Character Assassination Misfires: Pettibone Withdraws from Council Race with Grace and Class


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For anyone wondering how ugly, brutal, and desperate politics in Orange County could get, we learned a yesterday with the attempted character assassination of Doug Pettibone, who two months ago became a candidate for Anaheim City Council with the support and endorsement of Mayor Tom Tait.  Pettibone countered a vicious (and for all we know false) smear by his critics by simply rising above it — with a response that his critics may never have imagined and that, judging from the subdued reaction of paid thug Matt Cunningham, has caught them flat-footed.

Pettibone Character Assassination Attempt (green)

Being smeared with a stream of unfair charges is messy — but the good news is that it washes off.

Pettibone yesterday sent this letter to the Anaheim City Clerk’s office — and if one ever wanted to judge his character, this would be a great place to start:

Subject: Doug Pettibone’s Withdrawal as Candidate for Anaheim City Council

Dear Madam Clerk and City Candidates:

It is with regret that I have decided not be a candidate for Anaheim City Council in 2014 and that I withdraw as a candidate. 

I chose to run for what I believed were the right reasons and I believe I am withdrawing for the right reasons.

As you know I love Anaheim having been a resident here since 1964 and I want to see Anaheim become the best city it can be. I wanted to be part of that process.  

As many of you know I am not a career politician and I was not fully aware that my life would become the subject of public scrutiny to the level it appears to becoming perhaps for others political gain.

Sixteen (16) years ago I was involved in a custody dispute with my now ex-wife. Although this was a time of brokenness in my life, since that time we have lived in harmony together and along with my current wife Claire we have jointly raised a fantastic son through all our combined efforts.

My ex-wife has enthusiastically endorsed my current campaign for Anaheim City Council. She even signed my nomination papers and currently has a yard sign for my campaign in her front yard. She has also assisted with the campaign in other ways.

Last night, for the first time, it was brought to my attention that certain matters that occurred during this custody proceeding sixteen (16) years ago will become public and will be used against myself and perhaps even the Mayor to attack our candidacies.

Please allow me to be frank. I have done some things and said something involved in that custody dispute which I am not proud of but which did occur and which I take full responsibility for.  For some reason I believed these records were private and perhaps I was overly hopeful that these issues were so far back in time that they would not or even could not be used against me. I never dreamed they could have been used against the Mayor. In fact I did not even believe these records were made available to the public. Had I known these issues, which occurred sixteen (16) years ago, could and would be used against me in this campaign I would have disclosed them to the Mayor upfront before he made the decision to endorse my candidacy. In fact, as I informed the Mayor today I was informed all the claims made against me involving those proceedings had not only been resolved and dismissed but were not available to the public. I recall even attempting to get the records myself on line and was unable to do so. This was another reason I did not tell The Mayor about these events.

It is not uncommon when someone goes through a custody/dissolution proceeding that they rededicate their lives to their faith. I did just that. It was a result of this renewed dedication of faith that my faith grew so strong I even later entered the ministry as a hospice chaplain and a compassion volunteer. I know of others who have experienced this renewal following times of trial and tribulations.

 I believed it was this rededication that gave me compassion to be a leader of Anaheim along with my sense of justice as an attorney and my dedication to those in need. In the end, I believe the Mayor endorsed the man I am today and not the man I was sixteen (16) years ago.

Unfortunately, like some of us who did not align themselves to be a career politician I have a past I cannot shake although perhaps an argument could be made it has made me the person I am today.

I simply cannot allow all these old issues to be brought to the surface again and to be relitigated. To allow this to happen and for me to have to spend most, if not all of my energy on setting the record straight, while all the while knowing how these types of things can be used against me is something I must now come to terms with.

For those who brought the issue forward, I at least owe them the respect of allowing me to withdrawal gracefully when I am sure other more vicious means could have been used. For that I suppose I am grateful in many respects.

