Ralph Freedman, The Horizontal Hire

Love is not kind or honest and does not contribute to happiness in any reliable way.

— Alice Munro

Another vivid chapter was written into the big book of Only In Mendocino County last Friday when Mendocino County’s personnel director, Susan “Sue” Campbell, testified that she was sleeping with Ralph Freedman when Mendocino County hired Freedman as the county’s Director of Child Support Services, also known as the Deadbeat Dad Collection Agency. 

Ms. Campbell went to work as the county’s top personnel person two-and-a-half years ago. Freedman was hired two years ago.

Freedman is paid upwards of a $100,000 annually. Legal actions involving him are costing county taxpayers many more thousands of public dollars.

Freedman was in court Friday with a $400 an hour private Santa Rosa attorney to argue that because Mendocino County District Attorney Norm Vroman has filed two misdemeanor criminal charges against him, the State Attorney General’s office should prosecute him, not Vroman. Freedman said Vroman’s charges are retaliation against him because Freedman fired two of Vroman’s investigators.

Mendocino County taxpayers are paying for Freedman’s $400 an hour lawyer, a former Sonoma County public defender named Jamie Thistlewaite. Ms. Thistlewaite works out of Santa Rosa. 

Mendocino County Counsel Peter Klein advised the county’s Board of Supervisors to authorize the funding of a private attorney for Freedman. County Counsel said his office only works civil cases. He didn’t say why the Public Defender’s Office couldn’t defend Freedman at no additional legal fees to Mendocino County.

Klein and the Supervisors, meeting in closed session, approved payment of public funding for Thistlewaite’s extortionately expensive defense of Freedman. As of Friday, the Santa Rosa attorney had run up billings of slightly more than $12,000.

Friday’s all-day hearing before Judge Ron Brown cost local taxpayers many thousands more public dollars. And it’s not over. The farcical case brought by Freedman and his generous Mendocino County employers resumes Monday.

Freedman had been fired from his two previous public administrator jobs at Canyon and Atherton for flipping out on his fellow employees. He was apparently all but unemployable until Ms. Campbell, the married Freedman’s away-from-home love interest, recommended Freedman for the $100,000-plus Mendocino County job. Ms. Campbell said she’d checked her boyfriend’s references herself. What she didn’t mention to Mendocino County’s unsuspecting but now blank-check Freedman-friendly administration was that Freedman’s frequent tantrums at Canyon and Atherton had gotten him fired from both jobs, drawing considerable media interest in the process.

Freedman was soon going off on his Mendocino County employees.

A saggy, 19-strand comb-across guy in his late 40’s, Freedman’s volatility seems to be catnip to the ladies, three of whom — Cheryl Kaeser, Phyllis Delfin and Robin Pronsolino — attended Friday’s all-day Superior Court session in Ukiah while they were supposed to be at work across the street. Freedman’s wife, employed at North Coast Opportunities, and another apparent beneficiary of local public employment’s famously flexible work hours, was also standing by her man at both the morning and afternoon hearings. 

Former DA Susan Massini also sat in on the afternoon session. Massini now works as an attorney in Freedman’s office.

Last April 8th, Freedman became so upset at two county computer services employees, one of them a middle-aged woman, that his ominously threatening tantrum amounted to a psychotic break. He yelled insults, he banged tables, rattled walls, he stamped his tasseled little feet. If he wasn’t the boss, he’d have been fired on the spot, injected with sedatives, wrapped up in restraints, and carted off for observation by the helping professionals at Mendocino County Mental Health.

Freedman later apologized to Ms. Ann Fuller, who he’d screamed at, but by that time District Attorney Norm Vroman had learned that the County’s grievance procedure had magically concluded that Freedman’s flip-out had been harmless. Because the County’s Freedman-friendly personnel lady, Freedman’s girlfriend, and the complaint process had obviously failed to protect two county workers from Freedman’s ominously threatening behavior, Vroman did what any reputable officer of the law would do — he charged Freedman with two misdemeanor counts of disturbing the peace.

Freedman and his tax-paid Santa Rosa lawyer, Ms. Thistlewaite, dug themselves in deeper during the long Friday in Judge Brown’s casual courtroom. Both the chronology of events and Vroman’s prudent decision to have a judge review the Ukiah Police Department’s report on the episode before Vroman filed charges against Freedman clearly belied Freedman’s after-the-fact claims of “personal vendetta” and “retaliation.”

