By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
In July on KOCE's Real Orange, Superior Court judge candidate John Adams exuded all the confidence of a frontrunner sure he'd replace accused child molester Ronald Kline on the bench. Wearing a natty dark-gray suit punctuated with a black- and yellow-dotted tie, Adams smiled easily and occasionally chuckled when tossed softball questions: Had he always wanted to be a judge? "Absolutely." What was the secret to grabbing the most votes in the March write-in campaign? "Good, old-fashioned politicking." What are the odds of defeating current run-off opponent and former county prosecutor Gay Sandoval? "Very good." What would be the key to his victory? "My qualifications."
That night, Adams had all the answers. But this is Orange County, and its politics are rarely simple. In the three months since the KOCE broadcast, the 50-year-old Dana Point resident has retreated into seclusion in the midst of a heated campaign for the powerful public office. Questions about his campaign, background and qualifications are met with silence. Questions about why he would falsely claim to have been president of a company. Questions about why he claims to have been an attorney for more than 20 years even though records show he was licensed to practice less than 14 years.
But Adams won't talk. For a man who believes in good, old-fashioned politicking, his current view of media coverage seems absolutely postmodern. Adams wouldn't answer his home telephone or his cell phone or respond to repeated fax requests to be interviewed for this story. Although he fancies himself "a respected attorney for over 20 years" and "community and civic leader," Adams' most notable experience has been running—unsuccessfully if state records are any indication—Santa Ana and Costa Mesa car-muffler shops.
But Adams would probably prefer people didn't know much about that—or him for that matter. So it may be best to rely on people who've had to get to know him, whether they liked it or not. People like Steven P. Semingson, who Adams used to work for. Asked if he'd be voting for his former employee, Semingson said, "Let's just say I'm a strong supporter of Gay Sandoval."
Orange County has several outstanding judges, but its modern judicial history is scarred with embarrassment.There have been the erroneous murder and robbery convictions in which prosecutors, judges and juries have been too quick to convict innocent suspects. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' ethics have routinely been called into question with each new revelation that he's aided campaign contributors or punished perceived political enemies. Judges here have been accused of DUI, condoning illegal discrimination in their courtrooms, taking bribes from defense lawyers, and simply falling asleep and snoring during trials.
And then there is Kline, who, authorities allege, molested boys and kept a kiddie-porn collection on his computer. Despite criminal charges that landed him under house arrest in Irvine, Kline was sailing to re-election until an outraged Sandoval began her effort to remove him from the ballot. Though she wasn't successful, Sandoval's protest eventually provoked a massive, 11-candidate write-in vote campaign for the nonpartisan seat last March.
Adams—who had critical Republican Party resources at his disposal—narrowly defeated Kline. Sandoval finished third. Because neither Adams nor Kline received at least 50 percent of the vote, a run-off between Kline and Adams was set for November. Facing his criminal case, Kline asked that his name be removed from the ballot, a move every candidate including Adams had claimed they wanted from the start.
"My first priority is to see that Kline is removed from office," Adams told reporters at the time. "The public trust is sacred."
But sacred ideals were fleeting for the Stanford Law School graduate. The chance to face the unelectable Kline in November was too tempting for Adams. He lost his early calm and flip-flopped, demanding that a judge block both Kline's exit and Sandoval's entry into the November election. The court was not amused by the self-serving ploy to rob the voters of a choice and ruled against Adams.
It's now obvious why Adams wanted no competition—and likely no serious media scrutiny—on his way to a six-year term on the bench at $132,000 per year. Though he has declared that his "goal is to restore integrity and honor" to the court, his personal résumé is a combustible mixture of wishful thinking, glaring omissions and apparent distortions. Then again, to suggest Adams has just one résumé would be incorrect. He has handed out at least three different, contradictory résumés since February.
Early on, Adams routinely asserted that one of his key qualifications over Sandoval is that he has had an "extensive and distinguished" career as a business executive. This, he says, gives him "real world" experience that will allow him to be "mature, thoughtful and even-tempered" on the bench. The executive job he repeatedly highlights for voters is that of "president" of Remote Sensing Technologies Inc., an automobile-emissions testing firm, from 1997 to 1999. However, the company's official Securities and Exchange Commission reports show that another man, Terrence P. McKenna, served as president of the business during the period Adams claims he was boss.