Ukiah public defender Barry “The Fish” Melton sent press releases to all Mendo County news media this week misrepresenting District Attorney candidate Norm Vroman’s past troubles with the IRS. KZYX Program manager Teresa Simon read Melton’s libelous statements on the air. Vroman responded by describing Melton’s summary of Vroman’s long, and ultimately losing, battle with the IRS as a “smear campaign”. An embarrassed KZYX management immediately gave Vroman air time to respond to Melton’s attack, which played several times on the station’s Monday morning news broadcasts.
No one at the public radio station bothered to call Vroman. Jim Shields from the Mendocino County Observer and Joe Damian from KUKI radio both had outraged statements from Vroman before the Philo public radio station seemed to be aware it had broadcast a dubious opinion piece under the auspices of news.
KZYX’s manager, Bruce Longstreet, later offered up an awkward excuse for the startling gaffe, explaining, “Those people in the morning are just readers, not reporters.”
Vroman’s rebuttal was also played KZYX’s Monday evening 6pm news.
Melton claims he “just sent out copies of Vroman’s criminal record” beneath a headline that said: “Candidate seeks election as Mendocino County District Attorney despite 14 year record of criminal conduct.” The press release goes on to claim that “Vroman’s campaign advertising touts him as ‘a former police officer, judge, assistant DA and public defender’ without mention of his criminal record or his time in federal prison.”
Vroman countered that his conviction was for five counts of failing to file federal income taxes. “That’s for five years. Fourteen years of criminal conduct, he can’t document that. And he presupposes that I failed to file returns to avoid paying money. If he had looked further, he would see that I only owed $18,000 in taxes for those five years. That’s about $3500 a year. It would have been a lot cheaper and easier to just pay the taxes than to fight it.” Vroman pointed out that his campaign literature from the very beginning gave an account of his conviction of a misdemeanor for failing to file income tax returns that he maintained by law he was not required to file. From his campaign literature, “This was a matter of principal and I spent nine months in a federal prison. It was there that I gained a perspective not available to most District Attorneys… To me it’s one more piece of life experience. I’m not bragging, nor am I ashamed of the stand I took.” Vroman told Teresa Simon and Annie Esposito, who apologized profusely, “It’s dirty journalism — very unprofessional — to run something that is obviously a smear sheet, without checking your sources, without talking to the person who is being smeared.”
The following is a verbatim phone interview with Barry Melton. Why was he so vehemently anti-Vroman, and who he was supporting for District Attorney?
Barry Melton: Vroman didn’t file taxes for 14 years in a row. How public has he been about that?
He said he was convicted for not filing a tax return for five years. It was on principle, as a tax protester.
The release went to the AVA, along with back-up documents. Everybody who gets caught with their hand in a cookie jar, says they’re a tax protester. It’s a common defense. Who was he a public protester to? When he had to defend himself at trial, then he said he didn’t pay taxes for 14 years starting in 1977. Show me a newspaper article from ‘77 where he claims to be a tax protester. I’d like to see it. He was working for the DA’s office and he wasn’t following the law himself.
Sara Jacobelli: Who are you supporting for DA?
Nobody. But I’m particularly unhappy with Vroman, because he personally attacked me as a feature of his campaign. He opened up his campaign by attacking me. I’m not going to stand for it, from anybody. People who live in glass houses… so it goes.
What was he attacking you about?
A quote, in the Mendocino County Observer, from a couple months ago. He personally attacked me. I don’t have a copy at the moment.
Is that why you sent this out?
You asked me who I support for DA? And my answer is nobody. But I’ll tell you who I oppose for DA. The answer is Vroman. I’d think he’d be a disaster for this county. He’s a convicted crook.
But isn’t he in good company; aren’t lots of prominent citizens tax protesters?
That’s campaign spin. Where was he 14 years ago? [getting louder] Was he out in front of the Courthouse saying, “I’m a tax protester!” while he was in the DA’s office? No, he said he was a tax protester when he got caught. And that’s an incredibly important thing to do when you get caught, otherwise you can be charged with criminal intent. Then you’re doing it as a matter of conscience; it’s a much better argument to make in front of a jury.
What about the other two candidates?
