[Moxley Confidential] Sources Say Paul Walters Won't Run for Sheriff

Sources: Walters Won’t Run
Without Santa Ana’s police chief in the race, the field of 2010 challengers to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens looks a whole lot narrower

Law enforcement is a tough job. Politics is vicious. Combine the two, and you’ve got an often-combustible mix. Nevertheless, the upcoming election for Orange County’s top cop just got less hazardous for the incumbent.

Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters, long touted as the largest potential election obstacle for appointed sheriff Sandra Hutchens, has decided he won’t enter the race, according to multiple pro-Walters sources.

Sherriff Sandra Hutchens
John Gilhooley
Sherriff Sandra Hutchens
One source says Paul Walters doesn't have "the fire in his belly" for a race against Sandra Hutchens
One source says Paul Walters doesn't have "the fire in his belly" for a race against Sandra Hutchens

“Paul would make a great sheriff, but I don’t think he wants to endure what probably would be a heated campaign,” one longtime source told me. “I hate to say it, but I don’t think he has the fire in his belly for it. He’s not going to run.”

Walters—a veteran chief who lost both the sheriff’s race in 1998 to Mike Carona and an appointment to replace the scandal-prone, prison-bound Carona in 2008—could not be reached for comment. But other prominent local political activists with ties to the chief confirmed their belief that he is unlikely to enter the contest.

If this news puts a smile on faces in Hutchens’ election headquarters, the sheriff’s critics are frustrated. It’s said they’d hoped Walters would mount a serious campaign by capitalizing on Hutchens’ perceived blunders. She has incited California’s pro-gun lobby, frustrated four of the five county supervisors, angered the local daily newspaper’s libertarian editorial staff and annoyed powerful OC Republican Party players. Her image also suffered when supervisors discovered that a deputy spied on them during a meeting using their own ceiling surveillance cameras.

But the independent and strong-willed Hutchens has repeatedly cast herself as the anti-Carona—perhaps her strongest campaign theme with voters. Indeed, on the job a year this month, she touted her early reform accomplishments to reporters on June 22. She says her achievements include boosting morale, removing political pressure from law-enforcement decisions such as issuing concealed-weapon permits, and improving jail management. The sheriff also claims that lying is no longer tolerated in the department (under Carona, it was perfected as an art form) and that she has fired or punished deceitful deputies.

If Walters ultimately opts to stay out of the race (the filing deadline isn’t until January), that leaves former Sheriff’s Lieutenant Bill Hunt as a possible Hutchens challenger. Forced out of his job after campaigning to replace Carona in the 2006 election, Hunt has recently told me he plans to run because he thinks the new sheriff has mismanaged the $750 million-per-year department. Now a private investigator who has captured numerous fugitives—but not the hearts of the GOP establishment—Hunt will likely need an endorsement and hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from the powerful Association of Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies to have a chance.

When lawmakers wrote the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s corresponding Unruh Act, they didn’t ban convicts from transforming the well-intentioned laws into personal-profit-making measures. They apparently weren’t contemplating David Allen Gunther, featured in an October 2006 Weekly cover story. About a decade ago, Gunther—whose criminal record includes narcotics trafficking, petty theft, assaults and burglaries—discovered that wheelchair-bound folks like himself could get businesses to pay him $4,000 for every technical ADA violation he claimed to find at their location.

If ethical people found violations in the normal course of their affairs, it’d be one thing. But Gunther made ADA violations the core of his income, collecting more than $20,000 during some weeks, according to court records. If businesses owners—some of whom used the word “extortion”—didn’t pay, Gunther hired fringe lawyers and sued. He did so more than 200 times in OC alone in recent years. One of those cases landed at the Santa Ana-based state court of appeal, where justices ruled that Gunther’s legal strategy was faulty because he didn’t prove businesses had intentionally violated the access provisions of the ADA.

But earlier this month, the California Supreme Court rejected the OC appellate court’s view. The high court determined that Gunther and his ilk can continue to collect money without proving intentional discrimination. The justices noted concerns about abuse of the system but said it’s the legislature’s responsibility to solve the problem. News of the ruling brought celebrations from Gunther’s family and allies.

When a bailiff brought a handcuffed Prince Edward Maryland into Judge John Conley’s courtroom on June 19, the convict’s eyes darted around the room looking for the reporter he’d been told was present. I stared back at Maryland, an X-Files actor and Hollywood producer unflatteringly featured in my Feb. 25 online crime column, Citizen of the Week! He smiled and, no exaggeration, giggled.

The reason for Maryland’s elation was obvious. Having been sentenced in 2007 to more than 130 years in prison for the kidnapping, rape, torture and attempted murder of his wife in Lake Forest in April 2005, he’d won a summer vacation of sorts. So that he can represent himself in the reconsideration of a contributing factor in his punishment, Maryland was relocated in May from his prison cell to the relatively pleasant Orange County Jail.

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