Deputy DA Richard Martin did a masterful job deconstructing Freedman’s allegations that the pending case against him should be forwarded to the State Attorney General because the Mendocino County District Attorney doesn’t like him. Martin calmly established that it was in fact Freedman, not Vroman, who not only began hostilities but pursued them.

Freedman went criminally off on the two county workers on April 8th. Charges were filed against him on May 8th, after the county’s famously inept risk assessment office and its boss-friendly grievance procedure had concluded that Freedman presented no further threat to his employees..

A week after charges were filed, Freedman’s attorney persuaded the court to seal Freedman's case file, but not before several members of the public had read it and had discovered that it also included a Ukiah Police Department report of an alarmingly loud domestic dispute at the Freedmans' home wherein Mrs. Freedman, described as “smelling of alcohol”, had thrown a set of car keys at her husband to punctuate the love birds’ screech fest. This particular domestic drama was performed in the presence of the couple’s five-year old son.

Mendocino County’s free spending board of supervisors quickly voted in closed session on May 8th, the day Freedman was charged with two criminal counts of disturbing the peace, to pay for Freedman's private defense. 

Attorney Thistlewaite, an attractive blonde in her mid-40’s, and a person thus thematically consistent with her client’s energetic love life, had filed a motion to have DA Vroman removed from the case based on an allegation that Vroman has an “adverse pecuniary interest”— i.e., that Vroman is biased against Freedman because Freedman canceled a Child Support Services inter-office contract for two DA’s office investigators.

According to Penal Code Section 1424, which covers motions to disqualify DAs, a motion to disqualify is supposed to include “a statement of the facts setting forth the grounds for the claimed disqualification and the legal authorities” and “shall be supported by affidavits of witnesses who are competent to testify to the facts set forth in the affidavit.” The DA may file an “opposing affidavit.” Then, “the judge shall review the affidavits and determine whether or not an evidentiary hearing is necessary.” A motion to disqualify a DA, according to the penal code, “may not be granted unless the evidence shows that a conflict of interest exists that would render it unlikely that the defendant would receive a fair trial.” 

But there was no “statement of facts...supported by affidavits of [competent] witnesses,” there was only, as Deputy DA Richard Martin pointed out in his opening remarks a personal statement from Mr. Freedman — not the required statement of facts. It was a statement of Freedman’s delusional imagination and replete with “hearsay, opinion and unsubstantiated allegations” confirmed by Freedman’s and his lawyer’s liberal use of the phrase “it is the belief of...”

There were no affidavits from competent witnesses. DA Martin pointed out that the hearing was therefore premature since Section 1424 wasn't being followed. The law clearly says that the judge is supposed to receive and review such affidavits and make a determination that a hearing is even necessary. 

“All we have is unsubstantiated statements and Mr. Freedman's declaration,” Martin declared.

No matter. “We will proceed,” Judge Brown replied casually, sans statements of facts and sans affidavits from witnesses. 

In fact, Judge Brown inadvertently revealed that he had done no homework on the case and was unaware of the law applying to DA disqualifications. Martin referred to the proceedings several times as “a 1424 motion,” to which Brown replied, “I assume you're referring to rules of court?” “No,” replied Martin, “I'm referring to the penal code.”

Hey! This is Mendocino County. We do things different here. Everyone’s all dressed up and present, so on with the show.

Also noteworthy is the basic criteria for disqualification of a DA spelled out in PC1424 — “that a conflict of interest exists that would render it unlikely that the defendant would receive a fair trial.” 

At no time did attorney Thistlewaite make any reference to any alleged “conflicts of interest,” nor did she say anything about Freedman's pending trial or its potential unfairness. The only specific problem she cited on Friday was that the DA's alleged bias would prevent him from offering a plea bargain to Mr. Freedman.

Also conspicuously missing from the proceedings was a basic, agreed-upon chronology of events following Mr. Freedman's office flip out back in April which kicked off the case. The false chronology asserted by Freedman was systematically undone by DA Martin 

Freedman's motion alleges that problems began to develop between him and Vroman soon after Freedman took over Child Support Services in August of 2001, a few weeks after the Child Support Services department had been split off from the DA's office and established as a separate county entitiy as part of a statewide reorganization that was supposed to improve collection rates. 

