Monday, March 9, 2009
Van de Kamp’s Chief Rival, Bugliosi, Brands Supervisors ‘Maharajahs,’ Blasts AFL-CIO for ‘Prostitution’
By ROGER M. GRACE
Eighty-Sixth in a Series
JOHN VAN DE KAMP, district attorney of Los Angeles County, faced five challengers in the June 8, 1976 primary. Only one of them had a chance of defeating him: former Deputy District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi. The candidate had gained celebrity status as chief prosecutor in the trial of Charles Manson and his cult followers for the sadistic slayings of actress Sharon Tate and others.
Bugliosi, with high name recognition in the aftermath of that successful prosecution, nearly toppled incumbent Joseph P. Busch Jr. in the 1972 election. He came within 12,116 votes of winning in a contest with more than 2.7 million ballots cast (fruitlessly spending $16,000 on a four-day manual recount of some of the ballots).
With that near-win four years earlier, his candidacy in 1976 had to be taken seriously...notwithstanding these setbacks in the interim:
•Supervisor Baxter Ward, in public session, on May 6, 1973, nominated Bugliosi to a forthcoming vacancy on the board of the Air Pollution Control District, but the other four supervisors balked, and decided to discuss the matter privately. The upshot was Ward withdrawing the nomination on March 21, at Bugliosi’s request, on the stated ground that another supervisor had been charged with overseeing the APCD.
•Bugliosi bagged only 42.3 percent of the vote in the 1974 Democratic primary for attorney general in a two-man race. (The other man, former Los Angeles Police Commission Chair William Norris, a future federal appeals court judge, lost in the run-off to Republican incumbent Evelle J. Younger.) As discussed here last time, an allegation emerging in that election was that Bugliosi had delivered a beating to a married woman with whom he was having an affair—a charge which Bugliosi denied.
•The Los Angeles County Grand Jury on June 28, 1974, indicted Bugliosi and a defense lawyer in the Manson case, Daye Shinn, for perjury.
All six lawyers in that case had been twice ordered to the stand by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles H. Older to testify whether they had been the source of an Oct. 9, 1970 Herald-Examiner news story by reporter Bill Farr which contained non-public information. Based on shoddy advice from the lawyer hired by the Herald-Examiner, former County Bar President Grant Cooper, Farr had acknowledged, in being questioned by Older, that he received information from two of the six attorneys—but did refuse to reveal which two. (Farr spent 46 days in jail for contempt at the hands of Older for declining to divulge his confidential news sources.)
Older was intent on punishing whichever lawyers had breached his gag order. All six lawyers, on both occasions, denied being the source; the grand jury asked them the same question. Bugliosi and Shinn were each charged with three counts of perjury for allegedly twice lying to Older and once to the grand jury.
Separate trials were ordered for them. At Bugliosi’s trial, Farr refused to repeat his earlier testimony before Older that he received the information from two of the lawyers in the case; Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Earl Broady Jr. ruled that Farr could not be compelled to do so in light of Evidence Code §1070; and the judge also ruled that Farr’s earlier testimony could not be admitted. The case against Bugliosi crumbled and the special prosecutor, Theodore P. Shield (later a member of the State Bar Board of Governors), was compelled to request a dismissal.
Bugliosi was off the hook so far as the criminal charges were concerned—thanks to Broady’s rulings and adept representation of him by Harland Braun—but doubts surely lingered among voters as to whether he had, as charged, lied under oath.
(Ward, Younger, Older, Farr, Cooper, Shinn, Broady, and Shield are all deceased.)
Despite these events, Bugliosi’s prospects of attaining elected office seemed good at the outset, his name recognition having been bolstered by a book he co-authored on the Manson case, “Helter Skelter,” a best-seller that was being made into a TV movie. But various factors led to his loss, the primary one being a close look by the press, and by voters, at Bugliosi.
It became clear by January that Bugliosi would be Van de Kamp’s only major competitor—and “people quickly closed ranks around Van de Kamp,” Robert H. Philibosian, a deputy in the DA’s Office at that time, recounts. Philibosian was to succeed Van de Kamp in 1972, under appointment by the Board of Supervisors.
Philibosian says of Bugliosi:
“His personality was very arrogant and egotistical—and he was self-absorbed.
“He would have been a politically ambitious DA who would have made his decisions based on how it might affect his political future.”
Most of the members of the District Attorney’s Office were behind Van de Kamp, Philibosian recounts, saying there were two reasons:
“The ‘Bug’ was consumed with his own ambition, and he had run against the beloved Joe Busch.”
Van de Kamp and Bugliosi are both Democrats, but the former was able to draw support from all sides. That included the Republican attorney general.
Newspapers of Jan. 16 include this United Press International story, datelined Los Angeles:
“District Attorney John Van de Kamp was endorsed yesterday by state Attorney General Evelle Younger as a candidate for election in the June primary.
“During a news conference at his office here, Younger was asked if he planned to endorse a candidate for the local position and he replied that he already had.
“Younger said that last summer after the death of Joseph Busch he submitted Van de Kamp’s name in a private letter to county supervisors as one of three persons he considered qualified for the post.
“Younger declined to identify the other two persons.”
Van de Kamp also had the endorsements of the two Republicans on the Board of Supervisors, James Hayes and Pete Schabarum. Two of the area co-chairs of his campaign were past presidents of the South Pasadena Republican Club. Republican lawyers, like former State Bar President David K. Robinson and Fred Woods, now a Court of Appeal justice, were in his corner.
So were leading Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston, state Treasurer Jesse Unruh, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, and two Democrats on the board, Ed Edelman and Kenneth Hahn.