But in the end it is my family I am most concerned about and the potential effect this would have upon them when we all thought this was behind us. So I must try to mitigate that potential damage to them. Withdrawing seems to be the only option.

 It was a difficult decision and one that I had to make rather fast so if it is at all possible I would request our family be allowed time to heal from this issue.

 Thank you. 

Doug and Claire Pettibone

Orange County politics is for the most part sorely lacking in honesty, grace, and class.  Reading Pettibone’s letter is almost physically bracing, because it brims with all three.  It doesn’t seem like something that could emerge from the festering pools of Orange County politics — can you even imagine Kris Murray or Gail Eastman or Lucille Kring ever writing something this personal, self-critical, and deeply introspective? — and, of course, in effect it hasn’t.  As Pettibone says, he is not a politician; he has not trimmed the story his life — or at least the perception of his life — to become one.  (If he had, you’d expect hush money to be paid and God knows what else.)  Here are some thoughts.

1.  We have allegations from a political hatchet job — and they can’t even be verified as true

Because other bloggers — such as Cunningham and his friend Dan “Chumley” Chmielewski of once respectable The Liberal OC, have been running around brandishing this story gleefully — let’s address one point right up front: We don’t even know if the central allegation is true.

We know that Pettibone, in the middle of a custody battle with his then-wife over their infant son, said or did some things that he isn’t proud of and don’t meet the standards he has since set for himself.  And, pretty clearly, he feels guilty about that lapse — especially because he and his first wife are now apparently on good terms and have jointly raised a fine son — and guilty as well over not informed Tom Tait about it before agreeing to run for City Council.

But we don’t actually know what that lapse is.  Seriously — take a look at the reports and look carefully for any facts in evidence.  The allegation is that, back in 1998, Pettibone was charged with domestic battery; if so, that charge was dropped.  The further allegation is that he was charged with assault, and pleaded guilty — but we don’t even know if THAT is true!  The record was apparently sealed or expunged or otherwise hidden away where not even Pettibone himself was able to locate it — and THAT is something that longtime Republican activist Lisa Lewis, whose letter ignited the character assassination attempt, can and should be asked to explain.

How and where did she obtain it?  How do we know that it wasn’t tampered with?  Pettibone’s signature is readily available on court documents; if I wanted to generate a signed confession of his shooting  John F. Kennedy — no one suspects a four-year-old! — I could slap one together without much more work than the graphic you see above.  Did he ever actually admit to assault — meaning something beyond the heated arguing that often accompanies acrimonious breakups and especially custody battles?  Did he ever actually plead guilty to anything?  How can this be verified?  Pardon me, but having seen the lengths to which the Anaheim cabal will go to retain their position as, in Kris Murray’s terms, “Masters of the Universe,” I’m not going to take the word of some political apparatchik as gospel.  Neither should readers or Anaheim voters.

2.  But if Pettibone wasn’t guilty, why is he withdrawing from the campaign?

One reason — the lesser reason — is because, as a matter of pure politics, he can.  When he was recruited for the race, it was not clear that Dr. Jose Moreno — the community leader, not the county employee who makes his living denying people their benefits — would be running for office.  The best thing that Murray and Eastman had going for them in this campaign — aside from gazillions in “independent” expenditures from the Resort Vampires at SOAR-PAC — was the fact that Vanderbilt, Pettibone and Moreno were going to split the main opposition vote three ways, while they would only split it two ways.  Now that has changed.  Pettibone may still get some votes, but one robocall letting the public know that he has withdrawn and will now support Dr. Moreno  and Tait Slate colleague James Vanderbilt and will cure most of that problem.

Tait is very likely to be re-elected as Mayor, but he needs two votes elected with him to stop the Curt Pringle-ordered boondoggles for which Lucille Kring and Jordan Brandman will continue to vote next year.  Vanderbilt is likely to take one of those two spots — so Cunningham and others may be right that Pettibone’s withdrawal makes Dr. Moreno the de facto third member of the slate that will take on Murray and Eastman.

