State Questions Paying Bill for Migden’s Wild Ride

by Randy Shaw on July 13, 2009

It was reported last week that California taxpayers would be stuck picking up the $335,000 claim by a woman whose car was rear-ended during former State Senator Carole Migden’s “wild ride” down Interstate 80 and Highway 12 on May 18, 2007. According to the Attorney General’s office, the state was on the hook because Migden was acting “within the scope of her state employment.” But after media accounts of the Migden payout produced a huge public backlash, Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office began probing deeper into the case. While Migden provided often conflicting and unsubstantiated explanations for her reckless driving, Beyond Chron has learned that the Attorney General relied on Migden’s sworn statement under penalty of perjury during her deposition in the civil case to conclude she was driving on state business. But further investigation has apparently confirmed that Migden’s claim of being on state business is not only highly suspect, but apparently untrue. Instead of preparing to run for San Francisco Supervisor in District 10 in 2010, Migden might instead find herself fighting off perjury charges.

As California prepares layoffs and furloughs for thousands of state workers, cuts medical services to the poor, and even talks about closing our state parks, it was remarkable to hear that the Attorney General’s office would give away $335,000 for a claim it does not have to pay. Fortunately, the A.G.’s office is taking a second look at the case, and is gathering evidence that will likely lead to a different outcome.

Migden Was Not on State Business

On June 3, 2007 Dick Spotswood of the Marin Independent Journal reported:

“So where was state Sen. Carole Migden headed when she was involved in a series of now famous fender-benders on May 18? She was set to meet with former Assemblyman Joe Nation in San Rafael at 10:30 a.m. The first incident happened a little after 10:45 a.m. in Solano County and she was heading for Marin. No wonder she was in a hurry.”

Instead of interviewing Joe Nation or Spotswood about the above item, the Attorney General is reported to have relied on Migden’s account of her schedule given during her civil deposition. After all, her testimony was given under penalty of perjury, and false testimony under such conditions is a felony, whose minimum punishment is one year in jail.

But longtime legislator Migden allegedly claimed during her deposition that she was driving that day on official business, not to meet Joe Nation in hopes of securing his endorsement. If Migden’s account proves untrue – which all the sources I’ve heard indicates it is – than she has potentially lied under oath in order to get the taxpayers to pick up her tab.

This, of course, would not be the first time Migden has gotten others to pay for her mistakes.

Migden and Clear Channel Outdoor

In addition to incurring liability for reckless driving, Carole Migden was also sued by the Fair Political Practices Commission in 2008 for more than $9 million in damages. While the case ultimately settled with Migden paying only $40,000 – likely facilitated by Migden’s defeat for re-election – she incurred steep legal fees in both defending the charges and countersuing the FPPC.

Rather than pay these costs herself, Migden turned to her political allies. She received $100,000 to help her pay her legal defense and fines from an Oakland-based Political Action Committee whose treasurer is Michael Colbruno, a former Migden aide.

Colbruno has a long history of boosting Migden’s career, using his role at Clear Channel Outdoor to provide free or below-cost billboards for Migden and San Francisco candidates she endorsed. In fact, free or cheap billboards were the chief virtue of a Migden endorsement, with the longtime politician’s close relationship with a billboard company routinely overlooked.

What Happened to Personal Responsibility?

“The rich are different from you and me,” Nick Carraway said famously in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. And so are politicians like Carole Migden, if they are allowed to turn to taxpayers and political donors/allies to pay for their mistakes.

The Migden claim’s settlement requires legislative approval, and Democrats should realize that approving public funding for Democrat Carole Migden’s reckless driving would hand Republicans a wonderful gift for every assembly and senate contest, and statewide races, in 2010. Forget all the other problems besetting California – Republicans will have a field day attacking Democrats for using public funds to subsidize a former Democratic legislator whose reckless driving endangered lives.

The California Republican Party is desperate. It would love to campaign in 2010 on a Democratic Legislature’s $335,000 payout to a reckless driving Democratic legislator –
few issues play better into the hands of a party that believes wasteful spending is California’s sole problem.

Fortunately, it looks like the Attorney General’s proposed settlement of Migden’s reckless driving claim – which would have the Newsom camp gleeful over how they would use it against Jerry Brown – is not a done deal. In fact, I would say the odds are extremely high that Migden soon steps forward and agrees to have her own insurance company pay the claim.

She needs to nip talk of perjury in the bud, and columnists are already weighing in against her. For a sampling, see this wonderful column by Bruce Maiman in the July 10 Sacraemento Bee. The title: “Start Welfare Reform With Carole Migden.”

Drivers Beware

Here’s the great kicker to this story. Despite her reckless driving and the FPPC complaint of massive campaign violations, our superhero Governor appointed Carole Migden to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, where she now earns a $132,178 annual salary.

And as a result of that appointment, Migden now is driving a state-owned car!

As Maiman puts it, “ despite twice ignoring the normal driving restrictions your average pizza delivery guy follows, Migden, as a member of the board, continues to drive a state car, all expenses paid.”

Drivers on Highway 80 have been warned!

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron

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