An April 7 mimeographed letter with the salutation “Dear Colleague” went to lawyers in the county. It seeks “a contribution of $25.00 or more.” The letter bears the signatures of eight lawyers with diverse backgrounds and political leanings:
Charles G. Bakaly Jr. (a Republican contributor and finance chair of Evelle Younger’s 1970 and 1974 campaigns for attorney general), John E. Howard (chief deputy district attorney under Busch and acting DA upon his death), Richard R. Rogan (an ardent Democrat who came close to entering the 1964 race for district attorney), William French Smith (a Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher lawyer who was to serve as attorney general under President Ronald Reagan), David M. Harney (a medical malpractice specialist), Mariana R. Pfaelzer (then a Wyman, Bautzer, Rothman & Kuchel attorney, now a senior judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California), George Slaff (a past president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and mayor of Beverly Hills in 1968 and 1975), and Samuel Williams (the Police Commission president who had unsuccessfully applied for appointment as DA in 1975, and went on to become the 1981-82 State Bar president). Of the six, only Bakaly and Pfaelzer are still alive.
The Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the San Gabriel Valley Chiefs of Police Association, Pasadena Police Chief Robert H. McGowan and the Long Beach Police Officers Association were among Van de Kamp’s endorsers.
The AFL-CIO not only endorsed Van de Kamp, but a union official asserted that Bugliosi had made a “political blackmail threat” to the union, warning that “he would call a press conference to denounce us if we didn’t endorse him.” The threatened exposé, according to a Times story on April 17, was that Lawry’s—the La Cienega Boulevard roast-beef eatery long owned by Van de Kamp’s family, and in which the DA personally had stock—was nonunion and on the AFL-CIO’s “We Do Not Patronize” list. The union, before endorsing Van de Kamp, removed the restaurant from the list. The Times article quotes Bugliosi as accusing the union of an act of “prostitution” and “the grossest type of hypocrisy.”
Bugliosi bagged the endorsements of the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the Mexican American Political Assn.
Here’s how the Arcadia Tribune’s issue of March 11 depicts Bugliosi, who formally declared his candidacy three days earlier:
Vince Bugliosi was still shooting from the hip when he landed in Arcadia Thursday noon following his early morning formal announcement of his candidacy for district attorney.
Bugliosi, best known for his successful prosecution of the Manson family when he was a deputy D.A., was making a swing through the county in an effort to bring his campaign to the people.
His charges were leveled primarily at the current operation of the district attorney’s office, but he managed to take a few potshots at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors along the way. calling them “five maharajahs who have their own closed shop.”
His bitterness undoubtedly stemmed from the fact that the supervisors bypassed him in favor of John Van de Kamp in appointing a successor to the late Joe Busch.
He said then and he reiterated that the people had a right to a choice of candidates for such high office and he “doesn’t like the downtown business establishment running the rest of the county—and that includes the Los Angeles Times....”
The Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Feb. 22 issue reports that Bugliosi alluded in a speech in the newspaper’s vicinage to the “audacity and arrogance of the five presumptuous maharajahs” who made the appointment of the DA rather than calling a special election.
Since the county’s founding in 1850, no vacancy in the post of district attorney has been filled by a special election. The District Court filled the first such vacancy, occurring after the initial DA, William Ferrell (who also served San Diego County) quit. Boards of supervisors were created for each county by May 2, 1852, legislation, and the first meeting of the board in this county occurred on July 5 of that year…one of its first acts occurring five days later, on a Saturday: the appointment of a new DA. Kimball Dimmick was hired to replace Isaac S. Ogier. Ever since, the board has filled vacancies in the office. But Bugliosi was pouting in 1976 because the board did not go to the huge expense of calling a special election in 1975, thus delegating its duty to make a selection to the electorate. That duty was, by the way, assigned to the board by the electorate when it approved the 1912 charter.
Bugliosi apparently fancied that, while the board didn’t want him as DA, he could have mesmerized voters into placing him in office.
The Press-Telegram’s article tells of Bugliosi complaining that the supervisors in 1975 pared the eligibility list to six persons. The article says:
“Noting the fact that he received 1.3 million votes in his race against Busch in 1972 and lost by less than one half of one percent, Bugliosi added wryly, ‘I was not good enough to make that list.’ ”
It’s true that the initial list of 28 applicants had been cut down to six—the sextet representing the only job-seekers who could potentially muster at least two votes from the five-member board. However, Bugliosi was restored to consideration in the ninth inning, as were three others. Rather than expressing glee at being back in the running, Bugliosi instead lambasted the board. He’s quoted in the Oct. 3, 1975, issue of the Times as griping:
“Why don’t they just start out with the original list again? It’s amazing, absolutely amazing. This is an incredible circus.”
That outburst, one might assume, did not endear him to the “maharajahs” who had just reactivated his chances.
Bugliosi’s campaign was dealt a blow when the CBS-owned television station in Los Angeles, then bearing the call letters KNXT, opted to delay the airing of “Helter-Skelter,” which favorably portrayed Bugliosi, until after the June primary.
The four-hour movie was shown over two nights—April 1 and 2—in the rest of the nation. But here, it was delayed until June 10 (two days after the primary) and June 11.
Although the Federal Communications Commission had determined that an airing in Los Angeles would not trigger the equal-time provision, the station declared that its “decision to postpone was made on the basis of KNXT’s own standards of fairness.”
Bugliosi blasted the station for “arbitrary censorship” and charged that “the heavy, ugly hand of power politics was involved in blacking out ‘Helter Skelter.’ ”
I’ll continue my look at the 1976 election—and why Bugliosi lost it—in the next installment.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company