OJ’s Debbie Tharp jailed, in Costa Mesa’s war on free speech and medical pot.

Deborah Tharp, OJ blogger and hero of free speech and medical pot; Righeimer, Costa Mesa City Council's prohibitionist shot-caller; and Orly Taitz, our loose-cannon secret weapon.

Okay now, sit down.  This will take some explaining, but it’s worth it.

Of the several wars that the nightmarishly extremist Costa Mesa City Council is waging against its people, one of the more vigorous is its war against the town’s medicinal marijuana dispensaries.  You may remember, from earlier in the year, their calling in the Feds to raid and close down dozens of dispensaries, including perfectly law-abiding ones, leading to scenes of “jackbooted thugs” knocking down doors and threatening even a 4-year-old child with their machine guns.

Around the same time, as we related here, KOCI shut down Robert Martinez’ hugely popular radio show “Cannabis Community.”  Over the ensuing days the station gave a baffling array of pretexts for this controversial move, sometimes with the assistance of Costa Mesa Minister of Information William Lobdell, but in their initial conversation with Martinez, overheard by several others, they admitted it was due to pressure from City Council.

Now, as the “cannabis community” attempts to qualify a referendum to allow and strictly regulate these important businesses (which council members claim is what they really want) it’s become obvious that behind the scenes the Council is directing, through their pliant attorney Tom Duarte, an unprecedented and unconstitutional campaign of harassment of signature gatherers in an attempt to prevent the measure from qualifying by its July 7 deadline.  And that’s the topic of this story.

Ironies of Costa Mesa’s Anti-Pot Jihad

Then-Mayor Monahan at work.

It was jarring and confusing to see this violent crackdown commence while Gary Monahan was still (nominally) Mayor, Monahan the pub owner and known stoner, who used to speak glowingly of the need for plenty of decently regulated dispensaries, and who raked in thousands of campaign contributions from these business owners.  A few months later he resigned as Mayor, but as a councilman still votes lockstep with the Council’s real shot-caller, prohibitionist Jim Righeimer.

"Everything but the bong water!" Dana by OC Weekly.

Just as ironic is the fact that the town is represented by Dana Rohrabacher, the most famous stoner in Congress, who brags of “doing everything but drinking the bong water,” and yet is joined at the hip to his former campaign manager Riggy.  It’s enough to make people theorize:  Are these cynical Republicans only for a legalization that they can control and profit off of?  Are some dispensaries being punished to increase profits for politically friendly ones, gangland-style?  This is still being looked into.

Another irony is that while Boss Righeimer pushes a new city charter to give himself more power under the rubric of “local control,” he calls in Obama’s Feds to brutally enforce THEIR federal laws in order to get rid of businesses HE doesn’t approve of.  Some local pride, some Republican, eh?

The Ballot Measure, and the Yes-Man City Attorney

In response to the closing of the dispensaries, Army vet Robert Martinez, who had just had both his strenuously law-abiding dispensary and his radio show taken from him, undertook to initiate a city referendum, to once again legalize the dispensaries but regulate them strictly.   This is actually what some if not all of the Councilmembers have at times claimed they wanted.  The measure must get 6000 signatures (plus a safe cushion) by July 7, to get on November’s ballot;  at the moment it has a little over 3000.

And now it’s become clear that the city and its police force have a new policy in place, promulgated by the new, pliant City Attorney Tom Duarte and made effective in February right after this referendum was filed, to harass signature gatherers and threaten them with arrest.  Already, several professional signature gatherers have left town to avoid jail time, even though their activity – gathering signatures in public places – is protected by the Constitution.

Duarte (artist's conception)

Who is this City Attorney, this Tom Duarte?  Costa Mesa’s previous attorney, the very competent and ethical Kim Barlow, left soon after the ascendance of Riggy, because her advice as to what was illegal, what was a bad idea, and what was likely to get the City successfully sued, was not advice Riggy wanted to hear.

Barlow was replaced by this pliant yes-man who greenlights any wild idea of these extremists, has already caused the city to rack up hundreds of thousands in unnecessary lawsuits, and is in way over his head.  Tom Duarte is essentially Riggy’s John Yoo, the lawyer who never said no to George W Bush.  And he’s come up with a real indefensible policy of limiting Costa Mesans’ free speech, which is just crying out to be struck down.

And then…

Enter Deborah Tharp.

Deborah became a friend of this blog when she ran as the Libertarian assembly candidate against Don Wagner and Melissa Fox two years ago, and wrote a few articles for us.  Always a staunch supporter of both the Constitution and marijuana legalization (medical pot saved her husband’s life)  she moved to LA last year, and has been making a living as a journalist and a paid signature gatherer – usually for pot measures.  (It really helps to be paid to work on something you believe in, and vice versa.)

When she heard what was going on in Costa Mesa, “her old back yard,” she knew she had to get back down there and help this measure qualify.  And she’s been all over town, raking in the sigs, but the most fertile ground seems to be Mother’s Market at Newport and 19th.