First, Freedman claims, Vroman refused to “cross-deputize” Freedman's attorneys so they could prosecute their own “720 cases” (criminal prosecutions of non-custodial parents' failures to pay child support). Then, Freedman says, Vroman refused to provide a “detailed accounting” of the time spent serving subpoenas on deadbeats by the two DA's investigators  assigned to Child Support Services under an existing agreement between the two offices that the pair would do the work for Child Support Services. According to Freedman, DA Vroman gave Freedman's requests short-shrift at a meeting held in the DA's office to discuss them. Freedman says Vroman suddenly declared, “This meeting is over,” and walked out. 

Freedman also alleged that the DA's office had three cars assigned to investigators to use only in the pursuit of deadbeat parents one of which Vroman used for some general DA driving. Freedman specifically cited the 1994 Green Crown Victoria as having been held by the DA for missions unrelated to child support. Freedman added that after the DA’s investigator contract was terminated at the end of June 2003, Vroman took two weeks to return the two primary investigators' cars. 

The vehicles, as it turned out, had to be refitted from police cars to civilian cars because Freedman’s office doesn’t enjoy law enforcement status. There was no delay in returning the cars. They were in the county shop being demobilized. And they’re still there. Freedman said he hasn’t picked them up because he doesn’t need them right now.

Freedman's first witness in the attempt to get Vroman off his case was the DA himself. Vroman is deep into his golden years. He walks like he’s got a bad leg and the accrued random physical miseries that come with age and years of combat. He lists to one side and often cups a hand to one ear in response to questions. The DA is vaguely reminiscent of that famously surviving lion in the Kabul zoo in post-Taliban Afghanistan — battered, half-blind but still roaring and dangerous. 

Ms. Thistlewaite grew increasingly testy as her thwarted questioning of the DA dragged on. She was fuming by the time Vroman got off the stand. There were many exchanges like this one:

Ms. Thistlewaite: “How did you communicate with Mr. Freedman?”

Vroman: “In English.”

Thistlewaite began her interrogatory of Vroman by saying that she and her investigator had done a “thorough investigation” and that the DA had to be called because he had made “inaccurate and potentially perjurious” statements about the case; that he knew Mr. Freedman was going to cancel the contract for the two DA investigators when he filed the charges in early May. 

Vroman responded to Ms. Thistlewaite’s rapid fire but premature “Gotchas” with weary Yes’s and No’s, as if it were tiresome of her to waste his time verifying the steps he’d taken to protect Freedman’s employees from Freedman’s deranged outbursts. 

No, he hadn't discussed anything personally with Freedman since the abbreviated meeting in the DA's office. Yes, he’d sent copies of the criminal charges against Freedman, with attachments, to County Administrator Jim Andersen, the Board of Supervisors, County Counsel Peter Klein, Sheriff Tony Craver, as well as state and federal child support services officials. 

Thistlewaite implied that these routine notifications of charges filed against a Child Support Services department head “may indicate an intent to defame.” Thistlewaite emphasized that the packet Vroman sent included a copy of Mr. Freedman's CLETS report -- California Law Enforcement Teletype System document, the contents of which are not normally made public. 

DA Richard Martin, appearing for the DA's office, argued that all this was irrelevant because it had happened after Freedman had canceled the investigators contract with the DA. There was no tit for tat retaliation. There was no evidence that Vroman filed the charges against Freedman because of the contract cancellation because the contract cancellation came after the charges were filed.

Vroman said he'd contacted the county's Human Resources Department head, Ms. Sue Campbell, to request a closed session hearing with the supervisors, telling her that if the Supes didn't do anything about Freedman's job site tantrums, he would. “I told them I would drop the charges if they'd do their job,” said Vroman. “We can't let county employees go around yelling and screaming and pounding on the table and making ceiling tiles bounce up in the air.” 

“Did you say they should fire him?,” asked Thistlewaite.

“I said they should do their job,” replied Vroman, adding that he'd investigated and filed charges because he’d received complaints from two employees, Ann Fuller and Rick Wismar, that Freedman had gone off on them. Vroman testified that he'd had no previous association with either Ms. Fuller or Mr. Wismar.

Vroman added that he still refuses to cross-deputize Freedman's attorneys and that he didn't know of any other DAs in the state who would cross-deputize deputy district attorneys working for two different offices.

