The logs list 94 e-mails and more than 150 calendar entries that San Bernardino County attorneys argued should not be made public.
San Bernardino Superior Court Judge John P. Wade ordered the county to release the logs, two e-mails and redacted versions of the calendars of former Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Postmus and current board Chairman Paul Biane in March.
The county turned over the e-mails and calendars and sought a stay on the order to release the logs, but was turned down by the 4th District Court of Appeal and the state Supreme Court.
County spokesman David Wert said Friday that the county would have no comment.
The newspaper and the coalition sued the county in an effort to obtain documents that might give insight into the activities of Postmus during two major wildfires that destroyed more than 50 homes in July 2006.
County officials have given conflicting accounts of Postmus' activities during the fires, with some claiming he was on vacation but in constant contact with county officials planning the response to the fires, and others claiming he was absent and no one had heard from him.
Karl Olson, an attorney representing the newspaper and the First Amendment Coalition, praised the release of the documents.
"We are pleased that the Supreme Court has turned away the county's last effort to block disclosure of the logs of the e-mails and calendars that it withheld," Olson said. "Now that we have the logs, they reveal just how aggressive the county has been about withholding documents that are directly related to the conduct of the people's business and the spending of taxpayer money."
The logs list 94 e-mails sent to Postmus and other county officials in August 2006 and scores of calendar entries along with short descriptions of the contents of each and the reason they shouldn't be made public.
In the case of two e-mails the judge ordered released - a press release and a news story - county attorneys claimed that making them public would compromise the "deliberative process" of the public officials in question.
County attorneys described the press release, which presumably was sent to constituents and media outlets, as "e-mail regarding public information on County facilities." The e-mail was sent from "Postmus News." The recipients are not listed in the log.
The copy of the news story, from current Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt to Postmus, is described as "e-mail between staff member and supervisor regarding public information about County activities."
At the time, Mitzelfelt was Postmus' chief of staff.
County attorneys argued that making these and other e-mails public would hinder elected officials in carrying out their duties.
Many of the e-mails refer to public information, scheduling meetings, fiscal issues or county facilities.
Redacted calendar entries were described as meetings with unnamed constituents or county employees or as "personal."
The calendars show no entries for Postmus' vacation, and county attorneys have claimed there are no communications or records of communications between Postmus and other county officials in all of June or July 2006, when the fires occurred.
Frank Pine is senior managing editor of The Sun. Reach him via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (909) 386-3841.
San Bernardino Superior Court Judge John P. Wade last month ordered the county to release redacted calendars, two e-mails and logs of documents sought by The Sun and the California First Amendment Coalition in a lawsuit against the county.
The county turned over the calendars and e-mails, but appealed the order to disclose the logs, arguing that to do so would compromise documents that weren't ordered released - nearly 100 e-mails and numerous entries in the calendars.
After the 4th District Court of Appeal rejected the county's request for a stay on Wade's order, county attorneys petitioned the state Supreme Court, which denied the request on Wednesday.
County spokesman David Wert declined to comment Thursday.
The Sun and the First Amendment Coalition sued the county after county lawyers refused to release calendars and communications of former Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Postmus and calendars of current Chairman Paul Biane, the only other supervisor to withhold his calendars.
The newspaper first requested the documents after county officials gave conflicting accounts of Postmus' activities during the Sawtooth and Millard fires, which burned 80,000 acres and destroyed more than 50 homes in July 2006.
Some said he was on a family vacation but in constant contact with top county officials coordinating the county's response to the fires, while others said he was absent without explanation.
County lawyers initially refused to provide any documentation at all of Postmus' contact with other county officials. Since then, the county has provided a handful of e-mails written to Postmus, and under court order, redacted versions of his calendar.
None of the documents released give any indication of Postmus' activities during the fires, and according to county attorneys, there are no communications or records of communications between Postmus and other county officials in June and July 2006.
Despite Wade's order to turn over the logs "forthwith" and two higher court denials, county attorneys have yet to turn over the logs.
