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Thousand Oaks Files Complaint Against Sybert

June 13, 1998|KATE FOLMAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THOUSAND OAKS — A week after voters rebuffed him at the polls, former Assembly candidate Rich Sybert now faces up to $2,000 in city fines for tearing down his political rival's signs.

The civil complaint filed Friday accuses Sybert of "unauthorized removal of political signs" for his admitted nocturnal placard shredding, which allegedly violated Thousand Oaks' political sign ordinance.

On four separate occasions in April, two of them within Thousand Oaks boundaries, Sybert was caught on videotape thrashing opponent Tony Strickland's signs.

The Oxnard toy company executive had previously denied any involvement in the sign vandalism, saying he was at home, in bed with his wife, when the signs were defaced. After the tapes became public, Sybert complained that Strickland's signs were bigger than allowed by law and that frustration motivated his actions.

Sybert shouldn't have taken the matter into his own hands, said Deputy City Atty. Tim W. Giles.

"Self-help is not the right remedy," Giles said. "We want people to know that this law is on the books and we are enforcing it."

Although Sybert admits tearing up signs, his lawyer said a $2,000 punishment is excessive. Sacramento elections attorney James F. Sweeney said he will attempt to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with the city.

"Two thousand dollars is the maximum fine permitted by law; this violation does not seem to merit the maximum fine," Sweeney said. "Obviously, Mr. Sybert has suffered greatly--both personally and professionally--as a result of his actions. I think that fact needs to be taken into consideration."

He added: "I think [Sybert] would very much like to return to private life and be left alone. The sooner he can do that, the better for him and his family."

Sybert, who lost two bids for a congressional seat before vying for the 37th District Assembly seat, garnered a mere 7% of ballots in last week's primary.

Legislative aide Strickland, the winning Republican candidate, also said it's time to let the matter go.

"As I've said from the beginning, 'Let the voters decide,' " he said. "The voters decided on June 2. Now I just want to put all this behind me and work on the issues and the general election."

Reached at his office Friday, Sybert declined comment.

"I want to let my lawyer handle this issue," the Harvard-educated attorney said. "I really have nothing to say."

The complaint against Sybert, filed at the Simi Valley courthouse, is the first time since Thousand Oaks' sign ordinance took effect in 1972 that the city attorney's office has pursued someone for destroying signs.

The city could have chosen to file criminal charges but decided against it, given the nature of the violations and Sybert's mea culpa, City Atty. Mark Sellers said.

In May, Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael Bradbury, a Republican, declined to file criminal charges against Sybert, saying that voters should be the judges of his behavior.

Neither the district attorney's decision nor the timing of the primary affected the city's decision to pursue the civil action, Giles said.

"Our decision is independent of the district attorney's decision not to file criminal charges," he said. "We have decided to pursue this as a civil matter. It's most appropriate that the matter be filed and pursued by the city since it is a municipal ordinance and the violations occurred in our jurisdiction."

One of Sybert's Republican opponents, taxpayer advocate H. Jere Robings, said he was gratified that Sybert was being formally charged. Despite spending less than a third what Sybert did, Robings and candidate John P. Lane both outpolled him on primary day.

"I was surprised when the D.A. didn't prosecute it," Robings said Friday. "I think it's appropriate that anyone who violated the law pay the fine, just as if he'd broken any other law. . . . Simply because he was a candidate for office does not give him the privilege to violate the law."

Sybert's lawyer said he does not view Thousand Oaks' action as punitive.

"I wouldn't say this is mean-spirited," Sweeney said. "The city is well within their right to do what they're doing. I don't take issue with that. . . . But they should take into account that he has already paid a big toll."

Times staff writer Miguel Bustillo contributed to this story.

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