This isn’t the result of politics, but of simple process of elimination.  Who else is could it be?  Not the faker Jose “JoJo” Moreno #2; not aggressively reformist Donna Acevedo, whom I’d really enjoy seeing on Council if she had the ability to overtake Vanderbilt; not the eighth original candidate, who already withdrew.  Vanderbilt and Dr. Moreno — already congenial School Board colleagues, let’s remember — are the only two remaining candidates who would oppose boondoggles and stand a chance of winning.  That they’re of different political parties is unusual — but, hey, that hasn’t gotten in the way of the pro-boondoggle team of Murray and Brandman.  So this isn’t how people expected this race to turn out — but if anything Pettibone’s withdrawal, by reducing the degree of his splitting the vote, will make the defeat of both Murray and Eastman more likely.

But if if it were simply a matter of political considerations, there’s no way that Pettibone would have withdrawn.  He had made a promise to run.

Pettibone may not be a professional politician, but he’s a smart political observer.  He knows very well that, with early voting set to begin in two weeks, this story about him would take up all of the oxygen in the room.  Rotten scoundrels — that’s a euphemism — would try to hold his supposed deficiencies against Tait, not because they thought that they would beat Tait but because they wanted to reduce the potency of his endorsements for City Council.  And his family — ex-wife, son, and second wife, would have to suffer through what he calls the “relitigation” of all of this Chumley-gratifying unpleasantness.  His closing the door on his campaign means that while the boondoggle squad can still try to attack him this way, they will look ten times worse for piling on than they would have looked before.  And, worse for them, it won’t even work.

Pettibone’s withdrawal is fundamentally because he did not inform Tom Tait, prior to agreeing to run, of this painful episode in his past.  From the very moment of the letter containing the leak — twice in the first three paragraphs, in fact! — it was being used as a means of attacking Tait’s judgment.  (We’ll get to that letter below.)  By taking full responsibility for the lapse, he clears Tait’s record entirely.  That’s so honorable that it may leave most observers of Anaheim politics rubbing their eyes, questioning if they really did just see what they saw.  Pettibone is standing tall, taking his lumps, and showing himself to be an example of repentance and redemption.  That his wife is standing by him — and that his ex-wife is supportive of him — says volumes about his character.

But let’s be honest about something else: if Pettibone erred at all, it was in trusting that a sealed court record would stay sealed — and that it did not is what really demands investigation at this point.  (This presumes for the sake of argument that he did plead guilty — or more likely it would be “nolo contendre” — to assault.)  That’s supposed to be a reliable promise — and it was apparently reliable enough that he couldn’t even get access to the records himself.  If he actually didn’t accept a plea on the assault charge — alleged assault charge — then he really had nothing or almost nothing that he should have told Mayor Tait about.

But that wouldn’t matter, of course — and that’s the point.  There’s a phrase that describes the situation in which Pettibone finds himself here: “Caeser’s Wife.”  Julius Caeser dumped his wife Pompeia not because she engaged in wrongdoing, but because she acted in such a way as to make it plausible that she might have done so — and Caeser required his wife to be above suspicion.  Pettibone is — rather remarkably — holding himself to this same high standard.

3.  And the ghouls show their true faces

Of course, this sort of event also brings out the ghouls.  For example here’s The Liberal OC’s Chumley, showing his overwhelming lack of grace and class:

The Liberal OC has learned that Tom Tait’s hand-picked city council candidate Doug Pettibone has withdrawn his candidacy for the Anaheim City Council’s race stemming from domestic battery charges in the late 1990s.