Frank Pine is senior managing editor of The Sun. Reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (909) 386-3841.
Migrawatch, a newly formed network of immigrants rights organizations, called for supporters of immigrant rights to speak up and demand that two clauses be added to the resolution before the council vote. The first clause to make the City of Watsonville a "sanctuary" for undocumented people similar to other cities around the country offering a safe space for members of the community. The second amendment sought by activists was a "notification" clause. Since it has become widely known the federal immigration enforcers notify local police departments, communities could be given advance warning before ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids the community. Some speakers referred to the raids as domestic terrorism by our own government and that for this reason the council should adopt a policy of notification as part of the "War on Terror" so that a human rights organization could come and document the raids and prevent unnecessary harm to the community
The room was packed at the Watsonville City Council chambers on Tuesday May 8. Attendees were there to comment on one of the evening's agenda items, a resolution Requesting the Suspension of Random Detentions & Arrests of Residents in Watsonville.
An emotional public comment period lasted for over an hour with the crowd bursting into chanting "si se puede" after on particularly moving commentary. Personal testimonies and comments ranged from accounts of "three days and three nights" of crossing the border to teachers sharing emotional stories of students distracted and wondering when the migra, or immigration enforcement, was going to come and take away them or their parents.
Migrawatch, a newly formed network of immigrants rights organizations, called for supporters of immigrant rights to speak up and demand that two clauses be added to the resolution before the council vote. The first clause to make the City of Watsonville a "sanctuary" for undocumented people similar to other cities around the country offering a safe space for members of the community. The second amendment sought by activists was a "notification" clause. Since it has become widely known the federal immigration enforcers notify local police departments, communities could be given advance warning before ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids the community. Some speakers referred to the raids as domestic terrorism by our own government and that for this reason the council should adopt a policy of notification as part of the "War on Terror" so that a human rights organization could come and document the raids and prevent unnecessary harm to the community.
After the public comment period and some council discussion, Council Member Oscar Rios moved to amend the resolution to include the clause stating that Watsonville be a "sanctuary" for undocumented persons. No Council members supported adding the notification clause to the resolution.
With the Watsonville City Slogan as a backdrop, "Opportunity Through Diversity, Unity Through Cooperation," the council proceeded to vote. Though originally introduced by Mayor Bersamin, Oscar Rios and Antonio Rivas, only two of them ended up voting "yes" on the resolution; Council member Rivas changed to a "no" vote after the sanctuary clause was added to the resolution. Council Member Greg Caput voted "yes" surprising the crowd, joining Mayor Bersamin, Mayor Pro Tempore Kimberly Petersen, and Oscar Rios. In addition to the no vote from Antonio Rivas, Dale Skillicorn and Edward Din voted against passing the resolution bringing the final count to 4-3 in favor of passage.
Anchored by the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Labs and the small circle of corporations who run these and other weapons facilities for the federal government, the US nuclear weapons complex is hurriedly working to finalize designs for and to begin building a new nuclear weapon, called the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). This program, if supported by the president and funded by Congress, will expend many billions of dollars on nuclear weapons over the next few decades and guarantee the longevity of the US nuclear weapons complex. It will also lead to a US violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a global arms control regime that has mostly worked up to the present. Furthermore, the new US weapons program will necessarily produce many tons of nuclear and toxic waste and create un-imaginable opportunity costs.
There is mounting evidence that the police violence began when about a dozen police motorcycles drove into the ceremonial Aztec circle at the end of the march at 7th & Alvarado. Shortly thereafter, and without warning, the police fired rubber bullets and charged the crowd. Police then moved into formation along the East edge of the park and attacked without issuing an audible dispersal order. Most people had little to no warning that police were about to open fire into the crowd with rubber bullets and charge with batons. They then swept through the entire park firing and brutally beating nearly anyone remaining in their path
This version of events has been well substantiated by hundreds of eye-witnesses. It has also been captured on video and broadcast by local TV news. Yet in spite of this, three weeks after the attack corporate media is still repeating the line that “agitators” provoked the police. Fox news is repeating this lie even though their own anchorwoman and camerawoman were attacked and are now filing a lawsuit against LAPD.
