Who Funded Dan Chmielewski’s Case against Mark Newgent?

This is part 2 of my series on Dan Chmielewski’s lawsuit — Civil case number 30-2020-01156399-CU-WM-CJC (or “1156399” for short) against Newgent, about which I was alerted by a friend who thought I’d be interested in it. And I am — but my interest is less prurient than that friend may have thought. This would have been Part 1 had Mike Fox not scooped me on it on his Facebook page — picture my shaking my fist at his picture, Jon Stewart-style — as you can read about in what ended up as Part 1. (I considered including the complaints in both the original lawsuit and the Anti-SLAPP motion up here, but I can’t find them right now and it’s unlikely you’ll read them anyway. Perhaps I’ll do it if I see a polite request from someone with a real name.)

Dan Chmielewski, at left holding spaceship, with astral projection of Larry Agran’s face while he reads this article hovering over his shoulder; pensioner Mark Newgent, at right, being duly and happily retired; with (top to bottom) possible sources of or reasons for the $18K payoff of Chumley’s legal bills Farrah Khan, Mike Carroll, Patrick Strader, and Melahat Rafiei between them. (Emile Haddad not pictured — yet!)

On the surface, it’s bizarre that this case against Irvine-based, independent-minded Republican (and sometimes NPP), political candidate and citizen-journalist Mark Newgent was brought by longtime fan of this blog Dan Chmielewski at all. (I won’t call him “Chumley” in this context, due to the seriousness of the matter — and I’m not just referring to the $18,000 in attorney fees that he’s had to pay so far, before the City of Irvine can file its own motion or suit against him.) The case was challenging Newgent’s ballot designation — he asked to be referred to as a Retired Army Captain, which he in fact is, and he derives the bulk of his income from his pension — to have brought in the first place. One doesn’t generally challenge the ballot designation of someone whom one wants to see on the ballot — even a dolt like Chmiewlewski presumably understands that — but Newgent’s presence on the ballot was not taking away votes from any Democrats in Irvine’s cattle-call 2020 City Council election, but from Republicans, thus splitting their vote. As a self-proclaimed Democrat, Dan C. (my fingers already hurt from typing “Chmielewski” so many times) is supposed to like that — right?

So why file the complaint? That’s where this matter gets deeper — and far more significant!

Information is now coming out that suggests that Dan C. did not file the complaint on his own behalf, but on behalf of someone else. (The source of this information, according to multiple sources, is Dan C. himself.) He’s not saying this flat-out: what he’s saying is that the $18,000 that he’s had to pay (so far!) for his opponents’ legal fees did not come from him — why he cares enough about not being its source to convey this to people is between him and what I imagine would be a beleaguered platoon of therapists. Well, if there are people out there who are willing to bail out randos who lose meritless lawsuits, I’ve yet to hear of them. (Then again, I haven’t needed to.) That’s only happening because Dan C. lost the lawsuit and an “anti-SLAPP motion” — which allows the victim of a case brought to suppress someone else’s political participation to punish them financially by forcing them to pay their attorney fees — and was ordered to pay Newgent and his attorney $18,000. (Did I mention that it was $18,000? Let me spell that out for you: “eighteen thousand dollars.”)

Now, how do we know that Dan C. is telling the truth that he didn’t pay for it himself? It can be fairly inferred from the fact that Dan was simply refusing to pony up as required after the judgment — note to readers, don’t ever do this — leading him to the brink of what’s called a “debtor’s examination.” This is a nasty “bring your tax returns and all of your financial records” business for the person in the hot seat. (I’ve only conducted one once, and if I were a sadist I would have been in heaven; I literally had to stop for a break due to feeling a wash of pity. Then I sharpened my teeth again and went back in.) The day before the scheduled examination, a full payment from Dan C.’s second attorney, and my occasional antagonist and friend Mark Rosen (also Miguel Pulido’s attorney!) materialized. (If you click at the link up top and read Part 1, you can read Rosen’s letter demanding that, given delivery of the check, his client would not be showing up for the examination.)