Not quite, Chum.  The letter by Anaheim resident Lisa Lewis, which I’m not reproducing here in full, says that battery and domestic battery charges against him were dropped; it alleges only that Pettibone pleaded guilty to a charge of assault — which does not require violent bodily contact — which was apparently sealed or expunged.  Pettibone was and remains a member of the Bar in good standing and — to the extent that he did anything that could have violated any law — appears to be a model of rehabilitation.  But, illegal or not, Pettibone is clearly remorseful about some aspects of his own behavior during his custody battle.  My guess is that the Doug Pettibone of today would be the first to tell the Doug Pettibone of 1998 to get some help — and to the first to stand with him while he did so.  This isn’t to minimize the seriousness of (alleged) assault, but only to note that people who offend can pay the price for their misconduct and come out the better for it.

Pettibone is very gracious, in his letter in not coming out swinging against Lewis, recognizing her right to make such charges against him without consequences.  But thanks to Chumley, that cat is already out of the bag.  What’s clear from the letter is that its real target is Mayor Tait — Pettibone is simply collateral damage, and the feelings of his current wife, his first wife, and their son are not even considerations.

Some political operatives — like hit men who can murder in cold blood — are celebrated for not letting human decency get in the way of their job as character assassins.  I’ll pull my punches against Lisa Lewis here as well, in deference to Pettibone’s sentiments, but I sure would like to ask her some questions.  Such as:

  1. How did she come to have the knowledge required to write this letter?
  2. Specifically, how did she get access to publicly unavailable court records — or whatever evidence she obtained?
  3. What if any steps did she take to verify the legitimacy of this evidence — or did she care whether she was being duped?
  4. Who helped her write her letter — as it completely stinks of Political Consultant?
  5. Who put her up to, or encouraged her to, releasing it?
  6. Can she point to anything she’s written, or any activity she’s engaged in, that suggests that Domestic Violence is a major issue of interest to her?  Maybe she can.  It would be nice if she could.  Given that half of her letter is taken up with a discussion of football player Ray Rice, misapplied statistics regarding spousal abuse, and noting that we’re soon entering Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it would be VERY UNFORTUNATE if she simply latched onto these things as the hook for a political attack against someone else.  As a Domestic Violence advocate, if she is one — rather that simply regurgitating points cynically prepared by someone else — she should certainly agree that it diminishes this cause for it to be used cynically for political gain.

Enough about question 6.  We shall refer for now to the identities of the people that are answers to questions 4 and 5 as “The Lowest of the Law.”

The first thing I note about Lewis’s letter is that it appears on The Liberal OC as an image PDF, which makes it impossible to copy and paste selections of its text into another file — and the bother of retyping it is (apparently) too much for some to contemplate.  It’s impossible, that is, unless one has OCR capabilities, which I do.  So that means that I can present you with this first sentence of the first paragraph:

As an Anaheim voter, as a wife and mother, and as a woman, I would like to bring to your attention to a very serious matter regarding Doug Pettibone, your neighbor down the street whom you personally recruited to run for Anaheim City Council.

The boldface emphasis is mine, but it might as well be hers.  The letter is aimed at Tait.  Just wait — it gets better.

First sentence of the third paragraph:

Mr. Pettibone is your neighbor and you personally recruited him to run for our city council

“HEY!  ANYONE HERE NOT GET IT YET?”

And then there’s this:

What kind of message does it send to the women of Anaheim if on one hand our mayor preaches for us to be kind to each other, while on the other hand asks us to vote for a man who has pled guilty to assaulting his wife?

And to give the Mayor ample time to determine whether PERHAPS LEWIS IS A LIAR WHOSE DOCUMENTS, IF ANY, MAY BE FORGED, she concludes with:

Anaheim voters like myself deserve your swift response.

(There’s a good little character assassin!  Have a cookie.)

Well, someone — ideally everyone — is welcome to pass this along to Ms. Lewis: I post six questions to you up there that are pretty important to understanding how and when this well-timed swipe against the Mayor by smearing his friend came about — and Anaheim voters deserve your swift response.  This is not to accuse you of wrongdoing; it is simply to seek clarification of pertinent facts.