To date there is no testimony or video to validate the police chief’s claims of “agitators”. Some videos do show a few, scattered incidents of plastic water bottles being thrown, a few of them once the police are already lined up in preparation for the attack, and more once the police line is advancing on people. These videos clearly demonstrate that the few objects thrown were not the 'cause' of the police attack. Much of the evidence that refutes Bratton’s story can be found online at sites such as this one. LA Indymedia would like to thank all those contributors to the newswire who have helped to shed light on what really happened on May 1, 2007 in MacArthur Park.
Webb's trial was supposed to start Monday morning in a downtown San Bernardino courtroom, but the judge postponed it after one of Webb's two lawyers, Michael Schwartz, called to say his wife was in the hospital giving birth.
"I apologize for the delay," Judge Michael A. Smith told jurors. "Obviously this isn't something that we planned."
Opening statements are now scheduled for May 29.
Webb, 46, is charged with attempted voluntary manslaughter and assault with a firearm in connection with the videotaped shooting of Elio Carrion on Jan. 29, 2006.
The shooting followed a pursuit in which Carrion, an Air Force senior airman who had just returned from Iraq, was the passenger in a Corvette that led deputies on a high-speed chase.
The chase ended when the driver lost control and crashed into a wall on Francis Street in Chino.
Afterward, Webb held Carrion at gunpoint while waiting for backup. A man recorded the encounter from his front porch.
The tape shows Webb shoot Carrion three times as Carrion seems to comply with the deputy's orders to get off the ground.
Webb has pleaded not guilty to the charges, setting up a highly anticipated trial in which jurors will be forced to decide whether the shooting was a criminal act or the reasonable action of a lawman in a high-stress situation.
Attorneys were scheduled to begin laying out their cases for the jury during opening statements Monday morning. Witnesses could have taken the stand by the afternoon.
Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope said Schwartz told the judge and other attorneys at earlier hearings that his wife's due date was approaching, but they didn't expect she would go into labor so soon.
Cope said the delay would force him to scramble to reschedule witnesses, but he didn't expect it to cause any major problems.
Carrion required months to recover from his injuries, but he has since returned to light duty at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
He is in California on a 20-day military leave in order to testify at the trial. He has already used the first five days, so he has only about two weeks remaining, his attorney, Luis Carrillo, said Monday.
Any additional court delays could be problematic for him, Carrillo said.
"If the trial keeps getting delayed or postponed, he will have to request additional time from the Air Force," Carrillo said.
The shooting became national news after the dark, grainy videotape was widely broadcast on television and the Internet.
Webb came to court Monday morning surrounded by relatives and supporters.
Nearly a dozen television and still-camera photographers recorded his every move in the courtroom during the brief time he was there.
Afterward, the photographers followed him into an elevator, and then down a series of hallways, cameras whirring and lenses snapping, as the former deputy left the courthouse.
His trial is expected to last through the end of June.
Staff writer Rod Leveque can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or by phone at (909) 483-9325.
Following the Webb case
Jan. 29, 2006: Air Force Senior Airman Elio Carrion is shot three times by a San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy after a high-speed chase that ended on Francis Street in Chino. The incident is captured on videotape by a nearby resident. The driver, Luis Fernando Escobedo, is arrested and booked at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga on suspicion of felony evading. Carrion is hospitalized at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton. The deputy, Ivory J. Webb Jr., is placed on paid administrative leave.
Jan. 31: Escobedo is released without being charged. The FBI launches an investigation into possible civil-rights violations of Carrion at the request of the U.S. Attorney's Office. The Sheriff's Department also requests the FBI's assistance to produce an enhanced copy of the videotape.
