Brown Acted Improperly in Wright Case, D.A. Finds

Times Staff Writer

Assembly Speaker Willie Brown apparently "violated the professional rules" of the State Bar of California by seeking to intercede with a judge regarding traffic charges against Assemblywoman Cathie Wright's daughter, the Ventura County district attorney said Wednesday.

Brown, a lawyer, is under investigation by the Bar Assn. for contacting a Ventura County municipal judge last year about a pending traffic case against Wright's daughter.

Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury also said Wright "demonstrated a clear pattern of attempting to obtain special treatment for herself and her daughter with the police, the courts and the Department of Motor Vehicles." But Bradbury concluded that although Wright often acted improperly, she committed "no clear-cut criminal violation."

Report Released

Bradbury released a detailed, highly critical 97-page report Wednesday, culminating a 10-week investigation of Wright's reported efforts to use her clout to keep her daughter Victoria from losing her license and going to jail for 28 traffic violations since 1981. The report also said Wright persuaded Simi Valley police to kill a 1978 traffic citation she received when she was a city councilwoman and tried to quash a 1983 parking ticket.

"The report is a serious indictment of Cathie Wright's conduct . . . and several public agencies as well as individuals who were only too willing to be influenced in search of some quid pro quo, whether it be in budgetary help or being elevated on the bench," Bradbury said in an interview.

Wright, a Simi Valley Republican, issued a statement Wednesday calling the report "shameful." She said Bradbury had conducted an expensive, politically motivated inquiry that failed "to make a case against me legally." The statement did not address most of the specific allegations.

Brown Declines Comment

Brown, a San Francisco Democrat, declined comment because he had not seen the report, press secretary Susan Jetton said. Both lawmakers refused to speak to Bradbury's investigators.

Although Bradbury decided not to seek a grand jury indictment of Wright or others whose actions he characterized as improper, he referred various incidents to state oversight agencies, Gov. George Deukmejian's office, the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee and the Bar Assn. for possible disciplinary or legal sanctions.

But in the end, Bradbury said, the voters of Wright's 37th District may have to decide the propriety of her actions. On that count, the report concludes: "The people of the state of California deserve better."

The state DMV and Municipal Judge Bruce Clark acted inappropriately after Wright contacted them on behalf of her daughter, the report asserts. It recommends that the Commission on Judicial Performance, which oversees judges, review Clark's actions, which it said apparently "violated the Code of Judicial Conduct by creating the appearance of impropriety."

The State Bar, meanwhile, has been probing Brown's involvement in the Wright matter since The Times reported in March that Municipal Judge Herbert Curtis III told Bradbury's investigators that Brown had telephoned him about Victoria Wright's case.

According to Bradbury's report, Brown called Curtis on March 28, 1988, from Washington 15 minutes before Curtis was scheduled to hear a misdemeanor charge against Victoria Wright for driving without a license. Curtis, who said he had never met Brown, recalled that the Speaker identified himself as a close friend of Cathie Wright.

"Mr. Brown reportedly stated that the judges in Ventura County were too tough on traffic offenders and that he did not believe Victoria deserved to go to jail," the report says.

Curtis fined Victoria Wright $225, gave her a suspended 30-day sentence and placed her on three years' probation. She subsequently violated probation by failing to report additional traffic violations to the court as required. On March 29, she was sentenced to serve the 30-day jail term. She spent 20 days in the Ventura County work furlough program and was released May 6 after her sentence was reduced for good behavior.

Curtis told investigators he was not influenced by Brown's call, and they determined that his disposition of the case was appropriate. Curtis declined comment Wednesday.

The Bar Assn.'s Rules of Professional Conduct generally prohibit members from contacting judges on a pending matter without the opposing attorney present. Brown was not representing Victoria Wright but was still bound by this rule, the report says.

"I can't imagine them not taking action because the violation is so clear-cut," Bradbury said of the State Bar, which can privately or publicly admonish, censure, suspend or disbar an attorney for misconduct.

Michael Saleen, the association's assistant chief trial counsel, said Wednesday, "We still have the matter under review."

In March, Brown denied contacting Curtis but said that even if he had done so it was not improper. He said Bradbury, a Republican, had undertaken his inquiry to destroy Wright politically.

In his harshest language, Bradbury said in an interview that Judge Clark's actions were "a flagrant abuse of his office."

A day after Cathie Wright visited him at his Ventura home to plead Victoria's case, Clark agreed to dismiss two speeding offenses against the younger Wright if she attended traffic school. Bradbury's report said Clark should have excused himself from the case after Wright's visit, and called his disposition unusual and inappropriately lenient.

Ventura County Municipal Court policy calls for dismissal of only one conviction every 12 months for traffic school attendance for each driver. Under state law, however, a judge can order traffic school whenever he feels a defendant will benefit from it.

Clark, who is known as a hard-liner, acknowledged to investigators that he would not have met with an average citizen at his home to discuss a case, the report states. "Who you are has some influence as to whether you can talk to a judge," he reportedly said.

Bradbury's report notes that state legislators exercise clout over the judiciary, including advising the governor's office on appointment and promotion of judges and on setting judicial salaries. Clark declined comment Wednesday.

Wright, 59, an eight-year Assembly veteran and one of the Legislature's most conservative members, sought to persuade Simi Valley Police Chief Lindsey P. Miller to quash tickets or intercede with judges for Victoria three times in 1988, the report says. Miller refused to do so. Bradbury opened his inquiry when Miller told him of these incidents.

Wright also wrote to DMV Director A. A. (Del) Pierce in June, 1988, to request a review of Victoria's driving record after a hearing officer suspended her daughter's license. This led James Dunn, a department administrator, to fly from Sacramento to Van Nuys to hold a July 8, 1988, hearing for Victoria when she received another ticket.

Despite calling her record "horrendous," Dunn restored her license to drive, but only to and from work. It was revoked in March as the result of additional violations.

Bradbury's report concluded that Dunn acted legally but that his decision "appears to be unreasonably lenient in light of Victoria's driving record. . . . Under the circumstances, the conclusion is almost inescapable that Victoria received preferential treatment."

A DMV spokesman declined comment Wednesday, saying department officials had not seen the report.

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