I think my feelings about Massini are well known. I wrote many letters about her during the Ron Brown/judge campaign, you can read the AVA letters and come up with an opinion of that. I think Al [Kubanis[ is more conservative than Rush Limbaugh. The field is pretty sad. [louder] Vroman has showed me that he’s capable of personal attacks. He’s an old boy. I believe he’s spinning his IRS problems. [screaming] When a guy deliberately disobeys the law, when he’s in the DA’s office, I got to worry, what law is he going to deliberately disobey this time? Is he going to disobey the obligation to give the defense exonerating evidence about our clients? Who did he tell for 14 years that he was a tax protester? Can he point to something in the record, where he bought advertising? When he was in the DA’s office, under the Joe Allen administration, did he stand out on the Courthouse steps and say, “I’m not filing my taxes, I’m not obeying the law no matter what anyone says!” Let’s not be naive. When you get a guy who selectively obeys the law, how can you trust that guy as DA? Massini and Kubanis, they’re as conservative as all get out. They are not my dream candidates by any stretch of the imagination. Norm’s a damn conservative person himself. Any guy who's been a cop and a DA for a good part of his career, really shouldn’t be posing as someone from the Left.
I don’t think he is. I believe he’s a Libertarian. You couldn’t call him Left or Right.
They’re all Republicans. All three of them. Norm’s about as liberal as, what’s his name, William F. Buckley. Who by the way is for the legalization of drugs. Or Milton Friedman, Nixon’s economist. They’re all a hell of a lot more conservative than I am. What you’re asking me to do is choose between Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, and Steve Forbes. The answer is, I view Pat Buchanan as more dangerous than the others. That’s my answer as far as Vroman. Three Republicans! [screaming] Why was he a tax protester? Did he oppose the war? Which war? Was he marching next to me? I bet you he was wearing a police uniform, beating the shit out of protesters, with a baton in one hand and tear-gas in the other hand.
He said he was protesting the fact that there is not a law that says you have to file taxes, he said, “Show me the law.”
He protested the paying of taxes when he got caught. This guy’s a con. It upsets me that people I respect, and a newspaper that I respect, for it to jump in behind this guy in lockstep. The AVA is the voice of conscience in this county. To want to get rid of Massini so bad; to get rid of George Bush, do you say, “Pat Robertson, that’s my man?”
People are free to disagree, to write letters to the editor.
But the paper takes a slant. Then the paper can hammer you, and you can tell the paper’s slant by the letters they answer and the letters they don’t answer. But of course I have the greatest respect for the paper. I’ll tell you, out of the three, it couldn’t get worse. Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes, which one do you vote for? You could say, at least Buchanan is a populist. That’s another one of those terms, like Libertarian. But I can’t imagine a guy whose trigger finger would be itchier on the red button that triggers the silos, than Pat Buchanan. Probably Pat Robertson would at least pray before he pushed the button. And Steve Forbes would probably weigh the economic consequences; if it’d pay, he’d push it, and if it didn’t pay, he wouldn’t push it. The AVA should be wretching over the rail if this is the choice for DA. But Bruce has every right, after he was thrown in jail by this woman. This county should be fed up to their eyeballs with Massini. [screaming again] But does that mean that if Attila raises his hand and says, “I’ll save Rome!” that we’ve got to elect him? I’m not a nut. The sad thing about it is, nobody I know wants to be a DA. Who wants to be a DA and pound a table, and scream that they should send some pot grower to prison? It takes someone like Kubanis, Massini and Vroman to want to do that.
The release that I sent, I thought it was a reasonable summary of what was in the package. I included a full copy of the indictment, a full copy of the entire sentencing transcripts. I didn’t want anyone to think that I was making up a thing, or distorting the record. It’s important to me that I sent out 30 pages of documentation in support of it. That’s why my release is footnoted. This isn’t a hit piece, this is his record.
But you know what? With Vroman, this tax protesting, it’s all in keeping with his heavy gun thing, his sort of semi-militia consciousness. That’s what they do up in Ruby Ridge. He’s a pretty extreme guy. I got to admit, he’s a consummate politician, he’s convinced liberals to think he’s their candidate. I’m not advocating that we should shoot all the Republicans. This fellow has personally attacked me, and I think he’s spinning his own record. Today, I got a threat from somebody — Well, I better not get into that. What was said to me was not simply uncharitable, it was downright frightening. Opinions can cost people their lives. With a motivated group of supporters.
Note: Norm Vroman is in good company with a long line of American tax protesters, including esteemed San Francisco civil rights attorney J. Tony Serra, who served four months in a federal prison in 1975 for failing to file income tax returns for the previous 17 years. As for Barry Melton, he was spotted in Ukiah last week at the Sports Attic Bar and Grill commiserating in a cozy corner with Mr. and Mrs. Al Kubanis. (Courthouse watchers will remember that Mrs. Kubanis was one of the two hold-outs for a manslaughter conviction in the Bear Lincoln trial.)