Thistlewaite tried to explore the “adverse pecuniary interest” claim, asserting that Vroman must have been annoyed by Freedman's decision to cancel the investigators’ contract and the funding accompanying it of some $200k-$250k per year. Vroman and Martin argued that the investigators' funding loss “was a wash” since the investigators were only used for Child Support Services cases, with no impact on the DA’s basic funding. The loss of the small additional administrative fee of 10% of lead DA investigator Tim Kiely's salary and benefits was “insignificant,” added Vroman.

“I filed the charges because I believed he was guilty,” Vroman said, “not because of any problems with the investigators contract.” 

DA Martin also noted that Vroman had taken the extra step of having a judge review and sign the summons for Mr. Freedman prior to the filing of charges; the normal procedure is to simply file charges and proceed on through the legal labyrinth. 

“Were there any other happenstances which affected your decision?,” asked Martin. “No,” replied Vroman.

Next up was Susan (“Sue”) Campbell, Mendocino County's Director of Human Resources, aka Mendocino County’s Personnel Manager. Ms. Campbell said she was aware that a criminal complaint was likely to be filed soon after Mr. Freedman's on-the-job psychotic episode, implying that she was aware of its ominous severity. If a guy loses it to the extreme that this guy loses it, what’s next, a work place shoot out?

Ms. Campbell said she then met with Mendo’s Chief Administrative Officer James Andersen and they jointly decided to put Mr. Freedman on administrative leave pending a review. Campbell and Andersen then convened the county's “risk management team” which did a “threat assessment” of Freedman’s ability to do workplace harm.

Campbell said she got a call from Vroman after the threat assessment — which apparently came up low risk — asking for a closed session meeting with the Board of Supervisors. In that call she said that Vroman had said that Freedman “should go down the road,” which Campbell took to mean that Freedman should be fired, adding that Vroman had said, “If the county doesn't do something, I will,” or words to that effect. She also said she had received a copy of a domestic dispute report made by two Ukiah Police officers involving Mr. Freedman and his wife, Kimberly Freedman. 

“Kimberly is a friend of mine,” Campbell added. 

“Were you concerned about Mr. Freedman's potential for violence?” asked Martin.

“I'm not sure,” replied Campbell. 

“This was a domestic violence incident between Mr. Freedman and his wife,” continued Martin. 

“I don't know,” replied Campbell, “Psychiatrists should make that determination and I'm not a psychiatrist.” 

Ms. Campbell said the county had ordered a psychiatric review of Mr. Freedman but it's results were confidential, “a personnel matter.” 

“Did you know about any previous violent acts by Mr. Freedman?” asked Martin. 

“We did a reference check before we hired him,” replied Campbell, “and no violations were revealed.”

“Did you check past employers?” asked Martin. 

“I talked to six or seven people who had previously supervised or reviewed his work,” replied Campbell, “but I can't remember who.” 

“Is Mr. Freedman a personal friend of yours?” asked Martin. 

“Yes,” answered Campbell. 

“How close a friend?” asked Martin. 

“We were very close friends before,” replied Campbell, eliciting a noticeable tittering and whispering in the audience, “but we're not as close now. At one point we were very close.”

That point was during the period when Ms. Campbell was checking Freedman’s bona fides, double entendre not deliberate but unavoidable.

Campbell said she was aware that Mr. Freedman had refused to talk to DA Investigator Tim Kiely about the original incident but she didn’t know that a judge had reviewed the DA's case and signed the summons for Mr. Freedman to appear to answer to two criminal misdemeanor complaints. Ms. Campbell also denied that she had any bias in favor of Mr. Freedman, having just confirmed they had been boff buddies at the time of Freedman’s hiring.

“Did you at one time plan to buy property jointly with Mr. Freedman?” asked Martin.

“Yes,” replied Campbell, “but it had no affect on how I handled this situation.”

Of course not.

“Did Mr. Vroman ask you what the board was going to do?” asked Martin.

“Yes,” replied Campbell, “but I didn't answer because it's a personnel matter.” 

In other words, Vroman wanted to know what the county was going to do, but he got no answer and proceeded to file the charges.

As Ms. Campbell left the stand and the courtroom, Al Roman of the DA’s office leapt to his feet and followed her out the door with an unseemly, canine-like haste.

It’s a sexual hot house, this County Courthouse of ours.

Mendocino's Chief Administrative Officer, James Andersen, took the stand. Andersen often resorted to Nixonian evasions like, “We have interactions on some issues,” solidifying an overall impression of fuzzy headedness aimed at concealing the truth. The county’s chief executive revealed everything.