Feb. 3: Carrion's family demands the arrest of Webb in front of sheriff's headquarters in San Bernardino. Jose Luis Valdes, who videotaped the shooting, is arrested by Pomona police on a Miami warrant for a 1997 aggravated assault. Police say they had no knowledge of Valdes' role in the Chino incident until after they arrested him. Carrion is released from Arrowhead Regional Medical Center.
Feb. 10: The Sheriff's Department concludes its investigation into the officer-involved shooting and turns its reports over to the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office.
March 5: The District Attorney's Office, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department interview Carrion.
March 7: District Attorney Mike Ramos charges Webb with attempted voluntary manslaughter and Escobedo with felony evading and driving while under the influence. Carrion returns home to his family, but continues outpatient physical therapy.
March 8: Webb and Escobedo are arraigned. Both plead not guilty.
July 12: Carrion's attorney files a claim against San Bernardino County asking for unspecified damages for violating his civil rights.
July 19: At Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, Carrion receives the commendation medal for his service in Iraq.
Aug. 10: A felony charge is dropped in Miami against Valdes. Florida prosecutors drop the nearly decade-old aggravated assault case against Valdes, 38, who had been scheduled to go to trial, in exchange for a guilty plea to a lesser misdemeanor disorderly-conduct charge.
Aug. 28: A judge orders Webb to stand trial for attempted voluntary manslaughter and assault with a firearm.
Sept. 11: At his arraignment, prosecutors add a second charge against Webb - claiming the former sheriff's deputy committed assault with a firearm.
Sept. 23: Escobedo is arrested by Montclair police on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon and carrying a loaded firearm.
Sept. 28: Prosecutors file two misdemeanor-weapons charges against Escobedo. The charges stem from an incident in which police say they caught him carrying a loaded revolver in his pocket in Montclair.
Nov. 1: Escobedo pleads not guilty to weapons charges from an unrelated September incident.
Dec. 14: Escobedo pleads guilty to a misdemeanor-weapons charge. He will spend three years on probation and 60 days in jail after admitting to a single count of carrying a loaded gun. He must surrender to begin serving his jail time no later than Jan. 8.
Dec. 27: Carrion files a lawsuit against the Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Gary Penrod and Webb.
Jan. 12: Escobedo is sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation for drunken driving and evading police.
April 30: Jury selection begins for Webb's trial in which 400 potential jurors were summoned.
Last week: Jury selected.
Monday: Trial postponed.
Robert Rogers, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 05/22/2007 12:00:00 AM PDT
SAN BERNARDINO - The city has agreed to hire attorneys on behalf of Police Chief Mike Billdt, but the case might never reach court, the police union's president said Monday.
The City Council on Monday unanimously approved an agreement with a $20,000 ceiling for the law firm of Mundell, Odlum and Haws to defend the city and Billdt in a suit filed by the police union.
But the case's prospects of seeing a courtroom are far from certain.
Rich Lawhead, president of the San Bernardino Police Officers Association, said Monday both sides might be eager to bridge the rift that opened between union leadership and Billdt with a lawsuit filed in federal court April 30.
"If we can find a resolution, such as a policy change or injunctive relief, then we can get back to work and put this behind us," Lawhead said. "I'm optimistic we can find a resolution."
The discussions surround a lawsuit filed by the 300-member police union accusing Billdt of retaliating against two officers for seeking legal advice after an April 15 officer-involved shooting.
In February, the union implemented a policy to ensure a lawyer represents officers involved in shootings.
Instead, tactics including administrative leave have been used to dissuade officers from retaining counsel, according to the suit.
City Attorney James F. Penman, whose office drafted the request for council approval of the contract, said the matter was a routine response to a not-uncommon occurrence - legal action against department heads.
"The chief probably has less lawsuits pending against him than his predecessors have in their second years in the position," Penman said.
Still, a flurry of lawsuits in the past few months have brought a landslide of bad press on the chief.
