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Dumanis' actions in Chula Vista case questioned

With a month to go before the June 3 primary election, a series of documents related to a 2008 Chula Vista case have become the center of the San Diego County district attorney's race.

Challenger Bob Brewer is accusing three-term incumbent Bonnie Dumanis of withholding internal communications that could reveal her attempts to get a staff member a spot on the Chula Vista City Council.

Brewer and former San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye demanded Dumanis immediately release those documents -- previously requested by KPBS -- during a press conference Tuesday.

"It's reasonable for the public to ask whether or not the authority of the district attorney was being abused to further a political agenda," Frye said. "And it's reasonable to ask if politics has replaced the public interest in charging someone with a crime. There is simply no excuse for Ms. Dumanis to continue to withhold these records from the public any longer."

Jennifer Tierney, a spokeswoman for Dumanis' re-election campaign, said the district attorney plans to release the appropriate documents after a careful review.

"As district attorney, Bonnie Dumanis has spent her entire career fighting for justice, embracing transparency, and promoting good government in the best interests of all of San Diego County," Tierney sent in an emailed response. "That is what she's directing her office to do in this case -- review these documents and release everything appropriate. The district attorney won’t be rushed to release these documents before they are properly reviewed because it might win a few votes."

According to a KPBS investigative report, Dumanis called then-Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla in late 2005, asking if he would consider Jesse Navarro, an aide to the district attorney, to fill a vacancy on the Chula Vista City Council.

Padilla declined the request, and according to KPBS, Dumanis' office launched an investigation of the entire Chula Vista City Council a short time later. The investigation resulted in charges being filed against former Chula Vista Councilman Steve Castanada. He was not convicted.

KPBS filed a California Public Records Act request for any internal communications between Dumanis and Patrick O'Toole, the deputy district attorney who was prosecuting Castanada at the time. Dumanis' office denied the existence of such records, Frye said, but after a separate PRA request, O'Toole acknowledged they existed and sent them up the chain of command to be approved for release.

Brewer said the documents are important because they could show whether Dumanis informed O'Toole of her phone call to Padilla, which would have caused O'Toole to recuse the district attorney's office from the case.

"Now that we know they [the records] exist, when can we see them all, because there is no reason that they should not all be disclosed to us immediately," Brewer said.

"The public has a right to know, but the voters also have a right to know, and they deserve to have their questions answered now -- today -- not sometime after the June 3 primary election," Frye added.

Brewer also said he wants Dumanis to answer the question of whether she called Padilla with the request for her employee.

"That was raised on April 21 by KPBS, and we have had no response to that," Brewer said.

"I am going to base my administration on public safety without politics, and what we're talking about today is the type of politics that should never be present in the district attorney's office."

Frye and Brewer both said the issue isn't limited to the Castanada case.

"It's about how an elected official conducts the public's business and how open they are to responding to legitimate public inquires," Frye said. "The public has a right to know if there was any unethical or illegal behavior by the highest ranking law enforcement official in our county."

Related content: Interview with DA candidate Robert Brewer (video)

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