Andersen said he was aware that Mr. Freedman had complaints about the Child Support Services contract with the DA's office. Andersen said he first heard of the possibility of charges being filed against Freedman when he got a call from supervisor David “Back Channel” Colfax (a notorious gossip and a dedicated back biter), at which time he met with County Counsel Peter Klein for a three-way conference call with DA Vroman. 

Andersen said that Klein and he had declined to discuss personnel matters with Vroman, but that they would not interfere with any action the DA wanted to take, adding that neither would they give Vroman an opportunity to speak to the Supervisors about the nut running the deadbeat office in closed session. Andersen also acknowledged that he'd met with the Risk Manager and had done a “threat assessment,” the outcome of which was a, guess what? A confidential personnel matter.

When DA Martin objected to the relevance of Andersen's testimony, Thistlewaite replied, “It is relevant because it shows that if the DA is hell-bent on prosecuting this weak case; he has lost his ability to be fair and to impartially negotiate a plea bargain.”

That's a great argument,” said Martin, “but a judge reviewed the summons. It was not the DA's call.” 

The facts of the case warrant the charges. The county is looking at a post-trial civil action against it by the female victim of Freedman’s unhinged verbal assault on her, and it certainly risks charges from other employees that by failing to act against Freedman the county is maintaining a hostile work environment. Which it is so long as this volatile guy’s in charge.

“Did the DA specifically say he'd hold back on filing charges in exchange for a closed session with the Supervisors?” asked Martin. “Not specifically,” replied Andersen, “but it was strongly inferred.”

After a lunch break Freedman took the stand. 

Freedman, who appeared ready to go off at several points during his stay under oath, said that his office had decided to stop pursuing criminal charges against deadbeat parents because such prosecutions were “not cost effective” and, as a result, the DA investigators function was confined to process service, hence his sacking of them. Freedman said that in light of the state budget deficit he thought he could hire private process servers for less than he was paying the DA's office but he’d made only preliminary inquiries about relative costs. Freedman confirmed his complaints about cross-deputization, the allegedly tardy return of the three vehicles, and the refusal of the DA to require the two process servers to account for their time. Freedman said Vroman had told him that such an accounting would be too cumbersome, too much paperwork for people already buried in it.

Freedman also said he'd checked with 14 other DA's offices and “a number of them” cross-deputize Child Support Services attorneys. He said that he was sitting on a $53,000 bill from the DA's office for the final quarter of investigator work from April through June of 2003 (after which the contract ended) because he had not promptly received the two investigators' cars and the keys to them quickly enough and because he had not received an accounting for the last month's investigator time. Freedman confirmed he hadn’t checked with the county’s motor pool to see if the vehicles had in fact been returned. (They had.) 

Freedman said his relationship with the DA was “frigid,” and that the DA didn't acknowledge him at county meetings. Freedman added that he first told the two DA's investigators of the possibility that their contract might be canceled in early 2003.

Under cross-examination from DA Martin, Freedman said that two-thirds of his funding comes from the feds and one-third from the state. He said there was a time when Child Support Services funding included an incentive for improved collections but that it no longer did. Instead, Freedman explained, there are federal “performance measurements” which can involve funding reductions but, in Freedman's experience, typically involve only a demand that corrective action be taken. Freedman admitted that his “experience” in the Child Support collections business was limited to his tenure as Mendocino County’s Child Support Services director — prior to his arrival in Mendocino County via his girl friend in the top slot at the county’s personnel office, Freedman said he’d had “zero” experience in collections.

As for the “720 prosecutions” of dedicated deadbeats, Freedman said his  office was “not generating any new criminal prosecutions.” Martin asked why. Freedman replied that it wasn't cost-effective, adding, “They can't pay if they're in prison.” But Freedman said he was “not aware of any statistics” backing up his decision to stop prosecutions of deadbeats. 

“Have collections gone up or down?” asked DA Martin.

Freedman said they've been “flat” since he took over, adding that it seemed to him that his attorneys did all the case prep work “and then we had to pay the DA's office for prosecution.” 

“Maybe the threat of jail would convince people to pay,” said Martin. “Do you have the statistics? Do you know if not prosecuting 720 cases is really cost-effective?” 

“I don't know,” replied Freedman.

