Orange County Board of Supervisors candidate Ashleigh Aitken Tuesday sent a cease-and-desist letter to her opponent, Supervisor Don Wagner, demanding that he renounce a mailer she says falsely accuses her of supporting an Orange County Superior Court judge who reduced the sentence of a man who sexually assaulted a 3-year-old relative.
The mailer refers to a resolution from the Orange County Bar Association critical of death threats against Orange County Superior Court Judge M. Marc Kelly, who came under fire in April 2015 when he reduced a legally mandated 25-years-to-life sentence for 24-year-old Kevin Jonas Rojano-Nieto to 10 years.
The ruling was overturned on appeal and Rojano-Nieto is serving 25 years to life in prison.
Kelly drew a threat of a recall election, which eventually fizzled, and in the days following his ruling Orange County supervisors held a news conference condemning the reduction in sentence. Wagner was an assemblyman at the time.
The mailer alleges Aitken “wrote a letter supporting a powerful judge who cut 15 years off a prison sentence of man convicted of sodomizing a 3-year-old girl.”
Aitken, a former federal prosecutor, told City News Service she was president of the organization the year the resolution was approved. She noted Wagner and his wife were also members of the organization at the time.
“I certainly did not write a letter supporting his sentence or the reason behind it,” Aitken said, adding the resolution took no position on Kelly’s ruling. “We were only advocating for judicial independence and calling out as wrong threats of intimidation and violence.”
“I felt very strongly (the mailer) is clearly libel. It’s not true. In political races it’s not uncommon that a mischaracterization can ruffle feathers, but I’ve never seen a hit piece like this that was completely fabricated. Usually it’s grounded in some type of reality, but this is so above and beyond.”
Aitken said a “dark money group” supporting Wagner’s campaign paid for the mailers.
Aitken threatened a lawsuit if Wagner and his supporters fail to apologize for the mailer.
“I thought she was a better lawyer than this,” Wagner responded. “It is utterly preposterous. And I will introduce her to an anti-SLAPP motion and get attorneys fees. This is just silly.”
Wagner said an “independent expenditure” group paid for the mailer, which he was unaware of until a reporter contacted him about Aitken’s complaints.
“In the opposition research on her we did not pick up on this issue,” Wagner said. “I truly don’t know who put this out.”
SLAPP is an acronym for strategic litigation against public participation.
Wagner said he thought it was “suspicious” that Aitken did not release a copy of the resolution in question.
“Seems like she’s dancing around it,” Wagner said.
Wagner accused Aitken of lying about him with mailers that allege that he favors arming domestic violence abusers.
“Who’s slandering who?” Wagner said.