Loretta Sanchez Fizzled Out In Primary Election But Still Wasn’t the Biggest Loser

Primary-election day 2016 began with typical Southern California June gloom that transformed into a sunny, warm afternoon and ended with a night of unmistakable horror for Loretta Sanchez. By finishing second in the race to replace outgoing U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, Sanchez will advance to November’s general election. But that’s where the good news ends for the Orange County Democrat. Opponent Kamala Harris, the state’s current attorney general, trounced her by one million votes, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Worse, Sanchez’s weakness is glaring on her home turf, a place she has had two decades to solidify as an electoral base for a never-hidden desire to capture a statewide seat. Yet her 112,000 votes in OC were a measly 2,000 more than Harris’ tally. The front-runner doesn’t have similar hometown woes. Harris stomped her 115,000 to 17,000 in San Francisco. And in Los Angeles County, she doubled Sanchez’s votes.

How to explain? Is Harris such a superior candidate? Perhaps, but Sanchez, a self-styled conservative, blue-dog Democrat, has never been charismatic. In public settings, she has struggled to utter coherent, meaningful sentences and, at other times, appears downright clueless. She garnered national attention late last year by making whoa-whoa-whoa sounds to a group that included people from India, a blunder that made her hilarious fodder for KFI radio’s drive-time duo, John and Ken.

Suffering self-inflicted wounds is part of Sanchez’s 22-year political résumé. She lost a 1994 city council race, for example, after highlighting her wealthy Republican connections and temporarily adding her then-husband’s last name to hers, Brixey. Two years later—running as a Democrat with her own name—she made political history by upsetting Congressman Robert K. Dornan, but she used a convicted swindler as a key adviser. Instead of cultivating an image based on, say, the notable work she’s done as a ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee in Congress, she undermined her own credibility by making her biggest claim to fame annual, playful Christmas cards that featured her with her cat. If not for neighboring loony Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa, Sanchez would be known as the region’s reigning airhead.

Such a status isn’t limiting for either character. In politics, airheads go far. Even a huge loss in November to Harris isn’t the end for Sanchez. Don’t be surprised if she wins a lofty government title in a future Hillary Clinton administration.

But the biggest loser in the June 7 election was undoubtedly the Orange County Republican Party. Once a mighty force that single-handedly allowed Republicans to own the governor’s mansion in the 1980s and ’90s as well as U.S. Senate seats, the party has dwindled into a feckless organization losing noticeable strength by the year.

Consider this shocker in what was once known as the heart of Ronald Reagan country: Yesterday, led by Clinton, Democrat presidential candidates won 35,000 more votes here than Republican ones, including Donald Trump.

When Stephen Robert Deck, a horny California Highway Patrol (CHP) lieutenant stationed in San Juan Capistrano, decided to meet Amy, a 13-year-old Laguna Beach girl, after raunchy online foreplay, he couldn’t have imagined he’d placed himself on the verge of the first steep drop of a wild, decade-long legal roller-coaster ride.

Obviously knowledgeable about law enforcement sting operations, Deck used the 45-minute drive from San Diego County to concoct plausible-deniability excuses if the girl waiting at Heisler Park overlooking the Pacific Ocean was an undercover cop. For example, he brought with him a piece of pie that February 2006 night as a way to explain away Internet chats that included his assertion that he wanted to eat her, uh, pie.

There were other missteps. All six of the condoms he toted were stale from expiration. In his final online chat before the meeting, he wrote, “I probably won’t be able to keep my hands off of you.” And his home computer contained evidence of the CHP officer angling for sex with multiple other kids, though he was never charged in those cases.

The Laguna Beach girl wasn’t a cop, but rather a decoy adult playing a role for Perverted Justice, a private group that searches the Internet for men seeking sex with children. In league with Laguna Beach police, the group—made famous by NBC News—created the character of Amy, a frisky if naive middle-schooler willing to secretly meet older men while her parents were at work. The ad, which included a photo of an actual 13-year-old, proved irresistible for more than a dozen, mostly twentysomething men all over Southern California who took the bait and landed in jail.

Deck, the most surprising catch, has also been the most feisty throughout the legal process, refusing to concede any point to prosecutors inside the Orange County district attorney’s office (OCDA). He strenuously fought a search warrant, trial points, his 2010 conviction for an attempted lewd act on a child under the age of 14 and lenient punishment. M. Marc Kelly, the trial judge, explained that Deck deserved just probation because, in his view, the defendant hadn’t betrayed a sacred public trust, but instead had earned credit against jail time because he’d worn a CHP badge.

For six years, appellate lawyers for Deck filed numerous complaints about the case, losing all of them until February. That’s when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the conviction. In an intensely controversial ruling, a divided court determined that OCDA prosecutor Robert Mestman misstated the law during his closing arguments for jurors and, unlike lower courts, declared the move hadn’t been “harmless” to Deck’s constitutional rights.

Nobody disagreed that Mestman wrongly stated that he didn’t need to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Deck had taken adequate steps to molest Amy on the date of their Laguna Beach rendezvous, just that he needed to prove, at a minimum, the officer intended at some point in the future to commit the sex crime.

A majority of the Ninth Circuit panel believe the error attacked the “heart of the defense” and observed jurors voiced confusion in a note during deliberations. “The panel concluded that the prosecutor’s misstatements amounted to constitutional trial error under clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court,” a court summary stated.

But Judge Milan Smith, a 2006 appointee of President George W. Bush, argued in dissent that it was unreasonable for his colleagues to conclude that the jury didn’t follow the law because Deck had taken “an immediate step” that put his plan in action and “would have been completed if some circumstances outside the plan had not interrupted the attempt,” such as the appearance of police.

“Critically, the Supreme Court has never held nor even suggested that a defendant’s constitutional rights are violated when a prosecutor misstates the law in closing arguments, but the trial judge correctly instructs the jury,” wrote Smith. “In fact, the Supreme Court has indicated just the opposite. . . . Thus, I find no reason to believe that [Mestman’s] statements were prejudicial.”

To rehabilitate the case for the court’s majority, OCDA has announced it will retry Deck.

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