In December, Sgt. Mike Desrochers and Sgt. Steve Lowes filed federal lawsuits accusing Billdt and his direct subordinates of using retaliatory tactics to dissuade rank-and-file officers from filing grievances.
But the biggest blow came from the most recent lawsuit, after which speculation swirled about officers' confidence in the chief.
Now, Lawhead and the union's stance have softened significantly.
Lawhead said he, union Vice President Sgt. Hank Birkes and union attorney Dieter Dammeier met with Billdt and his attorney, James Odlum, last week to work toward resolution.
"We just want a fair deal," Lawhead said. "Most of our membership wants to get back to work. Not many guys want to be involved in politics. They just want to do their jobs."
Fourth Ward Councilman Neil Derry welcomed the news of possible reconciliation Monday.
"We need to have peace between (police) management and our rank and file," Derry said.
A legal battle that eventually cost San Bernardino County almost a half-million dollars began with the suspicion that a top prosecutor would challenge the district attorney in the 2006 election, court documents say.
Grover Merritt, who in December won reinstatement to his old job and a nearly $300,000 settlement, said he was set up to be fired so he would not challenge San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos, the newly released documents say.
Merritt accused Assistant District Attorney Michael Risley of leaking secret documents to the press, with Ramos' approval, so that Merritt could be accused of the leak.
"My reputation is in tatters," Merritt said in a Sept. 13 deposition. "I've been publicly branded as a leaker."
Merritt was named Prosecutor of the Year for 2002, the same year he successfully argued California's "three strikes" law before the U.S. Supreme Court.
But Ramos and Risley say in the same court records that they never considered Merritt a viable candidate for district attorney.
"He would not have been considered a serious threat," Risley wrote. "He had limited political experience, no financial support, no endorsements and limited people skills."
Ramos, re-elected without opposition in 2006, limited his comments to an e-mailed statement when he was asked about the accusation.
"This matter was litigated and resolved last year," Ramos wrote. "We have put it behind us and are moving forward with the important work of the district attorney's office."
Risley, also named in the lawsuit, and Assistant District Attorney James Hackleman, who led the leak investigation, both declined to comment.
Merritt's accusations are contained in almost 400 pages of exhibits in a U.S. District Court file in Riverside. The records came into public view sometime after settlement talks began last year, revealing Merritt's contention that he was set up to be fired for political reasons.
Previously, federal and Superior Court judges, as well as county officials, had blocked the public from most court proceedings and records, citing the sensitive nature of the leaked information and rights to privacy.
The Merritt-Ramos court fight cost San Bernardino County taxpayers at least $444,303, including $297,500 for Merritt's Dec. 21 settlement of his wrongful-termination suit.
The agreement, which also restored Merritt to his previous job as Appellate Services Unit chief, said that neither side admitted fault.
San Bernardino County also paid Redlands lawyer Geoffrey Hopper $146,803 to fight the case for it, county spokesman David Wert said.
In April and May 2004, Valleywide Newspapers, a chain of eight weeklies based in the High Desert, ran stories based on two separate sets of documents. The stories do not say who provided the information.
The first was a death-penalty memorandum about two defendants, Jimmy Dale Kelley and Kimberly Wynn Michaud, charged in a January 2004 triple slaying in Yucca Valley. They are awaiting trial.
District attorney's office officials, including Merritt, said in the court records that the leaked documents were closely held secrets.
"If someone leaked a death penalty memo, if I were king for a day, I would have fired him," Merritt said. "You can't get, I don't think, a more precious document in a local district attorney's office."
The second set of documents included statute-of-limitations research involving former San Bernardino County Sheriff Floyd Tidwell, accused of taking at least 523 guns from property lockers during his years as sheriff. He served from 1983 to 1991.
Tidwell pleaded guilty in May 2004 as part of a plea bargain pledging cooperation. His four felony charges of gun possession were reduced to misdemeanors seven months later.
Publication of the documents violated district attorney's office policies and professional ethics, negatively affected the district attorney's relationship with the Sheriff's Department and could affect possible trials, the court records say.