Martin asked Freedman how much the disputed Crown Victoria was worth. “About $4,000,” said Freedman. “Are you saying then that the DA filed these charges because of a $4,000 car?” asked Martin. “Yes,” Freedman said, “it was one of the issues.”

Martin then asked Freedman about his complaint that it took the DA two weeks to return the two investigators' cars to the General Services yard. 

“Have you picked them up?” asked Martin. 

“There's no need right now,” replied Freedman. 

“So you're saying you had to have the Crown Victoria back but there's no need for the investigators’ cars?” 

Freedman didn’t answer. 

Martin asked Freedman if he knew that since the two investigators' cars were law enforcement equipped — lights, siren, radios, etc. — it would take some time to have them returned to a civilian configuration. “No,” Freedman replied.

Freedman also admitted that although the contract between Child Support Services and the DA had a provision for either party to withdraw from it on 60 days notice, and even though Mr. Freedman had complaints about the arrangements going back to 2002, it took Freedman until Spring of 2003 to declare he wanted out. His declaration just happens to coincide with his office attack.

Freedman said that the state ended up cutting his budget by $4.4% or about $150,000, part of which he hoped to make up by switching to private process servers since the contract with the DA was his largest outside expense. 

Freedman testified that he’d told Deputy County Administrator Bruce Mordhorst that he was considering using private process servers as a cost-saving measure as far back as 2002. 

“Haven't you made improvements to the Child Support Services building and grounds, amounting to around $250,000?” Martin asked Freedman. 

“Yes,” replied Freedman.

“And yet at the same time you're canceling a contract worth about that much because of the state's budget problems?” asked Martin.

Freedman said that the building and grounds improvements were funded in the prior year, suggesting that the quarter of a million facelift couldn’t be un-funded the following year. 

“When did you find out about the criminal investigation?” Martin asked Freedman. 

“It was about ten days after the incident,” replied Freedman, “so that'd be April 17th or 18th” — two weeks before Freedman made the official decision to cancel the contract with the DA's investigators. “Yes,” added Freedman, “I think the contract was canceled before the charges were filed.”

It wasn’t. It was cancelled after charges were filed against him. If there was any “hostility” from Vroman for Freedman it wasn’t evidenced by the contract cancellation. 

Martin asked Freedman if he thought DA Vroman had any personal hostility towards him. “Has Mr. Vroman ever insulted you? Has he ever used abusive language?” 

“I think he feels differently towards me based on the issues that were raised and has differences,” replied Freedman. “Since he left that meeting [at the DA's office] it's been a sore subject.”

“Has he used profanity? Has he pounded the table? Has he screamed at you?” asked Martin.

“No,” answered Freedman.

“Does being aware that a judge signed off on the summons change your opinion of the DA acting in a heavy-handed way toward you?” asked Martin.

“It's the way it was handled,” replied Freedman. “And the way the investigation was handled, and his not dealing with the issues I brought up.”

“So are you saying you did nothing wrong and the DA only filed charges because of the problems with the contract?” Martin asked.

At which point Ms. Thistlewaite jumped up and objected, saying this question was not relevant to whether or not the DA was biased. 

Martin argued that Freedman was accusing the DA of bias, and since Freedman had taken the stand to make the allegations he should answer questions about his own behavior and motives. 

Judge Brown sustained Thistlewaite's objection. 

Neither side had anything further so Brown, saying he didn't have any more time Friday afternoon, scheduled the final arguments on the question of Vroman’s alleged bias against Freedman for Monday, August 4 at 8:30am. 

NOTES

On July 18, Mendocino County paid attorney Thistlewaite $12,023.41 for her defense of Freedman even though state law explicitly prohibits payments for criminal defense of a county employee if the county employee acted out of malice — the precise charges in this case as confirmed by the judge prior to their filing.

Last Friday afternoon, the County Auditor refused to release copies of Ms. Thistlewaite's bill because Bert Gieseman of the Mendocino County Counsel's office told the auditor that information on the bill might somehow “jeopardize the case.” 

Courthouse scuttlebutt has it that Ms. Thistlewaite is getting upwards of $400 an hour. If Ms. Thistlewaite's investigator is getting somewhere close to $150 an hour, which is rumored to be the case, factor in phone bills and travel expenses, conferences with the accused and so forth the $12,023.41 (down to the penny) could be easily racked up in a week. (30 x 400 = $12,000).

