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POLITICAL NOTES

Lawsuits Gain Popularity as Way for Office-Seekers to Combat Mailers

October 27, 1994|TED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COURTING CONTROVERSY: Candidates have several ways to respond to attack mailers: send out one in response, hold a news conference or file a lawsuit.

Going to court seems to be a recent response of choice.

State Sen. Ralph C. Dills (D-El Segundo) sued opponent David Barrett Cohen Tuesday for $1 million over a mailer claiming that Dills collects a legislative pension at the same time he serves in Sacramento. That's prohibited by state law.

"That implies that I am in collusion with the retirement system," Dills said.

Dills collects Social Security and pensions for his days as a schoolteacher and municipal judge. The suit also names Republican Julian Sirull, who is running against Assemblywoman Debra Bowen in the 53rd Assembly District, because he was included in the mailer.

On Monday, Cohen issued a statement of apology and took full responsibility for the statement. He said that it was placed in the mailer--recently sent to absentee voters--after a consultant mistook Dills' legislative salary for a pension.

"In my opinion, the error was a minor one," Cohen said. "It's important, however, to correct the record so voters can decide."

Dills is being represented in the lawsuit by Michael I. Sidley, the Venice attorney who lost to him in the June primary.

Meanwhile, former Palos Verdes Estates Councilman Ron Florance is suing Rancho Palos Verdes Councilwoman Susan Brooks, who beat him in the June Republican primary in the 36th Congressional District.

Florance claims he was libeled in a mailer titled "60 Lawsuits and Counting." The ad called Florance "the Republican who can't win in or out of court."

The suit also names Ron Yates, the publisher of California's Republic Reporter, which published an article about his litigation; Republican John Duke, who appeared in the Reporter as part of his unsuccessful campaign against Rep. Steve Horn (R-Long Beach); Brooks' husband, Jim, and campaign worker Les Martin. Florance is seeking punitive damages of $250,000, general damages of $1 and legal fees.

Brooks' campaign charged that the filing of the lawsuit is politically motivated.

"His new lawsuit is just the latest example of Mr. Florance's inability to solve any problems outside of the courtroom," said Jim Brooks, an adviser to his wife's campaign. "I guess we'll have to change the title of the mailer from '60 Lawsuits and Counting' to '61 Lawsuits and Counting.' "

*

MO' MONEY: Rep. Jane Harman (D-Rolling Hills) still has a hefty war chest with less than two weeks left in the campaign.

Harman has $365,234 in cash to Brooks' $68,065, according to the latest campaign statements, which cover Oct. 1 to Oct. 19. Harman spent $206,358 to Brooks' $54,943 in that period. A large portion of what Harman has left is expected to go to television advertisements.

Both campaigns have stepped up fund-raising efforts, with Harman raising $101,920 to Brooks' $52,835.

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BABBITT AT BALLONA: Yet another Friend of Jane's came to stump for her on Friday: Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

As skaters whizzed by the Fig Tree Cafe on the Venice boardwalk, Babbitt praised Harman's environmental record and her persistence in nagging him about the Ballona Wetlands, set to be restored as a developer embarks on the new Playa Vista project.

"I know a good congressman is advocating the interests of the district because they are on the phone and they've got specific proposals," he said after a speech at the cafe. "The Ballona Wetlands is something she's been after me about for some time."

Later in the morning, at the wetlands, Babbitt and Harman pledged that restoration of the wetlands will be sped up. More than two dozen agencies will restore more than 200 acres of wetlands, including a marsh and freshwater habitat west of Lincoln Boulevard. The work will be done as McGuire Thomas Partners constructs the Playa Vista project, a massive residential and commercial development on adjacent land. Babbitt said he would set up a system of "parallel processing" of government permits.

"I may be slow getting here, but I'm here and I ain't leaving," Babbitt said.

Babbitt is the most senior of all Clinton Administration officials to campaign for Harman. He predicted that the anti-Clinton tide will recede come Election Day.

"I think the Saturday night tear-on-the-town against the political system is giving rise to a kind of more reflective Sunday morning," he said. "People are saying, 'Wait a minute. It's the only system we have.' "

*

SIGN TARGET: It seems to happen every campaign season these days: sign vandalism.

But the damage to Brooks' signs has been an extreme case, her campaign manager says.

Her "Susan Brooks for Congress" signs are being altered or destroyed en masse, according to campaign manager John Perkins. In some cases, the vandal paints over the "Susan" and stencils lettering over the B and s in "Brooks" so it reads "Crook! for Congress." Other signs are stolen, Perkins said.

"We put them up one night, and the next day they are gone," he said.

He estimates that of 2,700 signs, more than half have been altered or stolen. The campaign has reported the incidents to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in Lomita and to the Torrance Police Department.

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