A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Friday ordered former Moorpark City Councilman Scott Montgomery to cooperate with state officials investigating contributions and spending in his campaigns during the last three years.
After a brief hearing, Judge Robert O'Brien ordered Montgomery to turn over campaign records and make himself available to investigators from the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.
The commission has been trying since May to audit Montgomery campaigns dating back to 1992, but has been unable to get the former councilman to turn over all requested records or to be questioned under oath.
Although Montgomery pleaded guilty in October to felony and misdemeanor conflict-of-interest charges for accepting a $3,500 payment from a trash company executive, he has since changed his mind and is attempting to withdraw his plea.
Montgomery's attorney, Dan Schmidt, said the former councilman will comply with the judge's order by the Jan. 8 deadline. Montgomery could be jailed if he does not.
But during the hearing, Schmidt argued that the order could jeopardize his client's constitutional protection against self-incrimination.
"It's not that Scott has anything to hide," Schmidt said, leaving the hearing. "I'm not fearful of them finding anything. I just don't want to give the district attorney's office a way to sneak in the back door and get something that they can use against Scott."
Montgomery has already given up numerous records, but wanted to wait to turn over the rest until after a judge decides Jan. 5 whether the former councilman can withdraw his plea, Schmidt said.
The political practices commission subpoenaed Montgomery in early November for an interview under oath about contributions and expenses related to his campaign. Montgomery never showed up. Schmidt said Montgomery was at an important computer trade show in Las Vegas and was unable to attend.
"I just think we have to clear up the criminal proceeding first," Schmidt said.
If Municipal Judge Thomas Hutchins allows Montgomery to withdraw his plea in two weeks, prosecutors have said they will file criminal charges against him or ask a grand jury to indict him. If the judge lets the plea stand, Montgomery faces up to 3 1/2 years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Schmidt argued in court papers that the state audit is really a veiled extension of the district attorney's criminal investigation of Montgomery.
State attorney Mark Morodomi called Schmidt's claim a "red herring."
"There is no grand conspiracy here," Morodomi said in court papers. He said it is appropriate for his agency and the district attorney's office to work together on a case.
But Morodomi also said that the state audit is different from the district attorney's probe because it focuses only on how Montgomery spent and accounted for campaign contributions, not on whether he committed a crime.
The political practices commission has requested copies of:
* all bank statements from Montgomery's campaign committee;
* copies of contributors' checks, including those less than $100;
* copies of deposit slips;
* copies of canceled checks for committee expenditures, including those less than $100;
* copies of invoices for all committee expenditures of $100 or more.
Morodomi said Friday that those records are required to ensure campaigns spend money properly.
"That's why the records are kept in the first place," he said.
State law gives the commission authority to conduct random audits of elected officials.
The penalty for either misspending or misreporting campaign funds is up to $2,000 per violation, Morodomi said.
Another Moorpark councilman, Bernardo Perez, is also involved in a Fair Political Practices Commission audit.
Perez said this week that he has cooperated with the audit since it began last spring. But he added that his records of campaign contributions under $100 are incomplete.
The commission recently subpoenaed records from Perez's credit union to check deposits and withdrawals from his campaign account, he said.
"The bottom line is I'm cooperating as much as I can on this," he said.
State officials have refused comment on what prompted the Perez inquiry.