In addition to basic court costs, last Friday's farce of a disqualification hearing probably cost local taxpayers at least — say 8 x $400 = $3,200 for Thistlewaite + 8 x $150 = $1,200 for investigator Reynolds — $4,000. Add in court time for the public attorney, the judge, the court reporter, lost work time for the three witnesses employed by the county and we’re looking at the mother of all cash outflows for two misdemeanor charges. And a trial date hasn’t even been set, and can’t be set until this bogus jurisdictional dispute is resolved.

The county’s risk assessment office strikes again! These people are supposed to reduce county costs, not increase them.

And in the unlikely event that Freedman succeeds in disqualifying DA Vroman for “a conflict of interest” (as the law calls it, not for “bias”) then the County will pay a lot more to defend a dangerously wacky department head who shouldn't have been hired and wouldn’t have been hired if he hadn’t been sleeping with Mendocino County’s personnel director.

The County Courthouse seems an unlikely sexual venue, but given the number of fetchingly attired females and bay rum-soaked males roaming its courtrooms and hallways, the place is virtual carnival of barely repressed carnality. At Friday’s hearing, Mrs. Freedman frequently bent herself in half over the courtroom rail, deliberately thrusting her ample rear end provocatively in the faces of spectators as she chatted with her husband during breaks in the proceedings.

No male supporters of Freedman’s were present nor have any been heard from in letters-to-the-editor. A female Freedman cheerleader has declared in print that almost all his employees — reportedly 43 of them — believe he’s being persecuted by DA Norm Vroman.

While Freedman and his brittle-blonde Santa Rosa attorney argued that Freedman’s clearly retaliatory firing of two DA’s investigators was a cost savings move, they simultaneously implied that because the $250,000 of architectural cosmetology had been budgeted in a prior fiscal year it couldn’t be un-budgeted in the leaner fiscal year which followed.

The supervisor’s secret vote to fund Freedman’s defense out of public funds was so well hidden in the board minutes of May 8th that their clerk was unable to find it. With County Counsel Peter Klein’s blessings, the supervisors had obviously tried to conceal what amounts to a very large gift of public funds, a gift that just keeps on giving, as Freedman’s fortunate private Santa Rosa attorney can confirm. We found the sneak authorization only because we had Freedman’s criminal case number against which we matched the approximate date of the authorization:

“Public Report of Action Taken in Closed Session on May 6, 2003: (Off-Agenda Item/Government Code Section 54956.9.(b) Approved Request for Legal Representation in Mendocino County Superior Court Case No. MCUK-CRNT-03-543-02.”

The supervisors are still trying to hide aspects of their magnanimous gift to their embattled department head, Mr. Freedman. The county auditor’s office told us Friday that County Counsel had instructed them not to release copies of the $12,000-plus bills and checks already dispatched to Ms. Thistlewaite, Freedman’s attorney. “Sorry. County Counsel says this is an ongoing matter and we can’t give you the copies you want. They say it might jeopardize the case.” We’ll have to file a freedom of information writ to obtain what is certainly public information.

Additionally, we’ve filed a writ of mandamus aimed at preventing the county from paying out tax money for the private defense of their errant bureaucrats. But that writ, although it was filed two weeks ago on Thursday the 17th of July, was still with the judge awaiting His Majesty’s signature as of 2:30pm Monday, July 28th. Urgency being the whole point of the thing, it belatedly occurred to us Monday that the judge, probably Henderson, was trying to figure out ways to deny us a hearing.

To get our writ off Henderson’s obstructing desk, we hustled over to Ukiah on Monday afternoon hoping to get to the court clerk’s office before its new closing time of 2pm, to get him off our case. We’ve devoted many hours of our time and roughly $500 we don’t have in filing fees to get our case against the county in front of an honest judge, a longshot in this county in the best of times and an even longer shot when it’s filed by this newspaper.

But every slo-mo drunk driver, impaired senior, spaced out hippie van, and 1940 log truck seemed to be headed east on the Boonville Road at the same time. A trip that ordinarily takes 30 minutes took us an hour and fifteen minutes. 

The clerk’s office was closed. All we could do was scribble a craven plea to Tanya Ugrin-Copacabana to grab our disqualification of Henderson out of the deposit bin behind the door slot we’d sent our signed disqualification form and sprint it to Henderson’s desk so a judge other than him might consider it. Our disqualification was shoved through the slot in the clerk’s door at exactly 2:30pm, Monday, July 28th. 

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