And this brings us back to Chumley, who headlines his story “Another Tait Campaign Disaster: Pettibone Withdraws from Anaheim Council race” — and the excitement with which he wades in to slaughter innocent and guilty alike can almost be smelled through the monitor.

Since Pettibone and James Vanderbilt were hand-picked by Tait, it calls into question how thorough the Mayor was in vetting his hand-picked ticket and Tait’s judgment.

REALLY NOW, Chumley?  What else should the Mayor have done, in vetting Pettibone, that he failed to do?  (Please put far out of your mind the contemporaneous big question of how much Lorri Galloway vetter Pastor Stieler before handing you her accusations against the Tait campaign.  It’s not like that’s relevant, after all, oh no….)  Perhaps we can agree that, whatever the Mayor did or didn’t do, it’s nowhere near as bad as Lucille Kring’s “Saved us the cost of a trial” remark, right?

According to court records, in early 1998, Pettibone and his first wife separated.  In June, Pettibone was charged with four misdemeanor counts of battery, battery against a spouse, assault and harassment.  A jury cleared him of the threats and battery charges in November 1998.

Pettibone said that he couldn’t get these court records.  WHERE DID CHUMLEY GET THEM?

Let’s presume that they’re accurate, though.  I’d like to point out that if a jury cleared him of threats — that often what “assault” would involve — and battery charges, it seems a bit unusual that he’d plead guilty to assault charges — as that sort of plea deal would generally be accepted in order to AVOID a jury trial at all.  So is the argument here that a jury convicted him — and therefore all of the statements are wrong?  Or is the argument that Pettibone pled guilty, and THEN went on to a criminal trial?  (WHY???)  Or is it that Pettibone went to a criminal trial — AND THEN PLEADED GUILTY TO A LESSER CHARGE?  WHYYYYYYYYYYYY would he do THAT?

Something stinks here — and one of the main offensive odors is coming from Chumley’s judgment.

In a comment, Chumley THEN tosses out this bon-bon:

According to the Pastor, the Tait campaign knew about this two weeks ago. Perhaps that is one of the reasons she was sick to her stomach about the campaign….

Now put aside any questions about Pastor Stieler’s credibility — which I guess Chumley REALLY wants us to investigate.  (Choose your “friends” more wisely, Pastor.)  Did she ever say that “she was sick to her stomach about the campaign“?  Not in what I’ve seen.  What we do know, though, is that she left the Tait campaign around Sept. 3 — which isn’t “two weeks ago” — which raises the question of how the Pastor would have possibly had this information to begin with, if — as seems doubtful — it’s true.

Here’s the next fun exchange, naturally involving an anonymous commeter, because LibOC:

Observer
September 24, 2014 at 5:42 pm

I don’t buy Tait’s “I didn’t know” act. This story has been making the insider rounds for a couple of weeks. Tait probably didn’t want to deal with it or hoped it wouldn’t come out. Great leadership there.

Wait a Darn Tootin Minute
September 24, 2014 at 7:00 pm
Who said this has been making the insider rounds for a couple weeks?

I haven’t heard a single thing about this before yesterday afternoon — and I doubt the word of an anonymous hatchet person.  (This is where I usually say that I feel sorry for Chris Prevatt.)

And then — wow — real news.  My fault for not getting this posted last night, but after a trial I was then swamped by other business and went to bed early.

Doug Pettibone
September 25, 2014 at 7:55 am

Dan:

The charges that you reference in your email were all dropped by the District Attorney. Even the “assault” charge you claim I plead guilty to was dismissed in the interests of justice by the District Attorney.

I am trying to track down the source of this misinformation and these half-truths. These things were not disclosed in the Lewis letter nor does she say where she got this information.

Did you just publish contents of the Lewis letter or did you conduct your own independent investigation?

This was a long time ago and any assistance would be greatly appreciate.

