How the charges arose – A reporter’s opinion


The criminal charges against Remy O’Neill and the Road Worriers arose out of the last election campaign, in April 1996, when the three major candidates for city council, then-Mayor Jeff Jennings, Planning Commissioner Harry Barovsky and Planning Commissioner Tom Hasse, running for the two open seats, clashed in a heated campaign . Hasse edged out Jennings by 29 votes amidst charges by the Jenning’s camp of multiple campaign violations by the Hasse group. Hasse’s group countered that the complaints were just that, the complaints of a disgruntled loser unhappy with the people’s decision at the polls.

Following the election, the Malibu city attorney, responding to complaints, opened an investigation to determine if the campaign laws of the city of Malibu had been broken. At about the same time, the Fair Political Practices Commission of the state of California was reported to have begun an investigation to determine if there had been any violation of the state of California campaign laws. Both investigations were conducted simultaneously, one by the FPPC and the other by Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin.

The battle over the city investigation broke out into the open in June 1998, when Hogin went to the Malibu City Council and asked for permission to hire an outside lawyer to investigate allegations of fraud in the previous April’s municipal election. The city investigation concerned a Political Action Committee (PAC) called the Road Worriers, run principally by Remy O’Neill, a Malibu resident and political activist and a former campaign manager for Councilwoman Carolyn Van Horn. Because this investigation related to his council campaign, Hasse recused himself and said he would not participate in any decisions relating to the investigations. His withdrawal on the issue left the council split, with Keller and Van Horn on one side and Barovsky and House on the other. Since it took three votes for any action, the council was effectively deadlocked on the issue.

Keller, Van Horn and their supporters charged that the investigation was a witch hunt and were incensed that Hogin would neither give them the details of the investigation nor reveal who was being investigated, Hogin stating it would be unethical for her as a prosecutor to do so, nor could she give them a date for completion of the investigation. Finally, in a 2-2 vote, they refused to let Hogin hire outside counsel, which meant she had to continue on without outside help or drop it. She chose to continue on.

In June and July 1998, at council meetings and in the letters to the editor in both local papers, the battle raged. Hogin was regularly trashed by Keller and Van Horn and their supporters at the council meetings and in the press.

In early July, Keller tried to block Hogin from going on vacation until she finished the investigation, but the motion failed in a 2-2 vote in the deadlocked council. A second Keller motion to make Hogin report to the council five days before she left on vacation also died in a 2-2 vote.

Later in the fall, Keller, Van Horn and Hasse began to scrutinize Hogin’s work habits, and Keller made a motion, which passed, requiring Hogin to prepare and turn in time records every week. Keller said he was not singling out Hogin for selective treatment; however, it was pointed out that she was the only city department head required to do so.

Meanwhile, there were persistent rumors that state investigators were in town and looking into the activities of another group, “Malibu Citizens for Less Traffic on PCH,” run by Gil Segel, who also had been active in Malibu city politics.

In November, Hogin was given a performance evaluation by the council, which normally happens every six months, except that this evaluation began in November, again in January, three times in February and several additional times before concluding in May. When asked about this, Keller said, “It’s not a plot” and “It’s unrelated to any investigations.” The term “harassment” was used by some about the way Hogin was being treated, and the situation grew noticeably tenser.

In March it took another turn, and the City Council hired an outside lawyer from the tony law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, a $420-per-hour specialist in representing defendant companies and municipalities in job-related lawsuits, including claims involving employment discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful termination. House and Barovsky protested they didn’t know why the lawyer was being hired and what she was supposed to do, and Van Horn accused them of essentially grandstanding.

Next, in late April, a five-count criminal misdemeanor complaint was filed by attorney Paul Fix with the firm of Dapeer, Rosenblit & Litvak, the city contract prosecutors who try city cases. The defendants are Remy O’Neill, an individual, and the Road Worriers, a California campaign committee. The matter is now headed for court.