Dan’s first attorney was my old colleague from the CATER days, Chad Morgan — an activist Republican — which raises the question of “why did Dan choose to be represented in the original matter by an activist, party regular, Republican attorney — especially one who had worked with me?” (It feels like I was in the middle of this despite that I knew nothing of it! Hold on, this gets even better!)

I have not asked Morgan about this case (and probably won’t, as I doubt he’d talk me about it), but I think that it’s reasonably certain that the meeting between Morgan and Dan C. was set up by a Republican individual or entity that wanted to employ someone they could trust. Did they come to Dan C. before that or afterwards? So far, I don’t know.

The [Strader/Carroll/Khan/Melahat?] Connections

My sources say that Dan has apparently implied to (or outright told) people that the payment to Newgent through Dan C.’s attorney came from Patrick Strader — the lobbyist for the developer FivePoint, which is headed by Emil Haddad. FivePoint, for those who don’t know, is the developer whose guts Councilmember Larry Agran hates because they dislodged him and his crew from office. Strader, readers may recall, was prominently featured in this blog as the dining partner of Democratic Party bigwig Melahat Rafiei (of whom I’ll refer, following her branding, simply as “Melahat”) when they (she has claimed) just casually ran into Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan at the next table, at an outdoor bistro where she was interviewing Mike Carroll about his application for a City Council vacancy being filled the following day.) After a real or feigned internal struggle, Khan would eventually vote to appoint him, rather allow the matter to go to a special election that Lauren Johnson-Norris, another applicant and the protégé of her political enemy and then-fellow Council member Melissa Fox, was widely seen to have a decent chance to win.

(Reports at the time suggested that she was telling Carroll that he had to switch from Republican party registration to No Party Preference registration in order for him to vote for him, so she could legitimately claim that she had not voted to appoint a Republican. Carroll complied, got appointed, and then — shocked-shocked shockingly! — quickly switched back to being a Republican. This led Khan to quit her seat on the DPOC before it could either expel her or censure her, or both — whichever, I’m not looking it up. One of the anonymous commenters sitting in our trash bin has blames us for that episode, to which I can only say “Yeah, I wish!”)

Dan C.’s avoiding the apparently ego-crushing ignominy of having been forced to pay out a five-figure damage reward may backfire even worse than his leaving on the table the $5400 discount Newgent’s lawyer offered for a quick settlement — which, by the way, I’d bet is the moment that Morgan decided to withdraw from the case — because this is legally his debt, so if he got it from someone else this is a “signed confession that” (to adopt a phrase Dan C. likes to use) that he owes gift taxes on it. Here, I’ll make Dan’s life easier by giving him the link to the IRS site where they discuss this. (Realizing this may change his tune. If it does, I’d love to hear from those people to whom he has been saying this!)

Apparently, Dan has literally blocked me from even being able to read his website from my home I.P. address — which, frankly, is the sort of neat trick that I wouldn’t mind learning! — so I don’t know if he’s still a tireless promoter of Larry Agran and his interests — but one has to admit that, given that relationship, his possibly doing the bidding of Patrick Strader and/or FivePoint seems completely bizarre. Why would he do this? Well, it seems like it has to do with the fact that Newgent was running against Khan’s chum Mike Carroll. (Chummy Carroll is also good friends with another Republican City Councilmember, Anthony Kuo, which gives Khan a chummy Council majority no matter what Democrats Agran and Tammy Kim do, so long as she does what Carroll and Kuo want her to do, which she does.)

Carroll was running against Newgent in that 2020 election. As a fellow Republican, Newgent would likely take votes from Carroll. Taking away Newgent’s ballot designation — he was listed as a “Retired Army Captain,” to which he was entitled despite being only 38, given his 20 years of service, having enlisted at 17 — would clearly harm his candidacy. FivePoint, which loves Carroll and likes Khan — and, I suspect, has business dealings with Melahat, who admits to being an adviser to Khan and was meeting with Strader for some reason — would have a motive to see Newgent’s candidacy harmed. (Newgent was aligned with Christina Shea in opposing the power grabs surrounding and suffusing the OC Power Authority — Khan, as an OCPA Board member, would later appoint Strader’s miserably unqualified pal Brian Probolsky to be the OCPA’s CEO, which she and Carroll had been instrumental in planning.) So, if Strader did pick up Dan C’s debt, that suggests that it was because he had in effect retained him (with or without payment) to do FivePoint’s (and/or OCPA’s, and/or another client’s) dirty work.

