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Role of Obama Legal Advisor in Commerce Recall Attempt Called into Question

Former legal advisor to President Obama Frederic Woocher advised the proponents of the Commerce Recall Campaign, then suddenly said he had a conflict of interest because he advised Commerce City officials.

Former legal advisor to President Obama Frederic Woocher advised the proponents of the Commerce Recall Campaign, then suddenly said he had a conflict of interest because he advised Commerce City officials.

By Brian Hews and Randy Economy

Two weeks ago, a major campaign effort to recall four seated members of the Commerce City Council was declared invalid by election officials at the Los Angeles Registrar Recorders Office.

Hews Media Group-Community Newspapers learned that the Registrar declared between 800 to 1000 different signatures-over 4,000 in total-on four different recall petitions invalid due to the signature gathering leader, Sylvia Ortiz, deliberately forging signatures and adding deceased voter names.

Registrar officials said, “We have never seen anything like this, it is about as bad as it gets, and we will call on the Los Angeles District Attorney to investigate Ortiz.”

Ortiz reportedly admitted to forgeries and adding names of deceased people in a meeting with Registrar officials and immediately retained an attorney to represent her after the meeting.

But Ortiz seems to be just another player in a much larger scheme to torpedo the recall campaign and discredit the proponents.

The scheme allegedly includes a long-time Los Angeles political operative, the Commerce City Attorney, and an attorney who was nominated by President Clinton to the Federal Bench and who also defended President Obama against those who said he was not an American.

Ortiz was a former colleague of accused felon and long-time political operative Angel Gonzales. Gonzales was involved in a high profile corruption case involving another convicted felon Rick Mayer. Gonzales eventually plead down to a misdemeanor.

Other sources are telling HMG-CN that Gonzales had a hand in the Commerce signature fiasco.  “Look, everyone in Commerce can spot when Gonzales is involved in seedy political work around here,” said the source who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution.

When Tina Baca Del Rio ran successfully for election, Gonzales was her campaign manager. Sources are telling HMG-CN that after the campaign, Baca Del Rio owed Gonzales a substantial amount of money that she could not pay back.

In exchange, sources are saying Gonzales demanded Baca Del Rio hire his good friend and current city attorney Eddie Olivo, which they did.

Five months prior to the hiring of Olivo, at the behest of Baca Del Rio, the Commerce Council voted to fire Olivo.

In November of 2013, Olivo attempted to stop the recall by arbitrarily ruling that the newspaper the city has published its public notices in for nearly two decades did not qualify, therefore disallowing three of four recall campaigns to move forward.

That assertion was challenged by the newspaper and eventually thrown out.

Now, the role of a powerful political attorney who has defended President Barack Obama in past legal scuffles and who was nominated to the Federal Bench by California Senator Barbara Boxer, may have been working on behalf of the four recall targets through back door efforts with top Commerce officials.

Fredric Woocher, with Los Angeles law firm of Strumwasser and Woocher, said in a recent telephone interview with HMG-CN that he was not “directly involved” in the recall campaign in Commerce.

But HMG-CN has obtained emails and a voice mail recording of Woocher that contradicts his statement and could trigger a legal challenge from recall proponents.

Several emails between Commerce resident/activist Jaime Valencia and Woocher starting in November 2013 show Woocher advising Valencia on how to proceed with the recall effort. The advice centered on the required publishing of notices about the recall, the notices Olivo attempted to invalidate.

On December 4, Valencia sent an email to Woocher who responded, “Greg Luke is my partner and handled the litigation over the previous recall in Commerce.  He can be contacted at [email protected], and his phone number is the same as mine.  I have copied him on this email.  You can contact either one of us, and we’ll figure out who has the time to assist you.”

Then the emails were shut down until April 2014.

On April 29, 2014, Valencia asks Woocher several times to represent the recall proponents after it was learned that hundreds of signatures were deemed invalid.

Woocher wrote that either he or his partner would handle the recall situation, depending on which attorney “had the time.”

Then Woocher left a voice mail message with Sylvia Ortiz who had tried to contact Woocher along with Valencia about the invalid signatures. The voice message was forwarded to HMG-CN on April 30, 2014.

The voice mail directly contradicts Woocher’s statement of “direct involvement” in the recall campaign.

The voice mail transcribed:

Woocher: “It’s Monday morning, around 9:45. I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you (Ortiz) earlier. I knew you had left messages on Thursday and Friday and I was unexpectedly out at another matter.”

“Unfortunately, we have a conflict with respect to the Commerce recall. Sometime ago we provided some advice to the city through the city attorney’s office, in respect to what some of the rules were pertaining to recall signatures,” Woocher states in a clear voice.

“So, while we’re not actively involved in the matter at this time I think it would create a conflict if we were to provide advice to, uh, so we’re an adversary to the city with respect to what happened later. So, I’m sorry we can’t help.”

he voice mail raises several ethical questions, particularly in light of the Woocher statement, “sometime ago we provided advice to the city…”

If Woocher advised Commerce officials prior to November 2013, it would be a conflict of interest and he should have informed Valencia of the conflict at that time and ceased communication.

But Woocher kept in contact with Valencia.

If Woocher advised Commerce officials after October 2013, it would be a conflict of interest and he should have informed Commerce of the conflict at that time and ceased communication.

But Woocher said in his voice mail that he could no longer advise Ortiz and the recall proponents because he had advised Commerce about the recall.

“This is typical Commerce politics,” said Commerce resident and activist Mike Alvarado, “it looks like it was a coordinated effort to discredit the recall effort. There are just way too many connections between the recall opponents.”

One attorney, who did not want to be identified said, “Given all the email conversations, the proponents believed an attorney-client privilege existed between them and Mr. Woocher. Woocher was not allowed to take a position antagonistic to the proponents regarding the subject matter involved in their communications without permission from the proponents.”