attending traffic school.
After an offender attends traffic school, one moving offense is dismissed. The record goes in a confidential DMV file, inaccessible to police and insurance companies, and does not count toward point totals leading to license suspensions. Only one offense can go in this file each 12 months.
Clark acted on Victoria Wright’s case June 27, two weeks after a DMV hearing officer had suspended her license for six months, court records show. The DMV acts when a driver receives enough points for violations to trigger a license suspension or revocation.
At the June DMV hearing, Wright represented her daughter, requesting a license to allow Victoria to commute to work. The hearing officer refused, noting that some of the violations had occurred while Victoria was commuting to work.
Next, Wright wrote DMV Director A. A. (Del) Pierce on June 22 to request an administrative review of her daughter’s file. Pierce assigned this to James Dunn, a 25-year DMV veteran who handles such matters.
Victoria Wright then received another traffic conviction and asked for a hearing. Dunn took the unusual step of traveling from Sacramento to Van Nuys to conduct it.
Despite calling her record “horrendous,” Dunn said he decided to “give her the benefit of the doubt and restrict her driving to and from work.” He also put her on probation, sent her to traffic school and told her to inform him of future offenses.
She did not do so. She did, however, go to traffic school July 23, using this to clear both speeding tickets handled by Clark as well as satisfying the DMV probation requirement.
THE RECORD Tickets and accidents involving Victoria Wright: Jan. 1, 1981: ticket for speeding. March 11, 1981: ticket for speeding. June 10, 1981: ticket for speeding. Nov. 12, 1981: accident, no injuries. Nov. 13, 1981: ticket for speeding. Nov. 19, 1982: ticket for passing on the right. June 9, 1983: accident, no injuries. Nov. 10, 1983: ticket for running a stop sign. Feb. 15, 1984: ticket for speeding. Sept. 10, 1984: accident, no injuries. Oct. 8, 1984: ticket for running a yellow light. Feb. 27, 1985: ticket for running a stop sign. May 26, 1985: ticket for speeding. Oct. 5, 1985: ticket for speeding. Nov. 13, 1985: ticket for speeding. Dec. 4, 1986: ticket for speeding. Dec. 28, 1986: ticket for speeding. Jan. 7, 1987: ticket for speeding. Feb. 27, 1987: ticket for speeding. April 19, 1987: ticket for speeding. June 19, 1987: accident, no injuries. June 20, 1987: ticket for speeding. Sept. 8, 1987: ticket for speeding. Nov. 8, 1987: ticket for speeding. Jan. 27, 1988: ticket for speeding and no proof of license. March 6, 1988: ticket for speeding, no license and no proof of insurance. April 29, 1988: accident, no injuries. May 18, 1988: ticket for speeding and no registration. May 22, 1988: ticket for speeding and no seat belt. Sept. 7, 1988: ticket for speeding, rear window obstruction and no proof of insurance. Sept. 12, 1988: ticket for speeding, failure to stop at a stop sign and no valid license. Dec. 4, 1988: ticket for speeding, following another vehicle too close. Dec. 9, 1988: accident, no injuries. Source: Ventura Municipal Court and California Department of Motor Vehicles.