Hackleman took charge of the leak investigation in May 2004 and, in the court records, writes that Merritt soon became the prime suspect.
"To this day I still believe Merritt is the most likely leak for the information," Hackleman states. "My decision and recommendations regarding dismissal were based entirely upon my good-faith investigation."
The evidence included the reporter, Mark Gutglueck, being in possession of double-sided documents, a practice that Merritt, as head of the appellate unit, instructed his staff to follow to reduce office copying costs.
The articles used quotes with Merritt's speech patterns, Hackleman said, and Merritt had worked with Gutglueck on previous stories.
The investigation focused on Merritt's office phone records, which included a call to Gutglueck at 12:10 p.m. March 29, 2004. The call, which lasted 4 minutes and 55 seconds, was made the day the reporter faced a deadline for one of his stories.
Merritt was "vague and evasive" about the conversation when questioned, Hackleman wrote.
"(Merritt) could not explain what the purpose of the call was or what was discussed," Hackleman wrote. "(His) inability to explain ...was another factor in concluding (Merritt) was the source of the information."
Merritt, citing his settlement, declined to answer questions specifically addressing his court case, but he characterized the call as "no big deal.
"I didn't remember it at the time," Merritt said.
On Aug. 13, 2004, Merritt was served with a "notice of proposed dismissal," which cited him for the leaks as well as disrespectful behavior toward court officials. Records of Merritt's annual job evaluations, included in federal court records, show Merritt received several below-average grades for his inability to work well with office staff and court officials.
Merritt was escorted out of the office.
"1:34 p.m.," Merritt said in a recent interview. "I won't forget that one anytime soon."
The following month, Merritt's attorney provided a sworn statement from Gutglueck saying Merritt was not the source of the anonymous documents, court records say.
Gutglueck declined to comment.
Merritt appealed his termination on Oct. 7, 2004, the day after he was officially fired.
Nine days of hearings before the San Bernardino County Civil Service Commission began the following April. In July 2005, hearing officer Doug Hart ruled that the district attorney's office failed to substantiate the firing.
Hart ordered that Merritt receive his old job and 10 months of back pay.
The ruling said there was no direct evidence proving Merritt was the leak source. The ruling did not say if anyone else in the district attorney's office was the source.
"Evidence also showed many people in the district attorney's office talked to or called phone numbers associated with Gutglueck, including Assistant District Attorney Risley," Hart wrote in his ruling.
Hart noted that Risley had a "long-standing personal relationship" with the publisher of Valleywide Newspapers, Ray Pryke, which included helping Risley win a seat on the Town Council of Apple Valley.
Pryke said recently that he and Risley were close friends, but they have not really talked since 2004 because they were both witnesses in the Merritt lawsuit.
"Risley is a very good prosecutor," Pryke said. "He has good moral values."
He declined to discuss how his newspaper chain obtained the confidential information.
Back to Work
Merritt returned to work in the district attorney's office in August 2005, but as a courtroom prosecutor, not as Appellate Services Unit chief, his previous position.
He viewed his new position as a demotion and a "sham." District attorney's office officials said his previous position was eliminated in an office reorganization.
On Oct. 11, 2005, Merritt filed a federal lawsuit against Ramos, Risley and San Bernardino County on nine grounds, including violating his civil rights, wrongful termination and inflicting emotional distress.
In his lawsuit, Merritt focused on a July 2004 conversation with Ramos at a California District Attorneys Association conference in Napa. The lawsuit states that Ramos boasted about his contacts with Gov. Schwarzenegger and dangled a judgeship in front of Merritt as a "thinly veiled" offer to dissuade him from running in 2006.
Merritt said he found the timing of the conversation odd considering he was already the target of a leak investigation.
Ramos said in the federal court records that he initiated the topic during polite conversation but didn't promise a judgeship.
