In the race for Attorney General of California, Democrat Jerry Brown boasts so much more name recognition than Chuck Poochigian, his Republican opponent, that by most accounts the race is no contest. Before his side job as mayor of Oakland, Brown was California’s secretary of state and governor. He comes from the state's star political dynasty and is heavily favored on November 7. There is, in fact, only one obstacle in his way to becoming attorney general: a major lawsuit alleges Brown should not even be on the ballot.
"Brown has a serious problem, he's not eligible," says Tom Del Beccaro, who has filed suit to disqualify Brown on the grounds that state law requires a candidate for attorney general to have been admitted to practice before the state Supreme Court for at least five years before election.
"In fact, for whatever reason, Jerry Brown chose not to meet the basic requirement for the full five years," explains Del Beccaro on his website. "Brown has only had an active law license for about three years, far less than the minimum five years required. When his law license was inactive, Brown could not appear as a lawyer before any of California’s courts."
Del Beccaro, an admirer of JFK, does not fit the profile of a political prankster. He is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, an attorney, and chairman of the Contra Costa County Republican Party. The Brown campaign dismisses his action as a desperate measure, but election law specialists are not writing it off.
USC law professor Kareem Clayton told reporters that Del Beccaro's suit could have merit based on the meaning of "active" versus "inactive." Brown was admitted to the bar in 1965 but became inactive in January 1992, active in 1996, then inactive the next year, reactivating in May 2003. According to Del Beccaro, that doesn't make the cut.
This suit is the biggest news splash in the Brown-Poochigian race, characterized by routine accusations of who is tougher on crime. In this debate, Brown has relied on the voters’ amnesia for actions during his term as governor (1975-83) that might cast doubt on his ability to be the state’s chief law enforcement officer.
Jerry Brown came to power during a time when the American Indian Movement (AIM) was on the rise. Under the leadership of co-founder Dennis Banks, AIM led a 1973 protest in Custer, South Dakota, that turned into a courthouse gun battle. Banks, who was also the principal negotiator in the Wounded Knee standoff, fled to California. As a violent fugitive from justice, there was good reason to extradite Banks to South Dakota, but then-governor Jerry Brown refused to do so.
Banks accepted the favor, studied at UC-Davis, and became chancellor of Deganawidah-Quetzalcoatl University (See this author's "The Lesson of DQU," Frontpage, March 10, 2006). When George Deukmejian followed Brown as governor in 1983, Banks fled to sanctuary with the Onandoga Nation in New York state. He eventually surrendered to South Dakota lawmen and served 18 months in prison. That would have happened earlier if Jerry Brown had extradited the fugitive. Instead, Brown allowed Banks' membership in an accredited victim group to override the demands of justice. This was one of Brown's classic, early cases of political correctness, but not the only one.
Jerry Brown also came up in the heyday of the movement against American involvement in Vietnam. As governor, Brown nominated Jane Fonda to serve on California Arts Council. This despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the star of Barbarella, Barefoot in the Park, and Cat Ballou had traveled to Hanoi, where she posed for photographs on North Vietnamese anti-aircraft guns, delivered anti-American radio broadcasts, and generally handed the Stalinist regime a propaganda windfall at a time when the regime was torturing American prisoners of war.
Brown nominated Fonda to the Arts post in 1979, the year legions of Vietnamese "boat people" were fleeing the bleak Stalinist regime the actress had supported in any conveyance they could find. When the California senate rejected the nomination, Brown and Fonda called it "small-minded McCarthyism." Fonda went on to marry high-profile leftist Tom Hayden and purchased him his own political office, a radical-to-riches sequel to her agit-prop adventures in Vietnam.
Brown's choice for Chief Justice of California was Rose Bird, who had no previous judicial experience, and like him allowed her own views to color the way she dispensed justice, opposing the death penalty in every case she faced. Bird was the first woman to serve as Chief Justice of California and also the first to be removed by voters, who also gave the boot to left-wing Brown appointees Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin.
These rejections were not the only markers of how far Jerry Brown stood from the populace. When local governments were hiking property taxes, causing some residents to lose their homes, Californians responded with Proposition 13, which limited property taxes to one percent of assessed value at time of purchase. Brown opposed Proposition 13 with a kind of apocalyptic fervor. After it passed in 1978 in a landslide, Brown acted as though he had authored the measure. Los Angeles Times cartoonist Paul Conrad drew Brown in a football jersey bearing number 13, captioned "Quarterback Sneak."
Jerry Brown wants to rise again and become attorney general of California, in part banking on a popular memory lapse. But even if he overcomes his past, he may not overcome his credential problem. "No way I would file this suit without a prominent chance of victory," Tom Del Beccaro told Frontpage. He cites as precedent Conway v. State Bar of California (1989) and Johnson v. State Bar of California (1937). His case against Brown awaits a court hearing this week.
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