Fresno DA's race: Smittcamp questions Egan's ethics

The Fresno BeeMay 20, 2014 

Fresno County District Attorney candidate Lisa Sondergaard Smittcamp speaks at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, May 20, 2014 flanked by supporters including Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, far left, and Galen Rutiaga, president of the Fresno County Prosecutors' Association, near left.

JOHN ELLIS — The Fresno Bee

District Attorney candidate Lisa Sondergaard Smittcamp -- whose work as a Fresno County prosecutor was questioned in an attack ad this week by incumbent Elizabeth Egan -- hit back at Egan Tuesday by questioning her ethics.

With only only two weeks before Election Day, the heated DA's campaign has become even more contentious as Egan and Smittcamp sought to gain advantage among county voters.

The latest dustup came after Egan launched an ad against Smittcamp involving an active case. In using the ongoing case in her campaign, Smittcamp said Egan "violated her own office policy" as well as the state's Rules of Professional Conduct.

"This week, Elizabeth Egan has sunk to new lows," Smittcamp said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon. Smittcamp then upped the stakes by saying it was part of pattern of ethical lapses by Egan.

Smittcamp cited the high-profile rape prosecution of Spencer Scarber, the son of a former assistant chief of the California Highway Patrol, who was sentenced to state prison for raping a housekeeper at knifepoint.

In that case, Smittcamp said Egan "failed to timely conflict out of the prosecution of a rape case," knowing that she had an affair with the defendant's father in the 1990s.

"If I wasn't running for this office," Smittcamp said, "I would call for her resignation."

After being convicted, Spencer Scarber said that he didn't get a fair trial because his father Kyle Scarber had an affair with Egan before she was elected district attorney -- a relationship she admitted to having before she was married.

In response to Smittcamp's claims Tuesday, Egan's campaign consultant Dave Gilliard sent a written response, which he attributed to Egan.

"I am disgusted that Lisa Smittcamp would resort to a dirty, personal attack, bringing up a dating relationship I had years ago, before I was married, to try to advance her own campaign," the statement says. "This low blow is gutter politics at it ugliest and has no place in this campaign."

The rape occurred on July 29, 2011, and Egan's staff filed charges against Spencer Scarber on Aug. 2, 2011, and prosecuted him for four months before handing the case to the California Attorney General's Office that December.

The case ended up with Leanne LeMon, a deputy attorney general who once worked for Egan and is married to Carl Monopoli, a deputy district attorney in Egan's office, court records say.

Smittcamp -- flanked by Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, Fresno County Prosecutors Association President Galen Rutiaga, Fresno Police Officers Association President Jacky Parks and others -- called the news conference in response to Egan's ad.

It is airing on television and radio and has been mailed to voters ahead of the June 3 primary.

The ad highlights a 2011 case prosecuted by Smittcamp involving Ricardo Rojas, who assaulted his girlfriend after a night of heavy drinking by both of them. He ended up pleading guilty to felony assault.

The ad sparked outrage Monday from the Smittcamp campaign, while the Egan camp defended it.

Smittcamp sought two years in state prison, she said Tuesday, but Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan sentenced Rojas to time served and he was freed on felony probation. At the time, Rojas was a Fresno State student with no criminal history.

Last November, while allegedly driving drunk, Rojas was involved in a collision at Cedar and Bullard avenues in Fresno that resulted in the death of a woman. He was arrested and is in the Fresno County Jail on $313,000 bail.

"It was Smittcamp who cut the irresponsible plea bargain that led to the death of an innocent victim," said an emailed statement from Gilliard attributable to Egan.

But Smittcamp said it was Egan who was irresponsible. She said 98% to 99% of Fresno County cases are settled in plea agreements. Only 1% to 2% go to trial, Smittcamp said.

Now, the publicity created by the Egan ad could taint a jury pool and force a change of venue, making the victim's family in the drunken driving accident drive to another county for any trial.

"Elizabeth Egan put her own politics above Spencer Scarber's victim and now she has done the same thing with Rojas' victim," Smittcamp said. "Elizabeth Egan has further victimized this woman's family by using their loss as a cheap opportunity to bolster her failing campaign for re-election."

Smittcamp also pointed out that Egan's own office policy prevents any prosecutor from commenting on an active case.

But by publicly talking about the case and giving details of it, Gilliard's email said "Smittcamp is the one commenting on the case. The ad only says he was arrested, which is a previously reported fact. It is Smittcamp who is running the dirty, negative and personal campaign."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6320, jellis@fresnobee.com or @johnellis24 on Twitter.

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