The FPPC strikes back


You may remember where we left the story last week. Gil Segel, our hero or villain — depending on whom you ask or which newspaper you read — is headed for court Friday to try to block the California Fair Political Practices Commission from taking his statement under oath or having a look at the bank records of his group, “Malibu Citizens for Less Traffic on Pacific Coast Highway” (MLCT).

Inquiring minds are beginning to wonder what could conceivably be in his head or in those records that is so sensitive, but that answer may come Friday in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Robert O’Brien, in downtown Los Angeles.

The papers filed by the state in support of its position give us a peek at what might be in there.

To recap, apparently just before the last City Council election there were several newspaper ads placed in the Malibu Surfside News. Their gravamen were all pretty much the same — that there is too much traffic on PCH and it’s pretty much all Jeff Jennings’ fault because Lord knows he loves traffic and votes for it at every opportunity.

The ads explained that Jennings voted for nine projects that Walt Keller and Carolyn Van Horn opposed. Four of the ads were placed by MCLT (supposedly an educational group, which meant if it really was an educational group, it could collect money without limit and also keep the names of its donors secret). Those four ads looked remarkably similar to several of the other ads that seemed to advocate defeating Jeff Jennings, and the state obviously believed that this was no coincidence and launched an investigation of possible campaign chicanery.

Here are here accusations the state made in its recently filed court documents:

It accuses MCLT of running so-called educational ads where “most of the information . . . was either patently false or very misleading.”

It accuses the group of manipulating the rules so that, “It appears that this ‘misinformation’ was carefully crafted into those four ads weeks before the April 14 election in an attempt to avoid the City’s $100 contribution limits and the Act’s reporting requirements.”

The state accuses the group of being somewhat less than forthcoming about the activities of the group and persons associated with the group. Apparently, the group’s counsel has repeatedly refused to have witnesses answer any questions on the grounds of the members’ rights of privacy, which is the reason the state says the subpoenas should issue.

It accuses the group of being less than cooperative in the investigation, arguing, “FPPC investigator Richard McSherry made attempts to personally serve Mr. Segel in Malibu but was unsuccessful. Thereafter the subpoenas were given to Jeffrie Madland, a paralegal employed by the city of Malibu [who incidentally works for the Malibu city attorney Christi Hogin] who made several attempts to serve Mr. Segel at his home and office. Ms. Madland eventually served Mr. Segel at the Malibu city offices.”

It accuses Segel and MCLT of collecting money from people who believed it was for a political purpose — to support Tom Hasse’s candidacy, which, if true, would definitely be a “No No” since it was an educational group and not allowed to collect campaign money.

Two new, prominent names emerge in the papers filed with the court. One is Jack Roth, president of an advertising agency, who initially told the commission investigation he had given a check for Tom Hasse’s campaign at the request of his neighbor Gil Segel, which turned out to be a $500 check to “Malibu Citizens.”

Another was movie producer Robert Chartoff. According to the state’s brief, “[I]n early in spring of 1998, Gil or Joanne Segel solicited a check from him and spoke to him about the campaign and Tom Hasse. He declined to give further information about the Segels who he said were his friends, but he voluntarily agreed to provide Investigator McSherry with a copy of the check. Mr. Chartoff later retracted this offer and subpoenas were issued. When interviewed under subpoena, Mr. Chartoff stated that the check dated February 18, 1998 was for $500 and was made out to MCLT. He stated that Gil Segel told him the money was for a committee he was forming to deal with traffic problems on PCH and that he was going to place advertisements in the newspaper. Mr. Chartoff further stated that following Mr. McSherry’s first visit in September 1998, he called Gil Segel who said that Mr. Chartoff did not have to give the check to Mr. McSherry and that Mr. Segel preferred that he not do so. On the date of the subpoenaed testimony, Mr. Chartoff called Mr. Segel who said to ‘go ahead and give them the check.’ Mr. Chartoff provide a copy of his $500 check written to MCLT.”

The FPPC summed up the thrust of its argument as follows, and I quote directly from their court documents: “There are several connections between the MCLT [Malibu Citizens for Less Traffic], Gil Segel, Joanne Segel, Road Worriers, Remy O’Neill, Carolyn Van Horn and Walt Keller in their efforts to defeat incumbent Mayor Jeff Jennings and elect Tom Hasse. The connections appear in the use of the same theme and specific words in the six ads placed in the MSN [Malibu Surfside News], as well as in the Road Worriers video, the Jack Lemmon letter, and the anonymous ads of John Benton, Paul Beck and Brian Fox.”

I called the group’s attorney, Brad Hertz, and left a message requesting a copy of his court filings and any statement, if he chose to make one. As we went to press Tuesday afternoon, Hertz called back to say his documents had been filed with the court and the Malibu City Attorney and they were pretty much self-explanatory. Unfortunately, the documents were not available at press time.

P.S. Coincidentally, the City Council has scheduled another performance evaluation of City Attorney Christi Hogin for this Friday at 2 p.m. in closed session. This is the sixth or seventh evaluation, it’s hard to remember exactly how many, since last November, with apparently no end in sight.