Doug Pettibone

To which Chumley replies:

Dan Chmielewski
September 25, 2014 at 8:47 am

Doug — Thank you for commenting. If you read the entire story through, please note this paragraph: “According to court records, in early 1998, Pettibone and his first wife separated. In June, Pettibone was charged with four misdemeanor counts of battery, battery against a spouse, assault and harassment. ****A jury cleared him of the threats and battery charges in November 1998.****

Just because a jury cleared you of the charges doesn’t mean they weren’t brought forth in the first place.

I have friends who are on their second marriage; others where the couple has someone who is in their first marriage and the spouse is on his/her second marriage, and sadly other friends going through the pain of a divorce. But I know no one on their third marriage. Tait was sloppy in not asking you what happened during the first two marriages and I’m told Tauit and his consultant threw you under the bus and demanded your withdrawl which clearly tells me Tom Tait is not a man who can be counted on in a storm.

My records show you or your wife (not sure which one) filed for a restraining order in February 2006 — can you comment on that in as much detail as possible. Was it against the first ex-wife or the second ex-wife? Or which ex-wife took one out against you?

I stand by my story.

Oh my God. My emphasis, in paragraph 2, because that sentence is just so telling.

Paragraph 1 is interesting because Chumley apparently thinks that this is about libel.  No, Chum, you may be in a totally different pot of hot water.

So we what do know from this?

  • Chumley doesn’t know anyone who is on their third marriage.  (Readers, want to help him out?)
  • Chumley thinks that prior to an endorsement, a candidate should ask intimate questions about the end of all prior marriages.
  • Chumley claims to have a source capable of telling him that “Tait threw [Pettibone] under the bus.”  I suspect that he’s lying — and that if he has a source, that the source is lying, but most of all that Chumley doesn’t give a damn who is or isn’t lying.
  • Chumley has “records” showing a restraining order — but not who was involved and who requested it.  I suspect that Chumley is lying again.
  • Chumley stands by his story because Chumley always stands by his story — being impervious to evidence.

(This man is married to a Los Angeles Times journalist, by the way.  It’s not like he can’t get help on journalistic ethics and practice.)

It seems pretty likely to me that Chumley is working with Kris Murray.  He also seems to be working with Galloway.  Does it follow that Galloway’s character assassins are also Murray’s?  Is Murray’s presumed running-mate Lucille Kring involved?  Perhaps Chumley can invite another anonymous commenter to his site to explain it all.

4.  The BEST part is that is all blew up in their faces.

Here’s what’s really funny: the attempted character assassination of Doug Pettibone has completely blown up in the faces of Lisa Lewis, Chumley, Cunningham, and whoever else was involved.

Tait is in no worse of a position in the Mayor’s race than he was before — and for reasons I’ll get to in the next paragraph, may be in a better one.  And the two remaining candidates that — endorsed or not — are friendliest to the Mayor’s agenda are now going to have many fewer votes siphoned off by a third candidate.  The big winner here is Dr. Jose F. Moreno — who has had nothing at all to do with any of it.

Despite Chumley’s insanely “heroic” efforts in his reply to Pettibone to tie any deficiencies in the latter’s background to Tom Tait’s judgment, and his wild and threatening McCarthyite claims to have damning documentary information that he won’t produce, he apparently has got nothing.  None of this sticks to Tait; none of it sticks to Pettibone; the only political figure really harmed at all is the one who has placed her divinely directed faith in Chumley — and that is Lorri Galloway.

Some candid, Tim Whitacre-like advice to Ms. Galloway — Chumley is going to be an anchor around your campaign that will drag you down into the brackish deep.  You do not want this.  Repent, repent, repent, publicly repent.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose worker's rights and government accountability attorney, residing in northwest Brea. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Occasionally runs for office to challenge some nasty incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed. (Someday he might pick a fight with the intent to win rather than just dent someone. You'll know it when you see it.) He got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012 and in 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. A family member co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)