Stained Judicial Race Has Ugly New Turn

Times Staff Writer

Voters would have expected the race for Judicial Office No. 21 to calm down after incumbent Ronald Kline, facing molestation and child pornography charges, took his name off the ballot.

Instead, the Orange County Superior Court race has grown increasingly ugly in a new way, with a private investigator digging into one candidate’s background and divorce records.

The opposing candidate, former prosecutor Gay G. Sandoval, has made an issue of her opponent’s past financial problems and divorce case. Her rival, Dana Point attorney John Adams, accused Sandoval of crawling into the gutter in a desperate attempt to win the election.

Sandoval and Adams ran against Kline as write-in candidates in the March primary. Adams campaigned aggressively in southern Orange County and got his name on several slate mailers, actually outpolling Kline.


Adams won 33.2% of the vote, Kline won 32%, and Sandoval won 10.8%. Kline quit the race weeks later, saying he needed to focus on his upcoming trial for allegedly molesting a teenager and downloading child pornography.

The Orange County Bar Assn. ranked Sandoval “qualified.” The group did not rank Adams because he didn’t respond to its questions. Adams said he didn’t think the association’s analysis would offer a full appraisal of his career as a civil attorney.

The mudslinging began last week when a former business associate of Adams hired a private detective to unearth documents describing Adams’ past political and financial woes and details of a bitter divorce. He then provided the findings to Sandoval and the press. Sandoval then sent letters to those who have endorsed Adams, pointing to his divorce file and several civil suits he was involved in. Sandoval urged those supporters to study the documents.

“This is a really low blow,” Adams said. “We’re talking about issues that are over 10 or 12 years old. It’s very unseemly for my opponent to suggest people go through my divorce file.”


The documents include details about a $218,000 loan Adams received from Patrick and Jeannette McDaniel in 1991. Adams, who used his parents’ Fountain Valley home as collateral, failed to repay the debt on time, and his parents lost their home to foreclosure.

Adams, who wrote to the McDaniels that he was “financially desperate” and “completely out of personal assets,” made a $55,000 cash down payment on a $275,000 home for himself three months after the foreclosure.

Responding to the disclosure, Adams said he had sought the loan during a difficult financial period during the recession.

“It’s unfortunate I was unable to make payment on their loan,” Adams said. “The McDaniels were unwilling to accommodate changes in the loan. The collateral was able to fully satisfy the lender.”


Adams said, too, that there was nothing improper about his buying a new home once his parents’ home had been taken to settle the debt.

Sandoval said the details of Adams’ loan were legitimate campaign issues.

“I think everyone should know about this,” Sandoval said. “I would compare this race to a medical patient choosing between a doctor with a lot of surgical experience and one without hospital privileges.”

Adams called Sandoval’s letters to his supporters “despicable.”


Adams has also been criticized for listing his association with an environmental group on campaign literature.

Environmental activist Roger Von Butow once appointed Adams as a director of his nonprofit group, the South Orange County Watershed Conservancy. Adams listed the conservancy on his resume and posted it on his campaign Web site but removed it after Von Butow demanded his resignation. Adams, Von Butow said, had shirked his duties by failing to organize fund-raisers or convene meetings for eight months. Adams used the post only to “pad” his resume, Von Butow said.

Adams called that assertion false. “It was a volunteer organization, and I contributed substantially to it. I take offense that someone would say I used volunteer work to pad my resume.”

Adams, 50, cites his experience in the private sector, including that as head of an automotive specialty retailer. A graduate of Stanford Law School, he also was an activist in the fight against an airport at El Toro.


Sandoval, 50, went to Loyola Law School and was an Orange County deputy district attorney, handling child abuse cases. She also served on several municipal boards in her hometown of Costa Mesa.