Merritt said recently that he was only considering running for district attorney and never made a final decision in 2004 to challenge Ramos. He said he does not have a passion for running for office, but he declined to dismiss the possibility outright.
In November, Merritt was elected president of the San Bernardino County Public Attorneys Association, the union that represents nearly 400 prosecutors and public defenders. His duties dealing with the district attorney's office on union issues.
Reach John F. Berry at 909-806-3058 or jberry@PE.com
The conflict between San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos and Deputy District Attorney Grover Merritt lasted more than two years:
2002: Merritt is named Prosecutor of the Year and successfully argues California's "three strikes" law before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Late 2003-early 2004: Rumors and e-mails circulate suggesting that Merritt is considering running for San Bernardino County district attorney in 2006.
May 2004: A top official in the district attorney's office heads an investigation of leaks to the press and identifies Merritt as the likely source.
Early July 2004: Ramos offers to support Merritt in an application for a judgeship.
Aug. 13, 2004: Merritt is escorted out of the district attorney's office and fired two months later.
July 7, 2005: After nine days of hearings, a civil service examiner rules that the district attorney failed to justify Merritt's firing and that Merritt is owed back pay and his old job.
Aug. 1, 2005: Merritt resumes work, but as a courtroom prosecutor rather than Appellate Services Unit chief, his previous position. .
Oct. 11, 2005: Merritt files a federal wrongful-termination lawsuit.
Dec. 21, 2006: Merritt wins nearly $300,000 in a settlement.
Jan. 8: Merritt returns to his old job as the lead deputy district attorney for the Appellate Services Unit.
SOURCE: U.S. District and Superior Court records; San Bernardino County
Sports and alcohol.
Those two dominate when it comes to the gifts San Bernardino County's elected officials receive.
The gifts are outlined in conflict-of-interest forms newly available on the Internet, making San Bernardino County the first in the state to allow public access of the documents online.
It is all supposed to be listed there, from a $65 bottle of cognac and $250 in champagne to a $50 signed football and hundreds of dollars in baseball tickets.
The forms also list sources of income, loans and real-estate holdings as a way for residents to gauge leaders' potential conflicts of interest.
"To me, it is important for us not to hide behind anything," said Supervisor Gary Ovitt, the board's chief proponent in placing the Form 700s online.
Putting the documents online is the latest effort by county leaders to make local government more transparent to residents. The Board of Supervisors' weekly meetings are now shown live over the Internet and campaign finance reports soon go online.
From April 24 through Thursday, the clerk of the board's Web site, which includes links to the webcast and statements of economic interest, had more than 86,000 hits. The Form 700 site had 12,000 hits, according to the county.
In the past, between 200 and 300 people per year would visit the clerk's office to view Form 700s, Ovitt said.
"Twelve thousand in a month's time shows this is a valuable tool," he said.
While the county is making documents available online, it has fought to keep others private. The county denies access to e-mails supervisors write and has fought in court this year to prevent a local newspaper from gaining access to two supervisors' calendars.
Supervisor Josie Gonzales said all county leaders have been "painted with a broad brush" because of past corruption scandals. Putting the forms online "goes a long way toward that transparency we are looking for," she said.
Gonzales, who has released calendars, said she doesn't see any hypocrisy in allowing access to the public documents online but fighting to keep others private. She said the county must protect certain confidentialities and must keep in mind potential liabilities.
Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, said he would have preferred for the county to make campaign finance data available online first.
But allowing access to conflict-of-interest documents is a service to residents, Stern said.
"It gives the public an idea of potential conflicts and that's what this is all about," he said. "It makes the officials much more careful about reporting and reporting everything."
The forms available online cover all of 2006 and are available for elected leaders and other top officials, from supervisors to County Administrative Officer Mark Uffer and chiefs of staff.
So what can one find detailed in the forms?
Assessor Bill Postmus, a former supervisor, accepted the most in gifts of the county's elected leaders, $513.34 worth last year.