But the owners of Mother’s, and particularly a manager named Julie, do NOT want signature-gatherers for pot dispensaries in front of their store.  This despite their allowing GMO petition collectors access whenever they wanted, even letting them collect inside the store!  That was a cause they were on board with.  Marijuana dispensaries not so much, despite how stoned many of their employees seem.

And they are obviously aware that they have City leadership and the police force on their side in this.  Manager Julie came right out and told Debbie (wrongly) that she was trespassing, and that if she didn’t leave she would call the police.  And what did Debbie do?   She went right to the police station herself, with the following document she’d prepared (She also gave a copy to the City Attorney Duarte and the owners of Mothers.)  The  shift captain read it, and was impressed enough to agree not to respond to any calls from Mothers asking them to arrest Debbie.  [Update – for a more accurate chronology see Debbie’s comment below.] Here are the most important excerpts, you can read the whole document here.


It has come to the attention of several of the citizens of Costa Mesa that attempts are being made to block the exercise of free speech activities at certain public places.

The definition of public access as defined by the Supreme Court case Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins has been narrowly interpreted to block said access of free speech by attempting to limit the definition of what is public property.

We the citizens of California do hereby state that attempts to block free speech in the city of Costa Mesa cease immediately based on the following:

Whether the Pruneyard decision is pertinent to the exercise of free speech activities in California is a moot point as the exercise of free speech is broadly protected by the California Constitution itself.
The California Constitution Article I SEC. 2.(a) states that “Every person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press.

The California Constitution Article I Sec. 3 (b) (2) states that “A statute, court rule, or other authority, including those in effect on the effective date of this subdivision, shall be broadly construed if it furthers the people’s right of access, and narrowly construed if it limits the right of access.

Code of Civil Procedure – Section 425.16.

(a) The Legislature finds and declares that there has been a disturbing increase in lawsuits brought primarily to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances. The Legislature finds and declares that it is in the public interest to encourage continued participation in matters of public significance, and that this participation should not be chilled through abuse of the judicial process. To this end, this section shall be construed broadly.

…[skipping a lot]…

Your co-operation in allowing the citizens of Costa Mesa to address the public in an open, fair and constitutional matter will be appreciated; any further attempts to block free speech activities in the city of Costa Mesa will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.


A few days later – that’s last Tuesday, June 5 – the Costa Mesa police, under orders from City Attorney Duarte (who in turn acts under orders from Riggy’s council)  changed their tune.  Debbie was back at Mother’s, and manager Julie called the police, and this time they said that they were under new instructions and that if Debbie came back to gather signatures one more time she would be arrested.  Seemingly refusing to grasp the arguments in her above piece, they kept referring to how the Pruneyard decision doesn’t protect her.

Deborah then decided that she WOULD come back and be arrested, if it came to that.  She contacted your humble blogger, and she got herself legal counsel.  You’re gonna love this part – I told you she also works as a journalist?  Well, one of her recent pieces had been a very entertaining interview with Senate candidate/birther/dentist/realtor/attorney Orly Taitz. And it turns out Orly is intensely interested in this issue, not only opposing the Obama administration’s usurpation of states’ rights with their marijuana crackdowns, but actually renting property to a dispensary herself.  Who knew?  I guess that does make a sort of sense.

Orly agreed that if Debbie was arrested, she would come bail her out the next day, take her case, and talk to the press.


YESTERDAY, Thursday June 7.  Sue Lester, Bob Martinez, I, and some other sympathizers went down to Mothers, video cameras handy, to watch Debbie do her signature collecting.  And damn, she is really good at it.  She must have got a few dozen in the hour between when I got there and when the police showed up.  The police were friendly and professional and didn’t stop me from filming the arrest:

Technically it was the police assisting in Mother’s making a citizen’s arrest of Deborah for trespassing.  The police wrote her a ticket, which she had the option of signing and leaving and going free, or signing and staying and being arrested, or not signing and being arrested.  She opted to not sign the ticket and to be arrested.  And, as an extra punitive measure, she was taken not to the Costa Mesa jail but to the OC Central in Santa Ana, where she languishes now – a miserable and rough place, I can tell you!

The important thing now isn’t even the marijuana issue, but the fact that the lawless Costa Mesa City Council think they can override the Constitution whenever it suits them.  This is just another instance of many, of these men’s boundless arrogance – starting with Righeimer and his OC GOP handlers. Still, we think that the publicity we will get from Debbie’s lawsuit against the city, along with Orly’s involvement, will help us get enough signatures for this vital referendum.

Many in Costa Mesa remember all too well “Coyotl,” the outspoken Latino activist who cost the City so much in legal fees when they tried to censor and sue him back in the Mansoor days.  Will Debbie come to be known as the Coyotl of Cannabis?  Time will tell…

I’m just letting you know all the background, so you’re not too gobsmacked when ORLY TAITZ appears today on TV, outside the OC Jail, with a newly-released political prisoner for the cause of free speech and medicinal marijuana, and about to go on the warpath against the Costa Mesa City Council.  This is fair warning to the rest of you journalists, the Times, the Register, the Weekly, the Voice of OC, the Daily Pilot.  Be there!  Friday morning, June 8, time to be announced!


Update June 15:  Debbie’s Official Statement

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.