Alameda County — A candidate to become Alameda County’s top prosecutor has accused District Attorney (DA) Nancy O’Malley and her staff of violating campaign practices by using government email accounts when they ran against each other four years ago.
Civil rights lawyer Pamela Price alleged in a complaint filed last week with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) and in a campaign fundraising email to supporters that O’Malley and her staff discussed campaign issues, sought donations to fund attacks against Price, communicated with a political action committee that opposed her, and worked with police officer associations that backed that committee.
Price’s campaign obtained 230 DA’s office emails that invoked her name from 2017-2021 with a recent public records request. Using government resources to support a candidate in an election could be considered at minimum an ethics violation, but also could result in criminal charges. Price alleges that this occurred.
“The Alameda County DA emails show a pattern of criminal misconduct that needs to be investigated to the fullest extent of the laws,” Price said in a Sept. 9 campaign email. “Emails between deputy DAs and police unions in the creation, funding and distribution of ‘hit pieces’ against an opponent is a textbook example of violations of California's Government Code and campaign finance laws.”
A similar complaint making the same allegations was filed with the District Attorney’s Office, directing O’Malley to open an investigation. It alleges at least 31 of O’Malley’s employees used their work email system to send or receive 35 campaign-related emails in 2018, and another 12 have sent or received nine campaign-related emails in 2021. The emails discuss the campaign and Price’s activities, the complaint said.
A spokeswoman for the DA said the office had no comment.
Price’s campaign also filed complaints with the Alameda County Grand Jury, the California State Bar and Attorney General Rob Bonta.
The FPPC complaint filed by Price’s attorney, James Sutton, alleges the emails show a “deliberate effort within the DA’s office to collude with police unions across California and defeat us in the 2018 election.”
Price and Sutton allege “numerous violations of civil, criminal and campaign finance laws” and “a continuing pattern of misconduct by deputies and O’Malley’s top employees into the 2022 race.”
Price said the emails shocked her.
“During the 2018 campaign, we could only see the tip of the iceberg. We knew they were colluding with the police associations, but it is shameful to see the extent of the misconduct and the corruption in the DA’s office,” she said.
O’Malley, who announced plans to retire when her current term ends, has three candidates seeking to replace her in the 2022 election cycle. They are Price, who lost to O’Malley in 2018, and two Alameda County prosecutors, Chief Assistant District Attorney Terry Wiley and Deputy District Attorney Jimmie Wilson.
In a packet released to the media last week, Price released 15 of the emails her campaign obtained. A list of all the emails showed Wiley sent three. Wilson received one email. Wilson received one email from Wiley but did not send any.
Wiley’s May 22, 2018 email — addressed to 25 deputy district attorneys and staff members, all of whom reportedly are Black — says the election is getting “down to the wire” and suggests they attend a candidate forum the next day.
“If you have not attended any of these candidate’s (sic) forums, they can be a hostile environment towards Nancy in particular,” Wiley wrote. “We would like as many of you as possible to attend this candidates’ forum. We’d like to show the people of Oakland the diversity of our office and provide support for Nancy.”
During the previous campaign, Price and O’Malley’s critics said young Black residents disproportionately represented the county’s felony arrests and that race played a role in her office’s charging decisions.
Wiley told The Independent he sent the email to dispute Price’s rhetoric.
“As someone in the DA’s office tasked with making our office more diverse and equitable, many of my colleagues were reaching out at this time, concerned about Ms. Price’s false characterizations of our work to bring safety and justice to Alameda County residents. The information I provided was to give them an opportunity to set the record straight.
“Certainly, no public resources should be used to campaign, and my campaign does not and will not use any government resources.”
Wilson told The Independent that he informed O’Malley in January 2020 that he was running for DA “whether she ran for re-election or not.”
“I believed that someone needed to stand up and fight for change in the District Attorney's Office,” Wilson said. “The District Attorney's office belongs to the people of Alameda County, and the leaders of the office should behave that way. No one is above the law. I have never campaigned for Nancy O’Malley, and I did not respond to the email from Terry Wiley or attend the event in question.”
Sutton said the emails show employees in O’Malley’s office communicated numerous times with principal officers and campaign consultants for “Californians United for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Opposing Pamela Price for District Attorney 2018.”
The complaint alleges an email chain by Deputy District Attorney Colleen McMahon and two political action committee principal officers talked about raising funds “to pay for and disseminate anti-Price digital ads.” The chain, the complaint said, discusses and attaches three anti-Price mail pieces distributed by the committee.
Sutton alleges that a name and address on one of the emails soliciting funds for digital ads was blacked out when it was released in the public records request because it might be O’Malley.
“A communication between an independent expenditure committee and the candidate herself is per se illegal coordination,” Sutton wrote in the complaint.
Sutton suggests the alleged violations could result in thousands of dollars in fines. He said the FPPC should open an investigation immediately because of Price's current candidacy.