Did it work? See for yourself — here are the top seven of the fourteen candidates in the race — and you’ll discover Dan C.’s other (or even prime?) motivation:

TAMMY KIM43,74414.81%
*MIKE CARROLL38,61513.07%
LARRY AGRAN38,15612.92%
JOHN PARK32,52111.01%
CARRIE O’MALLEY27,4409.29%
MARK NEWGENT15,8945.38%
Kim, Agran, and Johnson-Norris are Democrats; Carroll, Park, O’Malley, and Newgent are Republicans — for whatever that’s worth!

The fourth-place candidate — by a whisker! — was Lauren Johnson-Norris, mentioned above as the protégé of Melissa Fox, Khan’s — and Dan C’s — long-term nemesis! Johnson-Norris finished 674 votes behind Carroll and only 229 votes behind Agran — whom FivePoint would have loved to see lose. In foresight, Newgent was clearly a threat to Carroll — and undercutting his candidacy was a smart move for FivePoint. (Ironically, if he did participate, Dan C easily might have ended up by knocking off Agran rather than Johnson-Norris — but I think it’s safe to say that he did not keep Agran in the loop about any nefarious hidden dealings with FivePoint.)

The obvious question is: why would Five Point enlist a untrustworthy (based on his ratting them out now) chucklehead like Dan C. to file a lawsuit on its behalf? And if it didn’t do so, why is he seemingly claiming that they did? (Part of me really wants this to end up being about OCPA, a ripe target for a Grand Jury investigation, instead, so maybe one day this will come out.) Perhaps FivePoint or its representative appealed to Dan C. by making it seem that he had to help Carroll by making it seem like — given Agran’s expected second-place finish — he would just be helping Carroll beat Johnson-Norris — which, given his burning Fox-hate, would surely appeal to him!

But does FivePoint, or even Strader, really follow the twisty passages of Dan C.’s limbic system well enough to suss this out? Doubtful! Who could pull something like this off? Maybe … Farrah Khan’s advisor — and Strader’s lunch partner on that fateful day before Carroll’s appointment, who may be working with or for Five Point, and who has access to all sorts of money: Melahat Rafiei. She knows enough about Dan C. and everyone else around to know why to choose this otherwise unlikely source for them. So the question arises: was Dan C. really working at the behest of FivePoint — or was he working at the behest of Melahat to make it more likely (wherever Agran finished) that Farrah’s very good friend Carroll was re-elected. (And yes, DPOC readers, undermining Newgent could have been what prevented a Dem sweep!)

Let’s presume that whoever sent the check as Dan C. was quivering about his debtor’s exam did commission the suit. We’re left with four theories about whence came the money for the check that Mark Rosen sent to Newgent’s lawyer:

  1. Dan is lying: it actually was his own money after all!
  2. Dan is (reportedly) telling the truth: it did come from FivePoint, through Strader
  3. Dan is telling the truth and it was Strader — but he was acting not for Five Point but in one of his other roles, as the lobbyist for OC Power Authority — protecting his friends and collaborators Khan and Carroll
  4. Dan is lying when he says it came from FivePoint, so as to protect Melahat (and, indirectly and less importantly, Farrah)

(It could also be something else, or some combination of 2, 3, & 4.)

I don’t think that it was Dan’s own money. I also don’t think that this was Dan C’s own idea — although he aggravated things by falsely claiming that Newgent had threatened his children — because Dan C. isn’t that sort of risk-taker, and I doubt if he would have come up with the idea that Newgent’s status as a veteran could be challenged. (But if it were Dan’s own money, would he have waited until the last day before the terrifying debtor’s exam to pony up?)

I don’t think that it came from FivePoint — although FivePoint might take credit for it, because it gives them great insurance over Khan ever straying from their control, even if she goes on to higher office — though it might’ve.

It’s possible that it came from Strader without FivePoint — most likely about Khan and Carroll’s baby (relax, it’s just a metaphor) the OCPA — but that will require more investigation. (Sources — that’s your cue!)