The majority, about $378 worth, came in the form of baseball tickets from organizations including Southern California Edison and the investment firm Lehman Brothers. Postmus is an avid Angels fan.
His disclosure form also reports income he received as chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Party. Postmus' income from the party ranged between $10,000 and $100,000. The forms include a range of value, not the exact amount of income.
"He loves baseball and when there is an opportunity when someone invites him to a game, he is going to take it up as a friendly gesture," spokesman Adam Aleman said.
Postmus doesn't "make any promises or commitments" based on tickets to baseball games, Aleman said.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Paul Biane accepted a $65 bottle of cognac from a company called DW Development, a $75 gift basket from the National Community Renaissance; and dinner and Colorado Rockies tickets from the law firm of Best, Best and Krieger valued at $105.62.
Biane also has investments in a host of real-estate and farming interests, including a Kern County farm where he is a partner with his brother.
Ovitt received a $50 signed football and $75 in wine from Dr. James Lally, president of Chino Valley Medical Center. Ovitt also accepted a $150 Chino Hills logo jacket from the city's mayor pro tem, Curt Hagman.
Gonzales accepted $249.99 in champagne, $82 in tequila and $13 worth of candy from DW Development.
Her form, the longest of the five supervisors at 10 pages, outlines interests in her family's restaurant, Mexico Lindo in Fontana, and rental properties in Fontana and Colton.
Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, appointed to the board in January, reported one gift, a $100 gift card from Postmus, his former boss. Mitzelfelt served as chief of staff during Postmus' tenure as a supervisor from 2000 to 2006.
Supervisor Dennis Hansberger last year reported receiving no gifts. His form outlines a property he owns in Fawnskin near Big Bear Lake and lists his wife's medical practice.
Reach Duane W. Gang at 909-806-3062 or dgang@PE.com
Gifts to elected leaders
Statements of economic interest, which detail gifts and sources of income, are now available online for San Bernardino County officials at http://ww.sbcounty.gov/cob. Gifts included:
$50 football to Supervisor Gary Ovitt.
$65 bottle of cognac to Supervisor Paul Biane.
$75 Clipper tickets to District Attorney Mike Ramos.
$249.99 in champagne to Supervisor Josie Gonzales.
$378 in baseball tickets to Assessor Bill Postmus, a former supervisor.
Source: San Bernardino County Form 700s
By The Associated Press
RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A state appellate court has tossed a $3 million judgment against a newspaper publisher in a libel suit brought by the wife of San Bernardino County Sheriff Gary Penrod.
The 4th District Court of Appeal said Hesperia-based newspaper publisher Ray Pryke doesn't have to pay the money to Nancy Bohl, who sued Pryke in 2000 over a series of stories criticizing San Bernardino County's contract with her counseling service.
The stories implied she benefited financially from her intimate relationship with Penrod. She married him in May 2000.
The stories ran in the Hesperia Resorter, Apple Valley News and the Adelanto Bulletin, small weekly newspapers published by Valleywide Newspapers.
In 2005, Superior Court Judge Christopher Warner ruled the articles were libelous. The newspaper said Bohl, a psychotherapist and owner of the Counseling Team, gave Penrod confidential information about sheriff's employees undergoing treatment.
Pryke and reporter Mark Gutglueck have steadfastly defended the stories.
Warner said in his ruling that the articles impugned the integrity and reputation of Bohl and her company.
But the appellate justices ruled on May 4 that Warner abused his discretion when he imposed the judgment against Pryke, who was then under a court order to reveal article sources.
"Pryke had a legitimate argument as to why he was not required to reveal the information, namely, California reporter's shield law," the justices said.
The appeals court sent the case back to San Bernardino County for a new trial.
Pryke said on May 4 that he had rejected an earlier settlement offer that included a retraction and sale of Valleywide Newspapers, his chain of eight weekly newspapers based in the high desert.
"They wanted me out of business," Pryke, 84, said. "And I got a new lawyer."
Bohl's attorney John Rowell said he was disappointed.