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DA’s office declines to pursue charges against Costa Mesa candidates over campaign photos

DA’s office declines to pursue charges against Costa Mesa candidates over campaign photos
The Orange County district attorney's office has declined to file charges against Costa Mesa City Council candidate Manuel Chavez and mayoral candidate Katrina Foley after reviewing allegations that they had improperly depicted uniformed city employees in political materials. (Courtesy Photos)

The Orange County district attorney’s office will not pursue charges against Costa Mesa City Council candidate Manuel Chavez and mayoral candidate Katrina Foley after examining allegations that they had improperly included photographs of uniformed city employees in some campaign materials.

District attorney spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden said Thursday that the office “did review this matter and the case has been rejected due to insufficient evidence to prove any criminal conduct.”

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The review came after an attorney with Best Best & Krieger — a law firm representing the city of Costa Mesa — sent letters to Foley and Chavez on Oct. 8 saying that using such images for political purposes could run afoul of a provision of the California Government Code that states “no officer or employee of a local agency shall participate in political activities of any kind while in uniform.”

“I knew there was never a violation, and it’s unfortunate that our city attorney’s office tried to interfere in the election,” Foley, a current councilwoman, said Thursday. “I’m glad to put this behind us and I’m glad that our employees are not going to be penalized for expressing their political positions.”

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The letter to Foley, who is running against Mayor Sandy Genis to become the city’s first directly elected mayor, was prompted by a campaign flier that included photographs of her alongside uniformed city public safety personnel.

The letter to Chavez took issue with pictures posted to his campaign Facebook page that showed him alongside Fire Chief Dan Stefano, as well as a decorative depiction of the Costa Mesa Fire & Rescue Department logo, which includes the city seal in its center.

Chavez — one of three candidates seeking to represent council District 4, which covers a dense pocket of the Westside south of the Fairview Developmental Center — said Wednesday that he removed the photos once he became aware of the potential issues.

“We just want to make sure there are no issues like that at all with Manuel and the firefighters supporting him,” Chavez’s campaign manager, Cassius Rutherford, said Wednesday.

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