Personally, I think that he most likely filed the suit at Melahat’s request, who wanted both to boost Carroll and harm Johnson-Norris on Khan’s behalf — although she may well (as part of an arrangement with FivePoint?) have consulted with Strader and/or FivePoint about it and perhaps won their moral or financial support.

Again, someone let Dan C. dangle until almost the last moment before saving his ample bacon. Does that sound like FivePoint? Not to me. It sounds like something that a prodigious and prolific professional fundraiser might do — with the stipulation that he place the responsibility on someone else. (Hmmm, does Melahat do any work with OCPA?)

If and when Larry Agran reads this, he will likely realize that if someone provides funds for someone else to file a meritless lawsuit — and yes, the lawsuit was officially deemed meritless, by virtue of the anti-SLAPP suit — in order to interfere with a political candidacy (and possibly knock him off of council as a result!), it may warrant investigation by the city, and possibly the county and the state. The City has a financial interest here, you see. When it decided to let Newgent run using his challenged-but-accurate ballot designation, it too had to spend money defending itself — and it would presumably like to get that money back! If it has not yet filed a suit to regain its money but would like to, it may have options to make some or all of the boldfaced names above go on the record, perhaps even with sworn statements, to get at these facts (which are after all capable of repetition.) Such an city investigation might not take place, of course — Khan and Carroll have at least one steadfast ally on the council in Kuo (and I don’t know where Tammy Kim fits in there) — but Agran is, ahem, not without resources of his own.

Khan, Kuo, and Agran are both up for re-election in one year. While Melahat is reportedly tight with Ada Briceno, Briceno is a politically ambitious survivor who will know that defending people who wanted to keep a Republican-controlled majority on the Irvine City Council is not good for her business. (Yes, I said “Republican-controlled”: it is not likely that Farrah gets to call her own shots in dealing with her faction-mates Republicans Carroll and Kuo.) So if no investigation of who funded Dan C’s legal bill takes place — bills, plural, if the city does sue for its fees — it is likely to be a big election issue next year. (And Dan C. might not be well-positioned to write about it this time!)

(Special message to Councilmember Tammy Kim: if Agran puts forth a motion for the city to investigate and/or file an anti-SLAPP, and you don’t second it and vote for it, it is quite seriously the end of your political career. The City leaving that money on the table to protect FivePoint, OCPA, or Carroll/Khan will be an outsized issue in the future. This is not a cover-up you want to be involved in, no matter what Strader or Melahat or anyone in DPOC says!) Now: would Dan C. commit perjury on behalf of FivePoint and/or Strader and/or Rafiei — given that FivePoint might at some point get pissed off at Rafiei for making them look bad (if theory #4 is true) and put him in a bind? I’d like to think that he’s not that stupid, but I’ve been wrong about things before!

I’ll be seeking comment from many of those in boldface above, as well as from others, and will be following up.

Afterword: For Dan Chmielewski’s Eyes Only! Everyone Else Skip This!

As I’ve gone from being barred from commenting on your blog to not even being able to read it — thank God for screenshots, huh? — this may be the only way I can reach you. Before you write anything about this, Dan: yes, Mark Daniels and I did file a ballot designation challenge against your friend Lenore Albert a while ago — but I believed that it was valid, I explained the writ‘s filing (and any possible dangers for him) to Mark and he believed that it was valid as well, and we won the most important part of the case in court, involving whether the designation was accurate (it wasn’t!) and it was upheld when Lenore appealed. Your case is not like that one — did you even read the code section in question, Cal. Elec Code Sec. 13107(e)(4), which says that you can use the word “retired” if it applies to a present status? — and, while you’d be smart to come clean about who bailed you out, a part of me hopes that you don’t, and have to endure the consequences. (Does that sound mean of me? I’m only wishing for you to get to do things your way!) Note also that, unlike in your case, Lenore was representing herself, so we didn’t have to worry about a fee award! Will you really sit still for being played for a chump in this dumb meritless suit by people who almost let you twist in the wind? Again, part of me really hopes so — but it will really undercut your reputation for vengeance-taking if you do!) || Well, drop me another pseudonymous line sometime! Most sincerely, G.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)