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O.C. supervisor has cash for bills but will start race at square one

Janet Nguyen's war chest is barely solvent after lawyer fees. Tough fight for reelection is likely.

August 02, 2007|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

With a reelection race less than a year away, Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen's campaign is barely in the black, with a windfall of contributions virtually wiped out by previous debts and ongoing legal bills, according to a campaign finance filing made public Wednesday.

After comparing the campaign's surplus against the ongoing debts, the account was in the black by less than $5,000 as of June 30, the last day of the reporting period, the filing shows.

With a June 3 election looming in which she will face a tough challenge from fellow Vietnamese American Republican Trung Nguyen and a possible Democratic contender, Nguyen will have to raise money aggressively to run a competitive campaign.

Nguyen won a February special election to replace former Supervisor Lou Correa, who was elected to the state Senate.

After a protracted legal battle, a judge found she beat Trung Nguyen by a razor-thin margin of three votes.

Since then, Trung Nguyen, a member of the Garden Grove Unified School District Board of Trustees, has continued to fight the election result in court and has filed several complaints against Janet Nguyen, questioning the legality of her efforts to raise money to pay legal bills.

Janet Nguyen had at least $100,000 in unpaid campaign bills stemming from the election.

During her first three months in office, Janet Nguyen raised nearly $110,000, thanks in part to a fundraiser held for her by Scott Baugh, the Orange County chairman of the Republican Party.

Though that left her with a cash balance of more than $37,000, she faces more than $32,000 in unpaid bills.

Of that, that vast majority -- more than $24,000 -- is owed to her lawyer.

"Every time Trung files a complaint, we have to send [attorney] Phil Greer into court to argue it down," said Dave Gilliard, Janet Nguyen's campaign consultant.

"That starts to add up," Gilliard said.

The Times reported in May that Janet Nguyen sent an e-mail to potential donors, some of whom do business with the county, asking them to make payments to her lawyer's attorney-client trust account to help defray her legal bills.

She incorrectly told would-be donors they could give amounts that exceeded the county's contribution limit.

Through her lawyer, Nguyen later admitted she'd made a mistake and her campaign returned three payments totaling $12,500 from a lobbyist, a developer and the contractor who operates county parking lots.

But in Wednesday's filing, the campaign also disclosed for the first time nearly $8,000 in other payments to the lawyer that were below the contribution limit and had not been returned.

Michael Schroeder, a lawyer for Trung Nguyen, said new complaints would be filed over the previously undisclosed donations.

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christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

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