“Deborah Pauly, are you present?” Orange County Superior Court Judge Melissa McCormick announced in her Central Justice Center courtroom on Jan 11. Her Honor looked around for the former Villa Park councilwoman and current Republican Party of Orange County Central Committee member who’s also listed on the National Council for the John Birch Society (yes, the Birchers!). Pauly had found herself in legal hot water yet again, this time on a misdemeanor battery charge, after previously trying to take the wheel of her drunk then-husband’s crashed Porsche in 2012 and pleading guilty to her own DUI in 2015.
Present in McCormick’s courtroom was 56-year-old Laura Harrison, who had accused the pol of shoving her during the Orange International Street Fair this past Labor Day weekend after the Redondo Beach resident flipped off a life-sized cardboard cutout of Donald Trump. Pauly didn’t dispute the beef; in fact, she had publicly bragged about getting the better of it. If she were found guilty of any charges, though, there was the danger of violating the three-year probation from her DUI.
But Pauly didn’t bother showing up to her arraignment because there wouldn’t be one. Senior Deputy District Attorney Jana Hoffmann quickly asked McCormick to dismiss the case; the justice agreed. Afterward, Hoffmann told the Weekly there was “insufficient evidence” against Pauly, adding the case was filed in error. “Suffice it to say that most often, the misdemeanors are filed by the newest deputies in the office,” she said. “They do their best, yet their experience level and training is not the same level as more experienced deputies.”
The move infuriated Harrison, who had read a victim’s statement in court just before Hoffmann made her motion to dismiss. “Everyone involved in this farce should practice the last line of the Lord’s Prayer,” she said.
In Harrison’s version of the tussle, she and her family were strolling around the street festival when they spotted the Trump cutout at the Orange Republican Women, Federated booth near “Lebanon Street.” “I thought a quick selfie might be fun,” she said, adding she thinks the president is “a misogynist pig.”
She posed in front of Trump, lifted a middle finger and began shooting. “I thought it was a free America, and I was allowed to do such a thing,” Harrison said.
She didn’t expect what happened next: Pauly pushed Harrison’s offending hand down, her own armed with an Arrowhead water bottle, as she screamed, “You can’t do that here; there are children at the fair!”
Then, Harrison claims, Pauly went behind her back and “literally did a football move, pushing me physically.” The shove lifted Harrison off her feet; she stumbled forward, dropping her belongings to the ground.
“Go home, you dirty liberal,” a man in a wheelchair yelled at Harrison, who actually voted for some Republicans in the previous election and describes herself as a “moderate.”
Harrison turned around and threatened to call the cops, only to have Pauly pace in her booth, repeatedly proclaiming, “I’m Deborah Pauly!” while pointing to her nametag.
Orange Police Officer Matthew Moss arrived on the scene within minutes. His report noted Pauly said Harrison grabbed the cutout before turning to take the picture and that Harrison gave her a shoulder push as Pauly approached. She never mentioned retaliating, only that she picked up her attacker’s sweater from the ground afterward and gave it back.
Harrison, who suffers from fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis, didn’t claim any injuries at the time, but she asked Orange police to file charges a couple of days later, claiming the encounter left her with whiplash. Medical records provided to the Weekly diagnosed Harrison with post-concussion syndrome. Family members offered witness statements corroborating the assault. She also provided to Orange PD her selfies, which show a partial play-by-play that includes photos of the Arrowhead bottle smacking down her hand and another of Pauly’s blond hair just behind Harrison as she threw the bird.
Orange Detective Leslie Franco eventually submitted the case as a misdemeanor to the OC district attorney’s office (OCDA).
In the meantime, Harrison found a YouTube video in which Pauly boasted about their altercation. “I see this crazy woman come darting up aggressively toward Donald Trump, bypassing everyone in line, to attack our cardboard cutout,” she told the Redlands Tea Party Patriots on Sept. 8, 2016, just days after she and Harrison faced off. “I step over, and I stand in between her and the [cutout]. And she shoves me with her right shoulder into my left shoulder, and I shove her back. I did; I did!”
Pauly laughed off Harrison’s attempt to get the police involved, much to the delight of the Tea Party crowd. She ended with a warning: “While you are out there, you are going to run into crazy people. Do not let the crazy people intimidate you; you intimidate them.”
Despite Pauly’s tea bagger braggadocio, the DA filed charges against her on Oct. 25, with Deputy District Attorney Vincent Marinaccio writing in a complaint that Pauly “did willfully and unlawfully use force and violence upon” Harrison. But Harrison suspected something was up when the OCDA didn’t respond to her inquiries over the ensuing months, and then the case got continued. Franco wouldn’t give her a copy of the police report. Harrison heard from an OCDA Witness and Protection staffer that the charges were probably going to be dismissed. But she held out hope for justice when Hoffmann told her about the Jan. 11 arraignment date and asked if she wanted to give a statement.
“She knows what she did and has to live with it,” Harrison told McCormick that morning. “I, at least, have the fortitude to stand up to what I’ve done. Yes, I flipped off a cardboard box of a man I disagree with.”
It didn’t work. Harrison quietly walked out of the courtroom, speech in hand, after McCormick dismissed the charges. The judge returned to her morning routine of reducing driving without a license charges to infractions and sending people off to collections.
“The charges were dismissed because it was a frivolous and baseless accusation from a woman who clearly suffers from Trump Derangement Syndrome,” Pauly told the Weekly by email. “She invaded our Republican booth and tried to damage our club’s property.”
Harrison is bitter about how everything played out. “I am discouraged by the outcome, but I know the truth eventually shows itself,” she said. “You have to love the backpedaling, but that is what happens when you don’t stick to the truth. The OCDA was never on my side.”