COUNTYWIDE : Sheriff Candidate Vows Ethics Unit


Fullerton City Councilman Don Bankhead, who is challenging Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates in the June election, kicked off his campaign Thursday by promising to “bring integrity back” to the county’s highest law enforcement post.

In a brief speech to about 75 people, the retired Fullerton police captain capitalized on civil rights lawsuits filed against Gates and said that, if elected, he would establish an ethics unit and make such lawsuits unnecessary.

“We’ll put the shine back on the badge and we’ll all have a good clean Sheriff’s Department,” Bankhead said. “If no one’s rights are violated, we won’t get sued.”


Bankhead, 57, challenged Gates to justify spending nearly $1 million in taxpayers’ dollars to settle two civil rights lawsuits filed against him and to explain why some of the terms of the settlements were sealed until after the March election filing deadline.

The county recently agreed to pay $475,000 to settle two lawsuits filed by Preston Guillory, a private investigator and former political opponent of Gates. But the total cost in payouts and attorney fees has been about $1 million for the county.

The county also paid $375,000 in 1987 to settle a lawsuit by Orange County Municipal Judge Bobby Youngblood, an outspoken opponent of Gates and one-time sheriff’s candidate. All three lawsuits contended that Gates used the department to investigate his political enemies and hurt his opponents.

George Wright, a Rancho Santiago College instructor and longtime Gates critic who shared part of a recent lawsuit settlement, told the gathering in Fullerton that it is time for a new sheriff.

“The good people of this county are going to have stand up and say it’s time to change things, time to get an honest person in there who can distinguish between politics and law enforcement,” Wright said.

Nick Novick, a retired deputy district attorney who headed the district attorney’s Laguna Niguel office, said Gates frequently exerts pressure on the district attorney to file charges he wants to see filed and to withhold those that he does not.